Life can harden us, steal something precious. Our warmth, our hope, our friendliness, even our hugs, as one person put it to me recently. Our heart. The opposite of being woke might be this: being numb, inured, apathetic, asleep, closed. Everyone at my recent Compassion Cultivation Teachers’ Training said something to this effect, and how rare, strange, weird – and precious – it can be to be in a caring, supportive community, and to feel belonging. When your heart opens, suffering comes in, meets your loving heart, and compassion, joy and oneness explode from every pore. The soul comes to critical mass, and inner and outer landscapes transform. I think that’s what woke means to me.
CAAMFest brings our souls to critical mass, every year. I’m always so impressed by so much talent in front of and behind the cameras, bringing visions, stories and histories to life. Each film is a precious gem of creative effort. From pearls of wisdom to comedic gold to indestructible diamonds of purposeful living. You can’t help but be enriched – whether you watch only a three-minute jewel or the whole treasure chest of two weeks of film, music and food.
Does that seem over-the-top? Hey, they don’t call me the Superfan for nothing!
I’ve previewed quite a few films already – any would be a good starting point to talk about the world we share, the dreams in our heads, and what future we desire. Let’s start from the ground up. Nikiko Masumoto (of the Masumoto farm, seen in Jim Choi’s Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm at CAAMFest 2015) has more than one orchard growing, as it turns out. She describes herself (in this year’s HALFWAY HOME: ASIAN AMERICAN ART IN THE CENTRAL VALLEY) as an “agrarian artist,” for whom “growing food is a form of art-making.”
Food has always been about story. The themes that brought me home: family, resilience, art, trying to create through art the kind of California that is representative of the diversity of my family and the Central Valley. If we don’t find ways of building empathy and compassion – we won’t be able to prevent hatred, marginalization and oppression. – Nikiko Masumoto
Art is indeed a way of cultivating and transmitting compassion. Masumoto powerfully displays that in the Japanese American identities she inhabits on stage. You will also come away warmed by Harjeet Singh and Paramjeet Kaur’s passion for bhangra and giddha (Punjabi dance forms), and Lon Chan’s costume- and culture-making for Cambodian dance.
Jun Stinson’s FUTBOLISTAS 4 LIFE is one of those films you wish all sides in the immigration debate would see. If we’re starting with the ground – how do we want to share this Earth? What does it mean to be a vulnerable immigrant dealing with boundaries imagined and ordained by others, and judgments emanating from fearful and hardened hearts? How can resilience and community grow? It takes people like Dania Cabello, a coach in every sense for youth like April Rojas and Benjamin Gonzalez, who also bring their whole selves to the field of life.
There’s a forest of shorts ready to take root in your heart. Kirthi Nath‘s 98 YEARS AND COUNTING: MORE WOMEN LEADERS NEEDED EVERYWHERE opens the FIGHTERS AND DREAMERS program with a rousing call to action, and the beating heart of a movement that is galvanizing many of us. (To give you a taste – there’s actually a trailer!) I recognized myself when I heard a woman describe how women think – so Kirthi anointed me an honorary woman, at least in this respect. AMERICAN DREAMING by Matthew Hashiguchi (director of GOOD LUCK SOUP, CAAMFest 2017) gives another look at the lives of vulnerable immigrant youth, this time in Georgia. And Sean Au’s SAN JOSE TOFU CO. documents a beloved Bay Area institution that just recently closed its doors.
Forest Ian Etsler and Sébastien Simon (ONE-MINDED, CAAMFest 2017) return to spiritual themes in THE TROUBLED TROUBADOUR, part of the ALTERED STATES program. Their film reminded me of DEAD MAN, with a surreal, poetic take on a bardo beyond death. Emily Chang (recently seen on TV’s LIFE IN PIECES and NEW GIRL, as well as being Ivy in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and starring in GRASS by Tanuj Chopra) gives us a turn of horror in A VACATION IN HOLLYWOOD by Mukesh Vidyasagar. Cyrus Yoshi Tabar (IT IS WHAT IT IS, CAAMFest 2017’s Loni Ding Award winner) returns with a haunting exploration of memory and loss in SANZU NO KAWA: THE RIVER OF THREE CROSSINGS. Basically, ALTERED STATES has everything from Ass (SPACE BUTTHOLE) and Aswangs (ASWANG NEXT DOOR) to Zombies (RUNNER). A dark, mystical, and frequently humorous forest indeed.
If you love music, you’ll love so much at CAAMFest – including MADE YOU A MIXTAPE. Scots-Sikh bhangra fusion? Track 5, Rachel Lattin et al’s TIGERSTYLE. Bay Area Filipinx DJ’s in the 80s? Track 3, Marie Jamora’s FLIP THE RECORD. Making music for peace at the DMZ? Track 1, Catherine Kyeungeun Lee’s 9 AT 38.
Press play, press play, press play.
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Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. His full-length nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Book Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. He just found out Thich Nhat Hanh won the Gold – so he can’t really complain. His latest longform essay on gun psychology, Guns Are Not Our God! The NRA Is Not Our Church! is available now. He also leads compassion and self-compassion workshops. More MOSF posts can be found here.