by Gary Meyer

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The range of experiences we can expect at the 37th CAAMFEST can always be expected to be full of surprises. While the Center for Asian American Media presents stories for audiences all over the country their focus is bringing the best to the San Francisco Bay Area audiences who respond with enthusiasm each year proclaiming it is the best CAAMFest ever and the following year it gets better as exciting new filmmakers are discovered to compliment those artists whose work has entertained and challenged audiences through the years.

The 11-day festival features more than 120 film screenings and events in over 15 venues throughout San Francisco and Oakland and that includes live theater, music and food. It runs from through May 19 with a full schedule.

EatDrinkFilms is proud to co-present GOLDTHREAD, a selection of videos celebrating Chinese food and the people who make it. This line up is aimed at inspiring deeper thought about the food we eat, what we consider foreign, and how our lives are shaped by mom’s cooking. Gold Thread is a team of video makers and journalists based in Hong Kong. They are on a mission to cover China through stories of people, culture, and cuisine.

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Insight into the formation of Panda Express, how China came to dominate the caviar market, and how a Hong Kong-born, Canadian-raised restaurateur reconnects with her roots are just some of what to expect from the episodes.

After the screening there will be a live panel featuring George Chen (China Live) and Bin Chen (Boba Guys), moderated by Grace Hwang Lynch. Grace is a freelance journalist, often writing about race, culture, and food. Her stories can be found on NPR, Public Radio International, NBC Asian America, Shondaland, and other outlets. For the last ten years, she’s also been blogging about mixed-race family life at HapaMama.com

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Sundance had a lot of terrific movies this year but the one that people really loved was BLINDED BY THE LIGHT,  an inspiring and joyously fun movie about a Pakistani-British teen in 1987 who discovers Bruce Sprinsteen’s music and become infatuated with it. The journey that follows is full of surprises,, great music and insights into cultural trends. Based on a true story and directed by Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM), it is sure to be a hit. As I watched it there was a feeling that everyone was smiling from the start to the end like I was.

The selection can be overwhelming. Here are a few that look especially promising with text taken from the program book and links to each film and ticket information.

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Celebrate the 25th anniversary of THE JOY LUCK CLUB, one of the most decorated Asian American films in cinematic history. Written by Amy Tan and directed by Wayne Wang, THE JOY LUCK CLUB paved the way for decades of Asian American films including last year’s summer hit, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. This free, outdoor screening in the heart of Chinatown will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with many special guests and talent in attendance. Rumor has it that Amy Tan will be there as a film about her life is filming forAmerican Masters on PBS.

Grab a seat at the Choi’s dinner table for an intergenerational, international culture clash in HAPPY CLEANERS. The story is told around meals with the Korean American family, who have a mixed bag of feelings about one another. Mr. and Mrs. Choi work hard to run the family dry cleaning business and support their two children, Hyunny and Kevin, but are becoming more disappointed with their kids’ choices. Hyunny and Kevin grow more disconnected from their parents as they struggle to find their own path and identity as children of immigrants.

When tensions bubble over, the family business is threatened, and the Choi’s are on the verge of burning bridges between one another, they must break through barriers in order to save what matters most to each of them — happiness, understanding, acceptance and family.

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Filmmaker Jon Osaki traces the fraught racist history of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans and untangles the intergenerational trauma of the decades-long redress movement. ALTERNATIVE FACTS: THE LIES OF EXECUTIVE ORDER 9066 offers damning proof that the signing of Executive Order 9066 was the result of political pressure and fabricated evidence of espionage by Japanese Americans. Interviews with the family members of prominent political officials and unsung heroes of redress like Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga illuminate the racism, xenophobia and backhanded political maneuvering led to the forcible internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

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BABYSPLITTERS sends up everything from startups to millennials to overindulgent parents to therapy sessions to Jeff’s living nightmare of kids gone wild ruining his freeze-clean designer jeans. Pudi, Chang, Walsh and Alfano deliver exceptional, relatable performances as a modern family in the making, buoyed by Sam Friedlander’s fast-paced script and direction, which goes from highjinx to high drama, with a generous portion of neurotic discomfort. Can you crowdsource and blockchain babies? Watch BABYSPLITTERS before you invest. (The advance reviews have been terrific and promise plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.)

GEOGRAPHIES OF KINSHIP traces the legacy of war and political and economic upheaval in South Korea, particularly on the vulnerable women and children of a traditionally patriarchal society. This powerful and heartbreaking documentary reveals the origins of the international adoption models that sent over 200,000 Korean children to other countries. Those models are still in place today across the world, and filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem brings history to life in the compelling stories of five Korean adoptees. Borshay’s powerful first film, FIRST PERSON PLURAL (1999) will also screen.

Offering a glimpse of the challenges facing overseas domestic workers and the physically disabled in Hong Kong’s projects, Oliver Siu Kuen Chan’s directorial debut dramedy STILL HUMAN shows us what happens when two people from seemingly opposite backgrounds find humanity in each other and themselves. Winner of the 3rd First Film Initiative, the film chronicles paralyzed divorcee Cheong-wing’s (Anthony Wong) growing relationship with his new Filipino caretaker Evelyn (Crisel Consunji).

One of the first Asian American films in history, THE DRAGON PAINTER is a dreamy and surreal romance that broke new ground in Hollywood. Starring legendary actor Sessue Hayakawa, the film continues to woo audiences with its stunning visuals and masterful storytelling. Join us for this special screening with a live score by Japanese American singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura.

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THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED asks “What does it feel like to be watched, surveilled by the state? What would it take to regain a measure of control, of safety?”

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 6.22.09 PM.pngFilmmaker Assia Boundaoui’s Muslim American community came under FBI scrutiny in the 1990s. Agents cast a disturbing and ultimately nationwide net with their suspicions, looking for supposed monetary fraud in money being sent abroad, in the largest counter-terrorism investigation before 9/11, codenamed Operation Vulgar Betrayal. But it’s the Muslim American community and our nation’s ideals that seem most vulgarly betrayed.

Boundaoui uncovers tens of thousands of pages of FBI files, and sues the government for their expedited release. These heavily redacted documents bring into frightening relief how the power of government turned on a community and individuals, and how hard it has been to recover. In this era of expansive possibilities for being watched, controlled, manipulated and intimidated, we are all vulnerable, some more so by dint of prejudice. If the state endeavors to watch us – we must make sure to check its vision. Boundaoui’s brave personal and communal quest inspires us to do just that.

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Russo-Young’s THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, is a film that is destined to be the love story for today’s generation.

“What if I told you I could get you to fall in love with me…?” College-bound romantic Daniel Bae and Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley meet—and fall for each other—over one magical day amidst the fervor and flurry of New York City.  Sparks immediately fly between these two strangers, who might never have met had fate not given them a little push.  But will fate be enough to take these teens from star-crossed to lucky in love?  With just hours left on the clock in what looks to be her last day in the U.S., Natasha is fighting against her family’s deportation as fiercely as she’s fighting her budding feelings for Daniel, who is working just as hard to convince her they are destined to be together.

The complete Program Book is here.










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