Looking Back at 2021 with CAAM

CAAM 2021 A Look Back
The past year has been a pivotal one for Asian Americans. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continued violence against AAPIs, we at CAAM continue to be reminded of the importance and power of our mission to showcase the richness and diversity of the Asian American experience. The work CAAM does matters, now more than ever. 

As this year draws to a close, we at CAAM are reflecting on our work in 2021 and some of the groundbreaking milestones achieved in Asian American media. The year kicked off with the releases of Nomadland and Minari, two Academy Award nominated movies that shed new light on rural American experiences and garnered Oscars for Chloé Zhao (Best Director, Nomadland) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Best Supporting Actress, Minari). The CAAM co-produced PBS documentary series Asian Americans also took home a Peabody Award. These and the box office success of Marvel’s Shang-Chi confirmed that 2021 would see Asian Americans featured on the big screen in ways we could have only dreamed of when a group of independent filmmakers gathered in Berkeley 41 years ago, creating what would eventually become the Center for Asian American Media. Even with these strides, more work is needed. CAAM continues to move forward with our mission of bringing an array of independent Asian American stories that showcase the diversity of our community to the widest audiences possible. 

Though this year brought its own share of hardships and challenges, we also have much to celebrate. Join us as we look back on 2021 and reflect on some of CAAM’s programs and achievements over the past 12 months. 


CAAM Broadcast
Graphic design by Andre Sibayan

CAAM holds a long history of working with public broadcasting to bring Asian American works to millions of viewers across the country and the globe. As a member of the National Multicultural Alliance (NMCA), CAAM is committed to bringing diverse programming to PBS.
In line with this vision, here are just some of the ways CAAM has continued to work within public media to reach audiences across the country this year.

  • Documentary Fund With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the CAAM Documentary Fund provides project funding to independent films about the Asian American experience. Recipients receive funding to complete their projects and connect with critical pathways to public media.
  • Celebration of AA and NHPI Heritage Month Program In May, CAAM produced A Celebration of the AA and NHPI Community: Highlighting Our Diverse Tapestry, a one-hour streaming program celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month. Hosted by PBS NewsHour chief correspondent Amna Nawaz, this event featured video addresses from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and Congresswoman Judy Chu, a reading from poet Sally Wen Mao, and appearances from Yo-Yo Ma, Lea Salonga and Daniel Dae Kim, among others. Following the immense challenges and hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian violence, the event brought the AA and NHPI community together for a live program of healing and solidarity.
  • PBS Short Film Festival CAAM streamed two short films in the 2021 PBS Short Film Festival this summer: Atomic Cafe: The Noisiest Corner in J-Town and Phony. Atomic Cafe, co-directed by Akira Boch and Tad Nakamura, tells the story of a Little Tokyo restaurant that served as an underground hub for Los Angeles’ punk scene in the 1980s. Jess dela Merced’s Phony centers on a young Asian American woman with anger management issues as she accompanies her mother on a grocery shopping trip.
  • A People’s History of Asian America In direct response to the increased violence against Asian Americans, CAAM partnered with PBS Digital Studios and Plum Studios to produce A People’s History of Asian America. Hosted by journalist Dolly Li and professor Adrian De Leon, this four-part video series breaks down complex topics including the rise of anti-Asian sentiment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the “model minority” myth, and the hypersexualization of Asian women. These youthful explainer-style videos are available on the PBS Voices YouTube channel, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.


CAAM Supporting Filmmakers
Graphic design by Andre Sibayan

One of CAAM’s major priorities is to nurture emerging talent and invest in the Asian American filmmakers of tomorrow. Here are a few of the ways CAAM has supported and offered opportunities this year.

  • CAAM Fellowship For the third year, the CAAM Fellowship program provides support to selected Asian American documentary filmmakers thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Jessie Cheng Charitable Foundation, and PBS. This year’s three Fellows–Bree Nieves, So Yun Um and Elizabeth Ai–received project and career guidance from accomplished mentors– Geeta Gandbhir, Steve Maing and Nanfu Wang–for 12 months and also participated in events such as the CAAMFest Filmmaker Summit and the virtual Ready, Set, Pitch! event and a curated list of filmmaker and industry cohort meetings.
  • Documentaries for Social Change Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the CAAM Documentaries for Social Change Fund provides grants for social issue documentary films that highlight Asian American narratives. Over the course of 2021, CAAM helped fund eight documentaries featuring the breadth and diversity of the Asian American experience. Development funding for documentary projects are crucial to our mission of supporting a greater diversity of filmmakers and stories about the Asian American experience.


CAAM The South regional work

Asian Americans are a diverse group, living in New York and California and everywhere in between. CAAM recognizes that Asian American makers in underrepresented areas such as the American South may face different challenges than their peers in coastal or major metropolitan areas. Through initiatives like The Sauce Fellowship and Hindsight, we hope to shed light on more Asian American stories coming out of these regions.

  • Hindsight In January 2021, six filmmakers were announced as participants for Hindsight, an initiative focused on supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) filmmakers living in the American South and U.S. Territories. The first-time partnership between CAAM, Firelight Media and Reel South is made possible with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, Wyncote Foundation, and Ford Foundation. The six selected filmmakers worked closely with all three organizations through all stages of productions and received $20,000 for a short that aims to disrupt mainstream narratives and illuminate the issues, communities, and identities of these regions. The resulting six films, including Kiyoko McCrae’s We Stay in the House and Amman Abbasi’s Udaan, premiered in June at AFI DOCS 2021. Hindsight went on to stream on the WORLD Channel’s YouTube channel and broadcast on PBS in the Fall.
  • The Sauce Fellowship – In partnership with the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC), CAAM selected its inaugural cohort for The Sauce Fellowship Aiming to support young, emerging Asian American filmmakers in the regional South. Made possible with support from the Ford Foundation and PBS, the nine-month fellowship provides resources, networking opportunities, workshops, mentoring and distribution guidance for its participants. The fellows wrapped their mentorship with producer Darcy McKinnon and filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala by premiering their six short films at the New Orleans Film Festival in November. Many of the Sauce fellows were able to travel to represent their films at NOFF and talk about their stories to a theater full of people who came to watch their films. 


In May, CAAM presented the 39th CAAMFest, a hybrid festival featuring drive-in experiences, live virtual screenings and events, and over 80 films to watch on-demand. Despite the unique challenges and limitations posed by the second year of COVID-19 pandemic, CAAMFest 2021 brought 11 days of film, music, and food, bringing together over 10,000 attendees to experience a multitude of Asian and Asian American films.

Some of the highlights of this year’s CAAMFest:

  • Drive-In Screenings CAAMFest 2021 featured three evenings of drive-in presentations at Fort Mason Flix in San Francisco.
      • Opening Night brought two showings of Debbie Lum’s Try Harder!, a CAAM-funded documentary focused on San Francisco’s Lowell High School and the immense pressure high schoolers face as they apply to top colleges.
      • Celebration of Filipino American Stories highlighted the diverse Filipino American experience with Dante Basco’s feature film directorial debut, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, and Patricio Ginelsa’s action comedy film Lumpia With a Vengeance.
      • Hong Kong Cinema Showcase featured screenings of Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together and Adam Wong’s The Way We Keep Dancing.
    • Food and Community In a year marked both by the economic challenges faced by Asian restaurateurs and the resonance of food narratives such as Michelle Zauner’s best-selling memoir Crying in H-Mart, CAAM hosted a candid conversation with Chef Tu David Phu and Chef Reem Assil, two outspoken leaders in the Bay Area cooking scene who discussed how to make food equitable and culturally relevant during these times.
    • Music Capping off our 39th festival, filmmaker and musician H.P. Mendoza took over the virtual stage for the Folx Dance Party alongside performers including Anna Ishida, Lex the Lexicon, and Goh Nakamura. The electrifying night was one for the books.


    CAAM Storytellers 2021
    Graphic design by Andre Sibayan

    During 2021, CAAM continued our popular Storytellers series spotlighting visionary Asian Americans who are elevating our stories and expanding the way we tell them. This year‘s 10 featured Storytellers were filmmaker Ursula Liang, actor and producer Dante Basco, professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, chef Tu David Phu, filmmaker Geeta Gandbhir, blogger Phil Yu, filmmaker Set Hernandez Rongkilyo, journalist Amna Nawaz, filmmaker Elizabeth Ai, and the power duo of journalist Dolly Li and professor Adrian De Leon.

    CAAM members also received free access to two live conversations with filmmaker Ursula Liang and political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan. These virtual Storytellers events allowed our members to dive deeper with these thought leaders and their insights into the future of Asian America. 

    Moving Forward in 2022

    We look forward to continuing our work of uplifting Asian and Asian American stories and supporting filmmakers in 2022, as we celebrate our 40th CAAMFest in May. Thank you for your ongoing support and stay tuned for more in the new year.


    Donate to CAAM by December 31, 2021

    If you have the means, we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount CAAM at CAAMedia.org/Donate by December 31, 2021. You can also mail a check issued to “Center for Asian American Media” with “donation” in the memo line to CAAM’s office at 145 Ninth Street, Suite 350, San Francisco, CA 94103.

    Donations received or dated by December 31, 2021 will be acknowledged as received in the 2021 tax year.

    Your support will strengthen and sustain CAAM’s legacy of changing the world, one story at a time.

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