San Francisco Symphony

CAAMFEST: A Festival of Asian American Film, Music and Food

By Akshay Govind
Staff Writer

Each March since 1982, the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) has put on a festival presenting stories illustrating the richness and diversity of the Asian American experience. This year’s event, CAAMFEST, is immediately notable for its name change from the previous years’ San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.  Organizers decided it was most appropriate for the name to reflect the inclusion of all media that contribute to their mission. While both long-form and short films will still be highly featured throughout the 11-day celebration, other media represented include live music performances, demonstrations and tastings by chefs, and conversations with historians and community leaders.

As this year’s festival features over 250 works presented at 10 different theaters and venues, organizers have done much better than to simply post a list of all the pieces in chronological order. They have keenly constructed waves of culture, deemed CAAM Tides, which highlight works that have common thematic elements; some examples of these Tides include women in the media, societal repercussions of the Korean War, and a re-interpretation of the process of creative adaptation.

The opening night will feature Evan Jackson Leong’s Linsanity, a documentary of the basketball and cultural phenomenon surrounding NBA point-guard and Bay Area native Jeremy Lin.

Leong started following Lin during his time at Harvard University, at times without Lin’s whole-hearted permission, and the film examines racial stereotypes in sports and society while taking the viewer through Lin’s unexpected and exhilarating rise to fame. Further, Lin and Leong comment on the utility of using public platforms for community service, the importance of family relationships, and the role of religious faith in their experience. 

Other films that caught my eye include Astro Boy, the story of a young robot-hero whose powers are based in science rather than magic and who values peace over justice. Created in Japan in 1952, this was in fact the first anime to be officially released in the United States, and the exhibition will feature rare items from video games, toys, a TV series and manga, in addition to screening the 2009 rendition of this film.

Debbie Lum’s documentary Seeking Asian Female follows the story of Steve, a 60-something year-old man who has spent years chatting with Asian women on the Internet. When he meets 30-something year-old Sandy and she moves to California from China to marry him, Lum follows this relationship to comment on issues surrounding love, culture, immigration, diversity and open-mindedness.

Other media include Directions in Sound, a live music performance featuring Asian American bands, solo artists, and DJs presenting cutting-edge music fusing cultures and styles.

And then there’s the food — (Bitter)Sweet: Cook Salon will be a conversation and tasting demo with two local chocolatiers, Mixing Masala will give insight on how to create unique spice mixes, and Dosa Hunt follows a group of Indian American artists as they search New York City for the perfect South Indian savory crepe.

Ticket information and schedules are available at caamfest.com. Prices vary based on the expected demand for individual pieces but tend to run between $12 and $15. Six-packs of tickets can be purchased for $60, and some exhibits have modest student discounts and/or rush tickets. There does appear to be something for just about everyone, and I know I’ll be watching for CAAMFEST every March for as long as I’m in the Bay Area.

Akshay Govind is a second-year medical student.