CAAM 2019 Filmmaker Summit Gathered Asian American Documentary Filmmakers and Documentary Leaders

On Saturday, CAAM hosted our 2019 Filmmaker Summit at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco.

As participants streamed into the screening room where the summit was held, there was a palpable sense of excitement as leaders in the documentary industry arrived and greeted participants. There were veteran filmmakers like Deann Borshay Liem and Renee Tajima-Peña, organizations like ITVS and Tribeca Film Institute, alongside emerging makers and CAAM Fellows.

The day kicked off with an opening panel titled “Change Agents in the Documentary Space” featuring Leslie Fields-Cruz, Executive Director of Black Public Media (BPM), Naja Pham Lockwood, CAAM Board member and Impact Partners & Gamechanger 2.0, Monika Navarro, Senior Director of Programs at Tribeca Film Institute; Renee Tajima-Peña, Filmmaker and Professor at UCLA and A-Doc Founding member and moderated by Donald Young, CAAM Director of Programs.

Renee Tajima-Peña set the tone for the day by proclaiming that in documentary, “sustainability is a bitch” and documentary filmmakers are like “Uber drivers” because they must buy their own cars, pay for gas, and get paid next to nothing. But in spite of that fact, she said, the present day is seeing a real rise in Asian American documentary films with many makers in the community doing great work and getting distribution. (Watch the livestream video of the “Change Agents in the Documentary Space”).  

Leslie Fields-Cruz, Executive Director of Black Public Media, talked about reaching younger generations through public media, including pushing diverse platforms.

Monika Navarro, Senior Director of Programs at Tribeca Film Institute and a CAAM Fellowship Mentor, noted similarities between Latinx and Asian American communities. “We also have so many countries and different geopolitics…much like China can dominate in terms of the storytellers and money, Mexico can too, and Mexican Americans. We’re  always have to be mindful and aware of what other folks can get obscured…it’s complicated.” She added that she’s grateful for the younger generation of filmmakers and artists who are fluid in their thinking about identity. “To me that is the future, that we can be in these spaces and still be ourselves. Probably for previous generations, it was a painful process of assimilation.”

The panel was followed by a thoughtful conversation about the role and importance of public media in the documentary space. The conversation featured Sylvia Bugg, Vice President, Diversity & Television Content, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in conversation with CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong.

Sylvia Bugg, CPB Vice President of Diversity & Television Content with CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong. Photo by Kelsey Ogden.

Sylvia Bugg started out by acknowledging that the public media landscape is indeed complicated with both CPB and PBS and all the entities that CPB funds like CAAM, ITVS, World Channel, and others. “What we try to provide are resources for a film and your engagement plan, really taking the film and engaging in dialogues with the community,” she said. “That’s the real value of public media.” She also noted that public media must think about more accessible delivery of programming like streaming platforms and social media outlets. Sylvia Bugg mentioned that CPB has a few programming initiatives that focus on education, health, and rural stories. In addition, she emphasized how CPB thinks about and focuses on developing talent. But ultimately she said, CPB really funds the partnerships and organizations that are already doing this work. (Watch the livestream video of  “The Case for Public Media & A Program Announcement” here).

After lunch, CAAM Fellows got ready to make a pitch for their projects — with a $10,000 award on the line. The Ready, Set, Pitch! segment featured the following projects and filmmakers: Light of the Setting Sun by Vicky Du, Language of Opportunity by Anuradha Rana, America (Re)mixed by Pulkit Datta, and Above & Below the Ground by Emily Hong. The Pitch jury consisted of Amy Hobby, Tribeca Film Institute; Michael Kinomoto, ITVS; Karim Ahmad, Sundance Institute, and Carrie Lozano, IDA. The winner of the pitch, Vicky Du’s Light of the Setting Sun, was announced at the awards brunch the following day (see full list of CAAMFest37 award winners).

The afternoon panels includes “Building Relationships & Telling Stories” with Karin Chien, Producer; Jean Tsien, Editor; and moderated by Andrew Lee, Producer. (watch the livestream here). During this session, Jean Tsien brought up that she would love to start a collection from the community to raise funds to support the three other Fellows who wouldn’t be receiving the award inspired by something she saw at HotDocs called the “Cuban hat,” which she renamed the “Asian hat.” Moderator Andrew Lee promptly offered his baseball cap which made the rounds across the room and ended up raising more than $4000 in cash donations and more in-kind editing and other support.

Leo Chiang, Director (Our Time Machine, which just received the CAAMFest37 Best Documentary Award alongside Jason DaSilva’s When We Walk) and Violet Feng, Producer, followed with a panel called “Going Global: International Financing & Co-Productions.” The session was an informative introduction into specifically how to engage with potential markets in China and Taiwan and other Asian countries that are now recognizing the value of documentary and investing in them (watch the livestream here).

The Summit ended with smaller, more intimate roundtable discussions, providing a space for participants to meet with industry leaders on specific topics. Monika Navarro, Mridu Chandra & Sylvia Bugg met with participants to talk about fundraising, while Karin Chien, Amy Hobby, and Leslie Fields-Cruz tackled the topic of producing. Concurrently, Leo Chiang and Karim Ahmad (Director of Outreach & Inclusion at the Sundance Institute), led a discussion about directing. Veteran award-winning editor Jean Tsien and Michael Kinomoto met to dissect into the roles of editors.

There were more than 70 participants and many furthered their connections during a happy hour and commented on how the day had helped inspire and energize them.  


Since the inaugural Filmmaker Summit at CAAMFest 2018, CAAM has launched a new Fellowship Program, created a development fund for social issue documentary, and published a report on Asian American storytellers in the South.

The Fellowship Program — created in partnership with A-Doc, the Asian American Documentary Network — has an incredible initial group of fellows and mentors. We are excited to showcase their expertise and talent at this year’s Filmmaker Summit. Mentors will be leading sessions on critical areas of filmmaking including fundraising, producing, editing and relationship building. Fellows will have an exciting opportunity to pitch their projects at the Ready, Set, Pitch! Forum that’s making a return at CAAMFest 2019.

CAAM has been able to nurture Asian American makers, provide resources and cultivate new partnerships to build infrastructure that can accommodate growth because of the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Ford Foundation.

See all photos from the CAAM 2019 Filmmaker Summit here.