A Farewell, But Not Goodbye

CAAM Festival and Exhibitions Director Masashi Niwano at the Fort Mason Drive-In for CAAMFest 2021

About 20 years ago, I was an aspiring student studying cinema at San Francisco State University. I didn’t really know what kinds of films I wanted to make, but ever since I was a kid I knew the power of cinema. My immigrant parents worked late nights and had no idea where to find a babysitter. So they would take me to the local video store, and I would rent stacks of VHS tapes. Films taught me about the world, inspired me and at times were my escape from reality.

One day, my professor Anita Chang (she’s also an incredibly talented filmmaker) recommended that I intern at Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), which was still called the National Asian American Telecommunication Association (NAATA). That decision changed the direction of my life.

Through CAAM, I watched so many wonderful films by Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers. Up until this point, I had never seen AAPI characters being the stars of their stories. It felt revolutionary, and I was hooked. I went from an intern to a festival volunteer to a selected filmmaker and ultimately CAAM’s Festival and Exhibitions Director. I was offered the position when I was still living in Austin, Texas. When CAAM’s phenomenal Executive Director Stephen Gong  offered me the position, I screamed out loud with joy.

Masashi Niwano CAAMFest 2011
Masashi at CAAMFest 2011

The past 11 years has been incredible and everything I could have hoped for. I don’t have enough words to describe how impressed I am by the passionate CAAM staff, board and interns. We have accomplished so much within the last decade, and I credit the success to the CAAM Family— which also includes all of the filmmakers and artists I had the privilege to work with and of course, our amazing audiences.

I started right before CAAMFest celebrated our 30th anniversary. It was a great opportunity for me to think about the future of the festival and where I wanted to see it go. This included more diversity in programming (our new tag line: FILM. MUSIC. FOOD) and to curate more programs throughout the Bay Area, especially in underserved neighborhoods. A few years ago, I counted how many venues we hosted screenings and events throughout San Francisco and Oakland. It was 17. Being able to bring AAPI stories to audiences all around the Bay Area has been incredible.

In 2022, CAAMFest turns 40. Where has the time gone? Within the past decade, I have seen the rise of the Asian American creative community and it’s been wonderful to see us thrive. No doubt, there continues to be some real needs from filmmakers and artists and this pandemic only made things worse. I have always thought of CAAMFest as a dynamic space that reflects our creative community and who champions diverse stories to get on the big screen. That fight continues, and it’s time for someone new to take the festival in an exciting new direction. Throughout my time at CAAM, I have met so many amazing community members, industry professionals, curators, and more. I have no doubt that CAAM will find the right person to shine and meet the moment.

This might be a farewell, but not a goodbye. Although I’m stepping away from CAAM and this position, I will continue to be part of the CAAM Family. I plan to stay in San Francisco and will be attending future CAAMFest. It always warmed my heart to see (former CAAMFest Festival Director Chi-Hui Yang) in attendance. It’s hard to describe in words how important his presence and support was to me. I hope I can do the same for the next Festival Director.

Before I go, a few quick thank yous: first off, thanks to Stephen Gong and Don Young. I can’t imagine any better mentors one could have. Thanks to the CAAM staff and board (current and past), you’re all stars to me. Thanks to the CAAMFest filmmakers and artists I got to meet throughout the years. You trusted in me and CAAM to showcase your films and because of that, I always did my best to make your showcase special.

Thank you if you ever attended CAAMFest. I have met so many wonderful people,  and I always tried to program films that would inspire, educate and entertain you. When you didn’t see me in the theater, I was probably behind the screen or up in the projection booth. I loved watching the audience reactions, many times with the filmmaker(s) right next to me. And although I will miss that, I’m excited to be part of the audience and watch along with all of you. 

Masashi Niwano
Masashi at CAAMFest 37

Take care and see you at the movies.

Masashi Niwano
Festival and Exhibitions Director

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