CAAMFEST36: Opening Night Film & Gala Red Carpet Premiere of ‘An American Story: Norman Mineta’

One of the things I have really enjoyed after having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 has been attending the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, which is now known as CAAMFest, now its 36th year.

This year’s opening night premiere was a documentary – AN AMERICAN STORY: NORMAN MINETA – about groundbreaking elected official and civil servant, Japanese American Norman Mineta – the first Asian American elected to San Jose, California City Council, first Asian American elected to be mayor of San Jose (first Asian American mayor of any major city in the continental United States), first Asian American Congressman elected in the continental United States, first Asian American to serve as a cabinet member to serve a President (AND also both in a Democratic and Republican administration). AND first Asian American to have an airport named after him (Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport).

Prior to the documentary’s premiere, Claudine Cheng and Willie Brown presented Norman Mineta with the APA Heritage Award for Lifetime Impact:

After watching the documentary, I realized that although I had kind of known about many of Mineta’s accomplishments, seeing his story told in its totality was amazing. (This slightly differed from my experience watching a documentary about Patsy Mink, another amazing Asian American, but someone I knew nothing about until a CAAMFEST screening). Mineta is a truly ground-and-glass-ceiling-breaking Asian American that all Americans should learn about.

The San Francisco Chronicle described the documentary and Mineta as:

“His life in politics, skillfully captured by director Dianne Fukami, stands in stark contrast to the current White House occupant. As a 10-term U.S. representative from Silicon Valley, Mineta kept his ego in check while passing seminal legislation, notably a bill granting reparations to Japanese Americans like his family who were incarcerated during World War II. His motto was “If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can do many things.””

After the screening, there was a Q&A session with Norman Mineta and the filmmakers:

There’s an effort to build upon documentary and develop educational material around Norman Mineta’s story, known as The Mineta Legacy Project. This reminds me of what Fred T. Korematsu Institute is doing since its inception. And after the Q&A, there was the annual gala party, held again at San Francisco Asian Art Museum, where I had the great honor to meet and get a photo with Mineta himself:

The gala is always a festive scene at a great venue:

CAAMFEST 2018 – May 10-24, San Francisco & Oakland

CAAMFEST 36

One of the things that I appreciate about the San Francisco Bay Area after I moved here is the rich cultural activities in the area, and that includes the annual Asian American film festival known as CAAMFEST (known prior to 2013 as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) – quite a mouthful). The festival is organized by the Center of Asian American Media (CAAM), which is based in San Francisco.

This year kicks off with the premiere of a documentary about Norman Mineta:

““An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy” will have its world premiere Thursday night in San Francisco.

The film about the former San Jose mayor, Congressman and cabinet secretary to two U.S. presidents is the opening night film of the Center for Asian American Media film festival, known as CAAMFest. Mineta, 86, also will be honored by the city of San Francisco on opening night as part of the 40th anniversary festivities for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Mineta’s story really is a classic American tale of success, with the tragic irony that begins it: As an 11-year-old, he was interned with his family at Heart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II. (Even that story has a cinematic twist: Mineta met fellow Boy Scout and future Sen. Alan Simpson there.) In 1971, he became the first Asian-American elected mayor of a major U.S. city and served two decades in Congress, starting in 1975. He was appointed U.S. Secretary of Commerce by President Clinton in 2000 and served as Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush in 2001.”

I live near San Jose, and I’m often reminded about Mineta when I fly out of Mineta San Jose International Airport, which is named after him. And I’m a big fan of documentaries and recall seeing Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority at CAAMFest back in 2009 and being blown away about learning her story and surprised that I hadn’t known about her beforehand.

A big change from previous years is that the film festival is now being held in May, to coincide with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, instead of being held in February or March like it has in the past.

There are a quite a number of films to screened again this year. However, the San Francisco Chronicle has recommended the top 10 films to see this year, including (in alphabetical order):

Also, since 2013, the CAAMFEST organizers have expanded the nature of the festival beyond films to incorporate food and music programs and over time, increasingly more to convey cultural experience through the world’s most innovative Asian and Asian American artists.

This year’s festival theme – “Culture, In Every Sense”- is emphasized throughout the program with expanded music and food sections, a virtual reality project that is also produced by CAAM, and a special closing night performance by Bay Area native, Brenda Wong Aoki.

There’s even a Disoriented Comedy Show, where I’m looking forward seeing comedian Jenny Yang perform and finally meet her in person (I mostly know her for her funny videos posted on Facebook and elsewhere)!

Be sure to check out the CAAMFEST36 festival website as well as online program guide to learn about all the films and events going on.

CAAMFest 2016: March 10 – 20, 2016 | San Francisco & Oakland

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One of the things I’ve enjoyed over the years while living in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999 is the the annual Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) Film Festival, better known as CAAMFest, “Celebrating Asian American Film, Music and Food.” This year’s festival is taking place this March 10 – 20, 2016 in San Francisco & Oakland.

I’ve seen terrific movies over the years, highlights which have included Bend It Like Beckham, LINSANITY and Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority in the past, and most recently as of last year, Seoul Searching. This year’s Opening Night presentation is the Bay Area premiere of TYRUS:

TYRUS is an inspirational documentary about the art, life, and enduring impact of 105 year-old pioneering Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong, best known for the conceptual artwork that gave Walt Disney’s Bambi its distinctive and unforgettable look.”

You can catch trailers of most of the films at CAAMFest here on YouTube

For more information about the festival http://caamfest.com/2016/

You can also check out the program guide here:

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Be sure to buy tickets in advance if you can, since a lot of the films are often sold out.

Two Reviews: Dragnet Girl and The Song of the Fishermen

Dragnet Girl (1933)
Kinuyo Tanaka, Joji Oka, Sumiko Mizukubo, and Mitsui Hideo. Written by Tadao Ikeda and Yasujiro Ozu. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

Dragnet GirlIn Yasujiro Ozu’s Dragnet Girl, Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) works as a typist in an office full of typists, but she is favored by the boss’s son, who gives her expensive jewelry and longs to spend time with her away from the job. He seems unaware that she is the girlfriend of Jyoji (Joji Oka), a former boxer and now a small-time yakuza boss. Tokiko enjoys the benefits of being a gangster’s moll, seeming to bask in the jealous looks by other girls at the preferred dance club.

Against his better judgment, Jyoji accepts a young, directionless Hiroshi (Mitsui Hideo) into his organization, but very soon after, he is approached, bravely yet humbly, by Hiroshi’s sister Kazuko (Sumiko Mizukubo), who begs Jyoji with Bambi eyes and soft curls, to release Hiroshi from his service. She is convinced that despite his slacker ways, her brother can right his life if only Jyoji will turn him away. We’ve seen enough of Hiroshi, as has Jyoji, to think Kazuko is blinded by affection for her goof-off sibling, but something about Kazuko hits a soft spot in Jyoji, something that doesn’t escape Tokiko’s notice. And Tokiko didn’t get where she is by letting things just happen around her.

Dragnet GirlStory-wise, Dragnet Girl isn’t bad, but it spends too much time on setting up the story and not enough letting it play out in front of us. We get to know the individual characters fairly well; then when Jyoji, Kazuko, and Tokiko encounter each other in varying combinations, they say and do things that we’re just supposed to accept with nothing to explain or support them. One character pulls a gun, then touches another character’s cheek softly and says, “I like you.” Why? How?

It’s a pretty good-looking film. Although it predates the established early examples of film noir, it clearly is the visual relative of the noir influencers, with casted shadows and harsh, flashing lights providing moody heft. I don’t know if the vignetting (present almost throughout) is the result of the film’s aging, the limitations of the available technology, or a decision by the director, but it goes a bit too far. It somehow feels kind of oppressive.

Dragnet GirlI’m not holding this against the film, but it is worth noting that this is maybe the least Japanese-feeling Japanese film I’ve ever seen. Ozu goes out of his way to make this feel completely like a Western movie. You know those signs you see in American pool halls that say, “No smoking over the table” and “No masse shooting?” Apparently, pool halls in Japan had the same signage in the 1930s, and in English, too. There isn’t a stitch of Japanese-influenced clothing to be seen anywhere, and with the exception of a few eaves on buildings, the architecture is completely non-reminiscent of Japanese cities presented in other films of the time.

Despite these mild shortcomings, Dragnet Girl is mostly satisfying. There’s a sweetness to Tokiko’s assertiveness in the final act, and there’s a kind of tension in the final scenes that plays out nicely, propelled by Tokiko’s convictions and gumption. Definitely worth checking out for fans of early gangster pictures and for enthusiasts of Japanese cinema.

The Song of the Fishermen (1934)
Wang Ren Mei, Han Lan Gen. Directed by Chusheng Cai.

Song of the FishermanThe noble plight of the poor, filial piety, perseverance in the face of repeated tragedy, and the toll wealthy families take on everyone else: the familiar themes of Chinese cinema are here in The Song of the Fishermen, with a sympathetic rich man’s son and a mentally handicapped brother to make things a little different. Set first against a small fishing village and then a large city, the story of Little Cat (Wang Ren Mei) and Little Monkey (HanLan Gen) unfolds like many of the familiar stories.

Yet there is an element here that I found engaging and new. Throughout this silent film from 1934, there is a tiny thread of hope that things are just one or two lucky turns away from getting better for everyone involved. A rich man’s son is nursed by a fisherman’s wife, who often suckles the young master rather than attending to the needs of her own infant son, so loyal is this hard-working woman to the house of her employment.

The kids grow up together, the young master chastising Little Cat and Little Monkey for repeatedly calling him “master” and often begging Little Cat to sing “The Song of the Fishermen” for him. But as years pass, the wealthy young man is educated in a distant city and the others experience the travails of life as a poor family struggling to get by.

Song of the FishermenYou know that extended section of The Good Earth where famine forces Wang Lung to pack up his family and head to the city? There a section of this movie that’s like that, and our main characters find a few different ways to scrape together some change, always a moment away from the next tragedy, yet the viewer clings to the hope that somehow, their connection to the rich family might somehow be their salvation.

The Song of the Fishermen played in Shangai theaters for eighty-four straight days, a record at the time, and is the first Chinese film to win a prize at an international film festival (Moscow Film Festival in 1935). While it suffers from a certain amount of overacting, the solid portrayal of Little Cat by Wang Ren Mei keeps it mostly believable, and if the strong, indefatigable women characters in The Good Earth and The Story of Qiu Jiu appeal to you, you may want to check this one out.

Both films: 6/10, on the upper end of average.

Dragnet Girl and The Song of the Fishermen are among eighteen films screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, from May 29 to June 1, 2014.

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival Now CAAMFest – 3/14 – 3/24

When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first annual events I attended was the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF). Yes, that is quite a mouthful, so maybe that is why the San Francisco-based Center for Asian American Media – CAAM  (which used to be known by the archaic National Asian American Telecommunications Association) re-branded the traditionally February / March film festival as CAAMFest. CAAM also throws a terrific party to kickoff the film festival usually at the Asian Art Museum. CAAMFest runs from Thursday, March 14th to Sunday, March 24th.

I’m not sure when or what movie I first saw at the film festival, but I clearly remember seeing two fantastic films at the film festival in my early days of attending: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as Bend It Like Beckham in 2003, where director Gurinder Chadha had actually met her future husband at the film festival something like ten years prior. At the time, I had no idea who David Beckham was nor what it meant to “bend it like Beckham” (which is to kick and  ‘bend’ a soccer ball into the opponent’s goal). That was also my first memory of the lovely and talented actress Keira Knightley.

Another film I’ve seen at the film festival that I recall is the interesting documentary about Yao Ming’s first year in the NBA, Year of the Yao. And last year, I saw the terrific CAAM-supported documentary, Mr. Cao Goes To Washington.

This year’s showcase film kicking off the film festival will be LINSANITY, a documentary about NBA basketball player, Houston Rockets’ Jeremy Lin.

http://youtu.be/qcwL7NxclzY

LINSANITY premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, which Jeremy Lin attended during the later part of the Q&A session, where it has garnered a lot of glowing reviews. I can’t wait to see the documentary and a whole lot of other films. If you have any interest in independent films, definitely check out CAAMFest!

Mnet America’s Short Notice Asian American Short Film Program Open For Submissions

Short Notice, Mnet America’s short film program is out there for Asian Americans. If you win it, you get to win $5,000. Say what?

Are you an Asian American film maker with a compelling short film that you want to show? Do you have an astounding short film that features an Asian American as the lead? Do you have any film that has elements/themes of Asian culture, or that takes place in Asia? If you do, there’s a chance for you to win $5,000 for the Grand Jury Prize in the 3rd annual Short Notice competition.

Short Notice is an hour-long television program on Mnet; featuring today’s hottest Asian American filmmakers and their short films while providing sneak peeks into the creative process. Short Notice is the first Asian-American short film show, in addition to now being the first ever TV program to do an awards format with short films. Short Notice is currently featured in 80% of all Asian American households across the U.S.

Continue reading “Mnet America’s Short Notice Asian American Short Film Program Open For Submissions”

Daily Candy DC Mixes Up Chinese & Japanese: Makes No “Sensei”

If you live in a big city, you may have subscribed to Daily Candy for their dispatches regarding things to do, places to shop, and where to eat.

In the latest “Weekend Guide” from Washington, D.C., Daily Candy recommends the Terra Cotta Warriors Film Festival this weekend at the National Geographic Society. They say that you can watch “Kung fu classics like Lao Tou Ho introduced by martial arts guru Craig D. Reid.” Cool!

But why is this worth attending? According to Daily Candy, it’s because “It makes total sensei.” LAME! Do I need to tell you that “sensei” is a Japanese word and kung fu is not Japanese? Should I mention that all the films in the festival are Chinese?!

WTF, Daily Candy? Who do you think you are?! Karate Kid 2010?! Bah!

(Don’t let Daily Candy’s idiocy prevent you from checking out the Terra Cotta Warriors Film Fest, if you are in DC, though. I love the NGS and the film festival features one of my favorite Chinese films– despite Zhang Ziyi’s inclusion in it– Hero (2002).)

h/t: Ming & Stephanie

12th Annual Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival – Reviews in 88 words or less, Part 1

12th Annual Toronto Reel Asian Film FestivalThe 12th Annual Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival kicks off this coming Wednesday, November 12th at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto’s Annex Village and runs till Sunday, November 16th. Billed as one of the best little film festival the city has to offer, 15 features and 60 shorts pack the 4 days with film, video, music and multimedia art.

To give you a brief snapshot and review of the festival, I’ve gone ahead and have done reviews (in 88 words or less) for some of the films. Part 2 is tomorrow along with a POP 88 exclusive interview with the festival’s Executive Director, Deanna Wong.

We currently have one invitation for two tickets to give away for the Opening Night Gala on Wednesday, November 12th at 6:30pm in Toronto. That gets you two tickets to see the Opening Night film The Drummer starring Jaycee Chan (Jackie Chan’s son) and also into the After Party at the Century Room after.

Want them? Email christine [at] popcast88.com with the answer to the following question: How old is the festival? Good luck, and after the jump, some film reviews in 88 words or less.
Continue reading “12th Annual Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival – Reviews in 88 words or less, Part 1”