Since 1982, CAAM (formerly the National Asian American Telecommunications Association) has been creating a community of filmmakers and film lovers who are passionate about Asian American stories. Over the years, CAAM has supported 300 films through funding mostly documentaries, but also animated, narrative and experimental films.
One of the most rewarding parts of our work is growing this community of storytellers. CAAM honors its commitment to bring Asian American stories to light, with its robust lineup of CAAM-funded films and projects at this year’s festival.
From a story about a gritty Chinese-only street-ball game born in the alleys of local 1930s Chinatowns to the uplifting tale of a small Nepalese village’s attempt to harness renewable energy with the power of the wind, CAAM is proud to present an array of projects that have been supported in part of all by CAAM. Nine films at this year’s festival have been funded by CAAM through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or through other CAAM support.
Many of our filmmakers have a long history with CAAM. Filmmaker Grace Lee’s first short, Camp Arirang, screened at the festival in the mid-90s. CAAM provided funding for American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (CAAMFest 2014 Centerpiece). “I don’t think any other organization has consistently supported me as much as CAAM and for that I’m very grateful,” Lee notes. Most recently, she has worked closely with CAAM as co-producer of Off the Menu: Asian America, a CAAM and KQED co-production which world premieres at CAAMFest 2015.
Community leader and filmmaker Felicia Lowe has had an even more robust history with the organization—before there was even a CAAM. Lowe was at the founding meeting in the early ‘80s that led to the founding of NAATA. This year, she is world premiering Chinese Couplets, a personal film about her mother, at the festival. CAAM helped fund her initial trip to Cuba becomes a key piece in the film as well as a second grant to shoot more footage. Lowe notes it’s also the non-monetary support that helps filmmakers: “The access to staff advice and help in my Indiegogo campaign took me to the rough cut that got me an invitation to debut at CAAMFest 2015!”
Another highly notable filmmaker is Academy Award-winner Ruby Yang, who also screened her first film at the inaugural SF Asian American film festival in 1982. In 1996, CAAM provided a production grant for her first feature length documentary, Citizen Hong Kong. “In the early days, it was really tough for an Asian American filmmaker to get funding for projects,” she emails us from Hong Kong. “I could say that CAAM has helped launch the careers of many filmmakers including mine.” Yang’s films, A Moment and Time about Chinese theaters in Chinatown, and My Voice, My Life, about disadvantaged students in Hong Kong who put on a musical, are featured at CAAMFest 2015.
Our Documentary Fund awards goes through a selective process. One of the funded film from 2014 will have its San Francisco premiere at CAAMFest–Tony Nguyen’s Giap’s Last Day at the Ironing Board Factory, a half hour documentary about his refugee mother. “Funding made it possible for us to complete the film and get it out to general public,” he emailed us.
Ursula Liang, director of 9-Man, says that she would not have had the confidence to take on a feature-length documentary if it weren’t for the film festival and CAAM. “The people I met at the festival made me confident that there was a community there to back me and a place where I could go to find help. As a first-time filmmaker, I needed that to dive in. Though CAAM I saw possibility and support that helped bolster me through many years of hard work.”
Another CAAM Documentary Award recipient agrees that the funding, and overall support, has given him the financial and confidence boost as a first time feature length documentary filmmaker. “It was important for me to find support from organizations and foundations that share in similar beliefs, mission, and understanding of identity,” Amitabh Joshi emails us. His film, Tashi’s Turbine, based in Nepal, will screen at CAAMFest this year.
CAAM staff members often provide much behind-the-scenes support to filmmakers. In addition to funding, staff members like Director of Programs Donald Young ensure that these Asian American films reach the widest audience possible.
Filmmaker Kimberlee Bassford notes that this kind of support has crucial to her as an independent filmmaker. CAAM funded her first feature documentary, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority (2008). “Don Young was extremely helpful in navigating the public television system after the film was completed,” she wrote us in an email. “By that point, I was pretty exhausted after having worked on the film for four years. No longer was I an individual filmmaker having to promote and ‘sell’ the film on my own.” Winning Girl, an inspiring film about a Hawaiian teen wrestler and judo competitor, was also a part of the inaugural Ready, Set, Pitch! panel at a previous festival and will be shown at this year’s CAAMFest.
As Documentary Fund recipient Sara Dosa tells us, being a part of CAAM means becoming a part of a larger community. Her CAAMFest 2015 documentary feature, The Last Season, looks at the friendship between a Cambodian refugee and Vietnam war veteran who pick the rare matsutake mushroom. “The funds will help us finish a cut at a critical phase in the project’s life. And, I feel like I’ve entered into a new partnership to be a part of the CAAM ‘family.’ I so look forward to working with them to launch my film into the world.”
—Ashlyn Perri and Momo Chang
CAAM Funded Documentaries at CAAMFest 2015