An Asian American is a type of American,
a typo to some.
Imbued with punctuations
Punctuated with implications.
Hyphens, asterisks, question marks, erasures
A parenthetical remark –
She’s always read between the lines –
Emphasized or invisible-ized
by tonal pronunciations
foreign to narrow tongues.
to exclamation point.
In the end, she knows
Every human is a type of human
Fighting to be herself.
A unique embodied expression
Of the only type of love.
What better way to draw our attention to the struggle to be an individual and a community with common cause than CAAMFest 2016’s Closing Night Film RIGHT FOOTED’s inspirational story of Jessica Cox? Jessica put me on the spot and asked me at the afterparty what moment of the film was most memorable to me. I told her I was a psychiatrist, so I would have to choose her honest description of her child-self as angry and self-centered. She had to change, shed and cultivate to become herself, as we all do. She did so, dramatically, flying a metaphorical banner from the Ercoupe plane she pilots-by-foot (!) and speaking around the world for disability rights, even as our own Congress fails to ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, mostly out of sheer opposition to the U.N., though our own Americans with Disabilities Act recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary. I didn’t get the chance to ask her if she wanted to run for political office. (I’m asking now!)
This year more than ever it is clear we need to rally all our diversity, to show up at the polls and for each other with our full presence. We may be angry, but what’s clear is that the reactionary forces opposing diversity and unity are angry too. I don’t think we can simply overpower power with power, but we need to offer our “vision beyond division” ®. Jessica Cox is exemplar of the kind of visionaries we need. CAAMFest provides culture-creating vision every year. If only everyone could have the expansive, even spiritual, experience I have every year at the festival. Could cinema cure what ails us, what separates us? Yes, resoundingly. Come closer.
To be an individual, to become yourself, is to inspire and be inspired. BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY (Winner of the Documentary Feature Audience Award as well as the Honorable Mention Documentary Jury Award) offered us inspiration for a lifetime, no pun intended. Eddy changed and grew profoundly, but the film did not leave out the trauma of the victims of the crime he committed at age 16. Through an intermediary, and through film, they perhaps came a little closer, to forgiveness and peace. Part of being whole is making home for others, as I wrote in MOSF 11.6.
We must make home – yet for many in our society, HOME IS A HOTEL (Vimeo trailer here). Kevin Wong’s wonderful short film, taking us inside the lives and home of an SRO tenant in Chinatown, won the 2016 Loni Ding Award for Social Issue Documentary, and could potentially become a feature film, if I understood correctly at the Q and A. Joella Cabalu’s IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY won Honorable Mention in this category. A transcontinental exploration of LGBTQ identity in Cabalu’s family, this film definitely brought great warmth and compassion to the important need for acceptance and love, no matter your identity. Make home indeed.
Two fantastic films from the South Asian experience won awards this year as well. Frank Lotito’s GOOD OL’ BOY, which I called a late 1970s Indian American Wonder Years in MOSF 11.4, won the Narrative Jury Prize. Prashant Nair’s UMRIKA, which I didn’t see until festival week, won the narrative feature Audience Award. I have been known to get somewhat annoyed at people who say they don’t go the Asian American or other indie film fests because the films are “not as good” as mainstream movies. Really, Batman vs Superman? I defy anyone to not be entertained and moved by any film at this year’s CAAMFest, particularly these two extraordinary movies. Look for them in theaters. Or else it’ll be Superfan vs. Badmash. One film I know will grace the screens soon is the Honorable Mention winner of the Comcast Narrative Jury award, Jonathan Lim’s PALI ROAD. I interviewed Jonathan and producer Da Xing Zhang at CAAMFest, and that will go up the week before the film’s April 29th release.
I was thrilled to see all the short films this year. I highlighted and provided a link to one great film featuring another Super Fan in MOSF 11.8, and featured an interview with Viet Le in MOSF 11.7. The AT&T Student Filmmaker Awards highlighted three great films: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s BORN WITH IT, about anti-Black racism in Japan; Huay-Bing Law’s FROM TONGA, about the intersection of Texas football and Tongan American identity; and DO NOT THINK FOR A MOMENT by Adria Su and Vivian Wang, about Queer identity and produced for a class taught by the incredible filmmaker and SFSU Professor Valerie Soe.
Being in this festival is an award in itself, for both filmmakers and audience. I greatly enjoyed DRAWING THE TIGER, winner of the Documentary Feature Jury Award. Directors Amy Benson, Scott Squire and Ramyata Limbu spent seven years with their subject; viewing this film is a humbling and humanizing experience. Our only hope is connecting to each other in that humanity. In that vein, Tad Nakamura’s MELE MURALS was an incredible and expansive follow up to his 2012 Hawai’ian themed film, LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS, whose World Premiere I wrote about in MOSF 7.6: The Jake Edition. This film brought us to the land, spirit and art of Hawai’i, whose aloha should ripple throughout our lives. Thanks, Tad, for your deep and detailed filmmaking.
Last week, I tweeted that I was in CAAMFest withdrawals. I quickly made plans to ease my pain, though. I’ll catch another screening of CAAMFest’s NOODLE DELI by David Liu at 18 Reason’s Food and Farm Film Festival opening night shorts program this Friday night. And the following week, the Green Film Festival features master filmmaker Mark Decena’s NOT WITHOUT US in its closing night World Premiere, as well as BEHEMOTH from China and I AM CHUT WUTTY from Cambodia. Mark is behind our CAAMFest trailers most years, not to mention all his other great work, including the incredible premiere of Memories to Light, which I wrote about in MOSF 8.9: Labor of Love.
See you at the films! And I can’t wait for CAAMFest 2017!
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 www.RaviChandraMD.com, 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.