Bay Area film lovers! It's getting about time for one of my favorite events of the year. CAAMFest, formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, returns with another exciting celebration of film, music, food and digital media from the world's most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.
CAAMFest 2015 will showcase the work of new Asian and Asian American artists, as well as pay tribute to the pioneers who have paved the way for Asian Americans in media and entertainment. It's all going down March 12-22 in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. This kick off Thursday, March 12 with Opening Night Gala presentation of writer/director Benson Lee's coming-of-age comedy Seoul Searching.
Here's a rundown of some of CAAMFest's programming highlights:
OPENING AND CLOSING NIGHTS: SEOUL SEARCHING AND LUCKY CHOW
SEOUL SEARCHING: Fresh off its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, CAAMFest 2015 opens with SEOUL SEARCHING, directed by award winning Korean-American director Benson Lee. Inspired by THE BREAKFAST CLUB, one of the most quintessential films of its time and Lee's own personal experiences, SEOUL SEARCHING is a fun coming-of-age feature, chronicling the shenanigans and personal journeys of a group of international Korean teens sent to a government-sponsored summer camp for a crash course in Korean culture. Set in the 1980s, this John Hughes-inspired dramedy delivers a pitch-perfect tale of teenage angst, modernized with a stellar Asian and Asian American cast. Director Benson Lee and several cast members including Justin Chon will be in attendance for opening night.
The excitement continues with the Opening Night Gala at the Asian Art Museum. Guests will have an exclusive look at the museum's newest exhibit, Seduction: Japan's Floating World, and enjoy sweet and savory tastings from some of San Francisco's local food purveyors, including Sol Food and Socola Chocolatier.
Sponsored by xfinity, Asian American Art Museum, AT&T, Cadillac, Singapore Airlines, Remy Martin, Girl Friday Events
LUCKY CHOW: CAAMFest 2015 concludes just a BART ride away in Oakland with the premiere of CAAM co-produced PBS series LUCKY CHOW. LUCKY CHOW follows LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder Danielle Chang as she travels across America exploring the Asian food landscape. The series features many of the country's most renowned chefs and culinary stars such as TOP CHEF winner Kristen Kish, YouTube sensation Maangchi and Bay Area favorite Ramen Shop. As CAAMFest's Closing Night presentation, LUCKY CHOW's six episodes will be showcased over two days and feature an Asian-inspired menu from The New Parkway kitchen.
CENTERPIECE PRESENTATION: MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW
MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW: This year's Centerpiece presentation brings Shonali Bose's MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW to the CAAMFest audience. Her deeply personal film dazzles with moments of careful reflection and emotional struggle as she tells the compelling and inspiring story of Laila, a young woman with cerebral palsy who dreams of becoming a writer. A NYU transplant from India's Delhi University, Laila's journey begins when she falls for a fiery female activist who tests her creative and personal boundaries.
Preceding the screening, CAAM will host a Centerpiece reception where guests will have the chance to rub elbows with director Shonali Bose and enjoy handcrafted Remy cocktails at the historic Castro Theatre.
Sponsored by xfinity, AT&T, Cadillac, Singapore Airlines, Remy Martin, Cooper White & Cooper
SPOTLIGHT: ARTHUR DONG: CAAM is pleased to recognize Oscar®-nominated and three-time Sundance award-winning filmmaker Arthur Dong as this year's Spotlight feature. A San Francisco native who has earned a multitude of prestigious awards for not only his work in film, but also for his public service, Dong is known for his prowess in utilizing the art of film as a means to investigate social issues and examine undisclosed parts of Asian American and LGBT history and identity. In celebration of Dong's legacy in film, CAAMFest is honored to present Spotlight: Arthur Dong, featuring two world premieres and a special on-stage conversation with noted film critic and author B. Ruby Rich.
PACIFIC ISLANDERS IN COMMUNICATIONS PRESENTS: PACIFIC SHOWCASE
KUMU HINA: Amidst the growing influence of Westernization, a transgender hula teacher strives to keep Native Hawaiian culture prosperous. On a subject rarely spoken of in Hawai'i, this documentary pushes the struggles of being “in the middle” to the surface.
Sponsored by Cooper White & Cooper, Pacific Islanders in Communications
WINNING GIRL: Teenage wrestling and judo phenom Teshya Alo is a heavyweight on the mat at a paltry 125 pounds. The tenacious high-schooler has her eyes set on being the first to take home Olympic gold medals for judo and wrestling in the same year.
Sponsored by Fox 2, Pacific Islanders in Communications
MUSLIM YOUTH VOICES: This selection of shorts from CAAM's Muslim Youth Voices Project's inaugural year offers refreshing insight into the lives and stories of a diverse American community. In a span of seven days, acclaimed filmmaker Musa Syeed worked with young students to craft and share tales of personal reflections, heroic intervention, struggles of faith and strength in activism. Muslim Youth Voices is generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
1990 INSTITUTE: YOUTH VOICES ON CHINA: The Youth Voices on China online video contest is the 1990 Institute's signature education initiative to foster better global awareness among young Americans. Come meet the winners from the middle, high school and college divisions and enjoy an exclusive premiere of all the finalists' videos.
Sponsored by 1990 Institute, Fox 2
A MOMENT IN TIME: Directed by Oscar-winner Ruby Yang, A MOMENT IN TIME explores the critical role of Chinatown movie theaters in San Francisco. With intimate, multi-generational interviews and rare film clips, the film keeps the legacy alive with records of theater history, connecting Chinese bachelors to the cinema and opera of the 1920s and '30s.
ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN: From the renowned Shaw Brothers Studio and acclaimed director Chang Cheh, ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN was the first film in Hong Kong history to gross HK$1 million. SWORDSMAN is the classic kung fu story of honor and sacrifice featuring Jimmy Wang, whose rise to stardom was in large part due to this film's success.
MEMORIES TO LIGHT: KIP FULBECK
For the third CAAMFest iteration of our innovative home movie initiative, CAAM is thrilled to present a live home movie performance by pioneering artist, spoken word performer and filmmaker Kip Fulbeck. Fulbeck's work, in films like BANANA SPLIT and books like Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids, delves deeply and fearlessly into the implications of mixed-race identity. Drawing upon his family's home movies, Fulbeck has fashioned a unique live performance that promises to be unforgettable. Selling out two years in a row, this festival favorite is sure to be a hit again this year.
DIRECTIONS IN SOUND
For over 10 years, Directions in Sound has been the Festival's premier Asian and Asian American music showcase featuring emerging and cutting-edge artists. Bringing together leading Asian American musicians, Directions in Sound exposes Bay Area audiences to innovative artists from the underground music scene, many of whom have built strong online followings and created new definitions of success. This year's program features hip‐hop and future beats from Cambodia, Vietnam, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Inspired by the legendary beats of hip-hop's iconic MC's, this year's Directions in Sound is bringing to the stage two of hip hop's rising Asian and Asian American female artists. Hailing from Queens, New York, Awkwafina brings her satirical and witty lyrics to CAAMFest with her viral hits “My Vag” and “Yellow Ranger.” Emerging from LaGuardia High School, the same school that molded Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks, Awkwafina's hipster, comedic New York swag will be on full display when she hits the Mercer stage.
Joining Awkwafina is Suboi, better known as Vietnam's “Queen of Hip-Hop,” who will be giving her first ever U.S performance. Influenced by the likes of Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Aaliyah among others, CAAMFest 2015 gets a taste of Vietnam hip hop royalty with Suboi's signature mix of international style and urban hip hop flavor.
Rounding out the night will be Los Angeles-based Kronika, representing the highly acclaimed Soulection crew, two-time World Champion DJ Vinroc, along with ConnectFlow radio host and party rocker DJ Bluz. Hosted by Asian American Hip-Hop pioneer, CHOPS of the Mountain Brothers.
Sponsored by Singapore Airlines
DIRECTIONS IN SOUND FILMS
This year, CAAMFest expands its music programming to include music-centric films paired with a special live performance. Influenced by this year's features, CAAM is excited to bring Cambodian American musician Bochan, Kollaboration SF veteran Tim Atlas and instrumentalist Masaru Koga to the CAAMFest audiences.
DON'T THINK I'VE FORGOTTEN: CAMBODIA'S LOST ROCK AND ROLL: Director John Pirozzi's sparkling film elegantly reveals the beauty of Cambodian culture pre-1975, giving the mic to artists like Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Pen Ran and Yol Aularong — who all perished in the Khmer Rouge genocide. Pirozzi brings their musical talents back to life on the big screen and we revitalize the musical pulse of Cambodia with an exclusive performance by Cambodian American musician, Bochan at the PFA theater.
KOLLABORATION SF: MOVEMENT IN MOTION: Tapping into San Francisco's local talent, this energizing documentary explores the making of Kollaboration SF's annual talent showcase. From exclusive interviews to behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, director Howard Lui delves into what it takes to bring Kollaboration's motto of “Empowerment through Entertainment” to life. Following the film, Kollaboration SF veteran Tim Atlas will bless the stage with a musical performance.
FRED HO'S LAST YEAR: Making its San Francisco debut just shy of the one-year anniversary of Fred Ho's passing, FRED HO'S LAST YEAR pays tribute to the musician's determination to share his insights with the world while confronting his battle with cancer. Exclusively following the New Parkway screening, multi-wind instrumentalist, Masaru Koga will honor Fred's legacy with a special live performance.
OFF THE MENU: CAAMFest favorite Grace Lee explores the contributions Asian Americans have made to the nation's culinary landscape, with the growing mainstream popularity of foods like kimchi and sushi. As she travels across the country, Lee discovers how Asian Americans have transformed ethnic foods into new revolutionary cuisines, while reflecting on her own identity.
SUPPER CLUB: Follow “Demon Chef” Alvin Leung as he visits the Bay Area's most exciting restaurants and speaks to renowned chefs, including Michael Mina and Corey Lee, about ingredients, craft and personal vision in the restaurant industry. Get ready to eat, drink and be inspired by all things gourmet and culinary!
LUCKY CHOW: LUCKY CHOW follows LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder Danielle Chang as she travels across America exploring the Asian food landscape. The series features many of the country's most renowned chefs and culinary stars such as TOP CHEF winner Kristen Kish, YouTube sensation Maangchi and Bay Area favorite Ramen Shop.
NARRATIVE AND DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Presenting an array of compelling stories and charming comedic anecdotes, this year's Narrative Competition includes MAN-UP! (dir. Justin Chon) a buddy comedy following two deadbeat friends forced to grow up quickly; NUOC 2030 (dir. Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo) a sci-fi crime mystery set in Vietnam, where global warming has lead sea levels to rise; and THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT (dir. Caryn Waecther) a bold young adult thriller about three high school girls whose secretive friendship throws their small town community into a modern day witch hunt. Other competition films include LOVE ARCADIA (dir. Lawrence Gan) a coming of age story of a young man's journey dealing with the lessons of holding on, letting go and loving what you have; MISS INDIA AMERICA (dir. Ravi Kapoor) about a young girl who is desperate to win at all costs; SHE LIGHTS UP WELL (dir. Joyce Wu) a dramedy that follows a struggling New York actress' return home where she stumbles upon a sense of purpose; and CICADA (dir. Dean Yamada) a moving portrait of an introverted schoolteacher whose discovery of his infertility leads him to a greater appreciation of his surrounding relationships.
The Documentary Competition features seven unique Asian and Asian American stories including several CAAM funded and produced projects. This year's documentaries include: 9-MAN (dir. Ursula Liang), the story about a gritty Chinese-only street-ball game born in the alleys and parking lots of local 1930s Chinatowns; ALL EYES AND EARS (dir. Vanessa Hope), a complex and timely exploration into the links between U.S and China through the eyes of U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman and his adopted Chinese daughter Gracie Mei; and CHANGING SEASON: FOUR GENERATIONS OF THE MASUMOTO FAMILY FARM (dir. Jim Choi) documenting a transitional year in the life of famed peach farmer David “Mas” Masumoto and his relationship with his daughter Nikiko. Also included are, THE LAST SEASON (dir. Sara Dosa) following a Cambodian freedom fighter and a refugee as they form a new family in their hunt for rare matsutake mushrooms; TASHI'S TURBINE (dir. Amitabh R. Joshi) about two young friends trying to fulfill their dream of bringing sustainable wind energy to a small village in Upper Mustang, Nepal; TOP SPIN (dir. Sara Newens and Mina T. Son) examining the story of three young kids fighting their way through the challenges of the ping pong world to fulfill their Olympic dreams; and TOUGH LOVE (dir. Stephanie Wang-Breal) an intimate, inside look at two parents navigating the American child welfare system to reunite their families.
A collection of some of the best international Asian films, CinemAsia has always been an integral part of the festival's vision and this year's crop of films is no exception, introducing new international voices from Argentina, Iran, India, Singapore and Japan, among many others. Highlights include: TALES (dir. Rakhshan Banietemad) a strategically pieced puzzle of working-class Iranians all trying to get their voices heard; LA SALADA (dir. Juan Martin Hsu) a story about an unlikely cast of Korean, Taiwanese and Bolivian immigrants who converge in the bustling discount market of Argentina's La Salada; and 0.5MM (dir. Ando Momoko), following a Japanese caregiver for the elderly, whose moral standards are tested when she begins relationships with old men. The program also includes, PARTNERS IN CRIME (dir. Chang Jung-chi, TOUCH OF THE LIGHT) a thrilling Taiwanese tale about the discovery of a young girl's body and the disparate lives of three teenagers searching for clues of her alleged suicide; HOLLOW (dir. Ham Tran, HOW TO FIGHT IN SIX INCH HEELS) a Vietnamese horror flick, featuring a family terrorized by their dead daughter who has come back to life, possessed by a vengeful spirit; and AS YOU WERE (dir. Liao Jiekai) a Singaporean drama about lovers experiencing the inescapability of erosion and the velocity of change. Rounding out the CinemAsia section is RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS (dir. Edmund Yeo), a tale about young love and the repercussions of political activism when a small Malaysian town is threatened by a radioactive powerplant; JALANAN (dir. Daniel Ziv) a rare look at the vibrant subculture of Jakarta's street buskers; and STORM CHILDREN: BOOK 1 (dir. Lav Diaz) an unwavering silent documentary about the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.
CAAMFEST AT BAM/PFA
CAAMFest is excited to continue its partnership with the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA). Beginning Friday, March 13 and continuing through Wednesday, March 18, the PFA Theater will show eight stellar new films from Iran, Japan, Argentina, Vietnam, the United States, and Cambodia.
CAAMFEST IN OAKLAND
Kicking off this year's Oakland program with CHANGING SEASON: ON THE MASUMOTO FAMILY FARM at the Oakland Museum of California, CAAM is delighted to continue bringing films to Oakland for the second straight year. The Festival concludes with a full weekend of programming at the New Parkway Theater.
ALL EYES AND EARS, Vanessa Hope, USA, 2015
CHANGING SEASON: ON THE MASUMOTO FAMILY FARM, Jim Choi, USA, 2015
CHINESE COUPLETS, Felicia Lowe, USA, 2015
KOLLABORATION SF: MOVEMENT IN MOTION, Howard Lui, USA, 2014
LOVE ARCADIA, Lawrence Gan, USA, 2014
LUCKY CHOW, Bruce Seidel, USA, 2015
MAN-UP!, Justin Chon, USA, 2014
MUSLIM YOUTH VOICES
OFF THE MENU, Grace Lee, USA, 2015
SUPPER CLUB, Edmond Wong, USA, 2015
TASHI'S TURBINE, Amitabh R. Joshi, Nepal, 2014
THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR, USA, 2015
For further details about CAAMFest, including the full program schedule, tickets, venues and other info, peruse the festival website. Make some plans, tell your friends, and I will see you at CAAMFest.