Memoirs of a Superfan 11.4 – Curations

Image from "Operation Popcorn."
This oasis is overflowing. Cannes has nothing on CAAMmes.

MOSF 11.4


During the month before CAAMFest, I immerse myself in screeners. After carefully plotting my course through the festival week, my avid, antsy, craving fingers flipping through pages of a soon-to-be-well-worn-and-dog-eared program guide, I decide which films I’ll have to watch on the smaller screen of my home, which becomes my womb, my solo space capsule. I’m an astronaut on Spaceship CAAM, a CAAMstronaut, getting my mission instructions from ground control. Story after story blossoms on my wall, direct transmissions from the Source, the heart of Asian America. The image is clear – I’ve mastered the technical feat of a non-stuttering Vimeo feed – and the vision is clarifying. But I’m alone with it. My thoughts, though, soon turn to friends who I think would like the particular movie on display. So even though I’m alone, I’m never alone. The film beckons, inviting me into and involving me with the world as imagined by the director’s lens, and my own mind draws my own world close. The two make contact: this is my interplanetary mission. I gather an imaginary crowd; my synapses swell with companions of spirit, assembling in a special nirvana of belonging and family beyond space and time.

CAAM has curated an incredible journey for all of us, and convened us around an oasis of film and AsianAmericana, blooming in a desert where we’ve wandered thirsty for too long. Naturally, I imagine curating a succulent selection of satisfactions for each of my friends. All these friends have created a home for me and others here in the Bay Area.

Valerie Luu and Katie Kwan (Rice Paper Scissors) – their Autumn Moon Festivals, lunches, dinners and personal warmth have been welcoming for years. Valerie and Andria Lo have been documenting Chinatown elder fashion at Chinatown Pretty, and recently had an exhibition at CCDC. I imagined they would love Julia Kwan’s EVERYTHING WILL BE, a heartfelt meditation on Vancouver’s changing Chinatown. Also on the menu for them would be PAINTED NAILS, a local documentary about the hazards of nail salons and featuring many Vietnamese American women. Also, being foodies, Valerie and Katie would appreciate the AM I AMERICAN, I AM AMERICAN shorts program, featuring NOODLE DELI and DONUT SHOP, written about in KQED Bay Area Bites. If they were in a more serious mood, I would serve up OPERATION POPCORN, about Hmong refugees entrapped by a government sting in a plot to send munitions to anti-government forces in Laos.

Jane Kim was one of my first new friends when I moved back to San Francisco in 2002. At the time, she was a co-founder of Locus Arts in Japantown. Jane = community, then and now. One of the last events of Locus was a welcome home party for Eddy Zheng, who is featured in Ben Wang’s documentary BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY. I remember Rev. Norman Fong introducing Eddy at that event, telling us how Eddy’s sincerity and confidence won him over from his initial skepticism. Eddy’s gathered a community of friends over the years, enough to fill three screenings of the film, two of which are at or near rush. I could only hope the ever-busy Jane Kim, now running for State Senate, would have time for more music and film. DIRECTIONS IN SOUND: KOREAN SHOWCASE and TWO LUNES, about two Vietnamese and Korean women living lonely lives abroad, come to mind for her as well.

Image from "Atomic Heart."
Image from “Atomic Heart.”

Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee have led the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking tour for years. (You can join others in nominating them for a White House Champion of Change in AAPI Storytelling by March 9th, text of nomination here.) By teaching history that otherwise might be lost to memory, they have made the Bay Area more welcoming to all of Asian American diversity. Since they also have a great sense of humor, I think they would love GOOD OL’ BOY, a late 1970s South Asian American Wonder Years set in the rural south. I LOL’d at all the sight gags and cultural clashes that reminded me of my own young years growing up in Alabama and Tennessee, and that girl I had a crush on in the 4th grade… Barnali and Anirvan would also love ATOMIC HEART, a surreal dramedy filled with great dialogue and memorable characters, fresh from Iran. I randomly ran into them at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 2009, when they were on their flightless yearlong trip around the world, so I know they would appreciate how nuclear tensions play out in Iranian consciousness. On the doc side, DRAWING THE TIGER was beautifully filmed in Nepal over the course of seven eventful years in the Damal family’s life.

My friend Sita Bhaumik has to see SONS OF HALAWA because one of the protagonists could be the Hawaiian ringer for her husband, Victor. More importantly, the film is about how culture is sustained and invigorated despite change, something which she does with all her amazing food events for Kearny Street Workshop, the People’s Kitchen and others. For my friends in the comedy sketch group 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, especially punk-loving Todd Nakagawa, there’s the Peelander-Z doc, MAD TIGER. The members of this wild punk group, like the Psychedelic Power Rangers of Punk, come in their own rainbow shade and style. “All artistic creation involves suffering,” Peelander Purple says, especially when you’re creating with a group. But there’s magic too. Involving human bowling and crazy hairdos.

My Taiwanese American Friends would love PARACHUTE GIRLS (starring the wonderful Emily Chang and Lynn Chen), in the ROOTS shorts program, about sisters, grown up half-abandoned by their parents, working out their conflicts over a very awkwardly culture-clashed dinner. I learned that parachute kids were the counterpart to the “astronaut dads” I’d long heard about from friends and patients. H.P. Mendoza has his own event at the Asian Art Museum, but since he’s into horror, he would like both CRUSH THE SKULL and PALI ROAD (with Taiwanese superstar Michelle Chen, Sung Kang, and LOST’s Henry Ian Kusick). The former is camp, and the latter veers more to romantic/psychological thriller territory; both hit their marks.

I can’t publicly say to whom I’d recommend KAMPAI: FOR THE LOVE OF SAKE, but you know who you are. I’ll be there and sippin’ a little somthin’ somthin’ myself. Some of these folks would probably pair their tasting with Tanuj Chopra’s GRASS, starring Pia Shah and Emily Chang (in her second film of the fest, making this year CHANGfest, FTW!)

For my friends around the world affected by Hepatitis B, BE ABOUT IT is sure to educate and inspire. For my physician friends, and anyone affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, PLEASE REMEMBER ME is a noteworthy offering, detailing the lives of a Shanghai couple as the wife loses her memory. How do we cope with loss and change? These are themes Royston Tan visited in his documentaries OLD PLACES and OLD ROMANCES, seen at CAAMFest 2013. This year, he portrays the losses of a changing Singapore through a parking lot attendant and her aging, senile father in narrative feature form in 3688. Both he and Mabel Cheung (A TALE OF THREE CITIES and THE SOONG SISTERS) are flying in from Asia to be with us this week. CAAMFest is a beacon to the world indeed, beckoning all to her shores.

As you can tell, I could go on and on. This oasis is overflowing. Cannes has nothing on CAAMmes.

Come to the festival. Come home.

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Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. He writes The Pacific Heart blog for Psychology Today. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or best of all, sign up for an occasional newsletter at, and find out about his upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, and his e-book on Asian American Anger, now available for free download. More CAAMFest MOSF blog posts can be found here and here.