As part of CAAMFest40, we held a one-day CAAM Filmmaker Summit with the theme of “Centering Ourselves” to support the development of creatives who are telling underrepresented Asian American stories. Veteran and emerging storytellers and creators came together virtually through three curated panel conversations in Zoom.
The Power of Personal Documentary Films
The Power of Personal Documentary Films: The Creators Session commenced the event. Director of Artist programs of International Documentary Association (IDA), Abby Sun moderated the first panel which featured Director of Act of Worship, Nausheen Dadabhoy, Director of Re-present Media, Jennifer Crystal Chien, Director of Bad Axe, David Siev, and Filmmaker, Writer, and Educator, Chanda Chevannes.
Jennifer and Chanda gave an overview of their study entitled The Power of Personal Documentary Films. Jennifer first clarified that when they talk about “personal story and personal storytelling” they don’t always mean autobiographical but rather stories of people and community. Chanda then described their concept of personal documentary films. She explained that personal stories of the filmmaker are qualitative data,using words and experiences as data, and not numbers. For her, working on this study was inspiring. She felt joy and purpose in these dark times. They were doing something important and interesting despite joining this later.
They presented their report on personal documentaries. Their process, how their survey went, and the significant findings they’ve learned. One of these was the fact that most of the filmmakers fund their own personal documentaries, as many funders often don’t fund films that highlight BIPOC personal histories.
David, the director of Bad Axe, shared his journey on creating his family’s story. He always wanted to share this story —how his family raises kids, runs several businesses and how the pandemic hugely impacted their livelihood. For him, it’s a collection of his memories. Meanwhile, Nausheen also shared her journey in the industry. She mentioned the challenges in making a documentary about the Muslim community. She talked about her process of selecting the kind of narratives to include in her film.
How it started. How it’s going
CAAM fellows shared meaningful experiences about their lives as in the second panel entitled, “How It Started. How it’s Going.” They reflected on the challenges and changes the pandemic brought into their art and productivity. This conversation included Kevin Truong, Director of Mai American,, Su Kim, Producer of CAAMFest’s opening night film Free Chol Soo Lee producer,, Marjan Safinia, Producer and Director of And She Could Be Next,Hao Wu, Director of 76 Days,, Pallavi Somusetty,Director of Welcome Home Jhaiji, and Norbert Shieh, Director of Preserves.
The fellows shared the same sentiments about the challenges of staying creative with limited resources. There were too many changes and adjustments to be productive to achieve their goals.
“Everything I knew before is no longer valid,” Su Kim shared about how she felt about the pandemic. When the pandemic started, Hao Wu appreciated the space that CAAM provided even more. “It was a cathartic experience as well because there was so much stress around me,” he explained. Marjan shared that she believed being available all the time was fictional. She talked about the importance of setting boundaries and being honest about one’s availability.
Perspective from the Pacific
Lastly, the third panel celebrated the specificity of stories from the Pacific Islander community. “Perspectives from the Pacific” included Cheryl Hirasa, interim Executive Ddirector of Pacific Islanders in Communication (PIC) , Alika Tengan, Director of Every Day in Kaimukī , Ciara Lacy, Director of This is the Way We Rise , Tad Nakamura, Director of Mele Murals, Tavae Samuelu, Executive Director of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC). Ciara set the tone of the program with an opening blessing or an Oli and Tavae moderated the conversation.
The joyful moderator Tavae commenced the discussion by asking the panelists what the panelists thought was their kuleana or their duty or responsibility as a storyteller.
Tad shared wisdom from his father, filmmaker and UCLA professor Robert Nakamura, that the measure of success of one’s film is how useful it can be. He added that there are many stories and understanding what your kuleana and privileges would help in choosing which story to tell. Ciara always started with herself whenever choosing a story. For her, it’s a personal thing. Knowing her personal connection in the story helped her choose. Alika was inspired by the people of Hawaii every day. He’s more on representing the lives of native Hawaiians and their experiences.
The storytellers from the Pacific shared their takeaways in Pacifika storytelling. The most important thing one could learn from these lessons was that not all films need to be told a certain way. It’s always good to show different sides, forms to a story.
CAAM celebrates diversity with Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers. Through CAAMFest, the filmmakers’ experiences of joy and challenges are shared with their fellow creators. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but the journey in this industry is always worthwhile.
The CAAMFest40 Filmmaker Summit is made possible with support from the Jessie Cheng Charitable Foundation and Pacific Islanders in Communications.