The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has made it easier to type and speak its name. It is now CAAMFest. CAAM stands for Center for Asian American Media, itself a mouthful, but the acronym CAAM pronounces better than SFIAAFF. Plus, for the past few years what is now CAAMFest has been highlighting more than just film, adding music, food, and other fashions to the mix. (A past festival even had a video game segment.) So the name CAAMFest enables broader mediums as messages.
I’ll be narrowing my discussion to film here at VCinema, though. When one is focusing on film from Asia and the Asian diaspora, curating ones festival-going comes formed from the content. You want Singapore? CAAMFest will give you Singapore. How about all three of Royston Tan’s films (15, 881, Old Romance) in a little retrospective, along with Singaporean shorts by possible future Tans, Broken Maiden and Last Tea Party? Or do your interests lie north of the U.S? You can flip through the festival guide to see such Asian-Canadian films as Midnight’s Children and the shorts Anti-versary, Kimchi Fried Dumplings, Little Mao, and Sugar Bowl. Or let’s say you are archipelago-cally inclined. You can browse the CAAMFest website for the islands of Hawai’i (E Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name, Let’s Play Music! Slack Key with Cyril Pahinui and Friends, Lina‘La‘Lusong, and Piko), Indonesia (Postcards from the Zoo) or The Philippines (Graceland, Harana, Marilou Diaz-Abaya: Filmmaker on a Voyage, Sugar Bowl) to select your ticket purchases.
Yet, as underscored by outgoing Festival Managing Director Christine Kwon during the festival announcement, alternative non-regional curations abound within each CAAMFest. Such CAAM-selected curations can be found in the CAAM TIDES section of the festival website, such as the BEYOND BOUNDARIES series which “explores the societal repercussions and cinematic incarnations of the Korean War” and features the films Jieseul, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, Seeking Haven, and Memory of Forgotten War. Or consider the ABOVE THE LINE: WOMEN IN MEDIA series that includes many films such as Nice Girls Crew 2; food in (Bitter)Sweet: Cook Salon; and music from the likes of Dengue Fever.
In keeping with the subaltern of this festival of subaltern, many more topical rhizomes climb throughout the CAAMFest catalog. While pedaling to and fro work pondering three documentaries I recently watched, The Cheer Ambassadors (Luke Cassady-Dorion, 2012, Thailand-USA), Turn It Up to 11, Part 2: Wild Days (Baek Seung-hwa, 2012, South Korea), and Linsanity (Evan Jackson Leong, 2012, USA), I found my thoughts forming around how each of these documentaries deals with desires for recognition in ones field and how such aspirations are articulated through ones body.
The Cheer Ambassadors is as a crowd-pleaser as we discover the Bangkok University cheerleading team is at cheerleading events. The film follows the athletes on the team as they prepare for their first trip to the U.S to compete at the Cheerleading World Championships in Florida. Throughout the interviews, you hear many of the athletes share how they want to excel at their sport. And confirmation of such excellence can only be had by gaining recognition in the country where it all began, the USA. One of the flaws in the documentary is that we have American representatives discuss how the Thai teams have brought innovation to the sport, but such innovations are never illustrated. (And illustrated they could be, because the beginning, middle, and ending animation found in the film is a nice touch that could have been expanded upon for this very aspect of the documentary.) We are left wondering what the talking heads mean behind their statements. Still, the bodies flying, flipping, and standing tall are all part of what gives this documentary its thrilling charge. And it is clear that the Thai team has indeed achieved the recognition they desired as the U.S. crowds echo the chants, marking that Thai cheerleading has arrived.
Turn It Up to 11, Part 2: Wild Days follows the South Korean rock/punk band Galaxy Express as they engage in their first solo tour of the U.S. (Their second solo tour begins in San Francisco on March 7th at Broadway Studios in association with CAAMFest and Music Matters Asia.) Not all of Galaxy Express’ songs can be called punk, but punk is a part of their appeal. Punk is a variant of rock with a more DIY aesthetic, emphasizing energy over harmony. As a result, so much of rock’s younger punk brother is very much about the body. The body on display, the body as disruptive, the body as frantic, propulsive. But despite punk’s screw you attitude, Galaxy Express clearly wants to be accepted in the home of rock and roll. And even though the crowds in Texas can’t understand Korean, they can feel and see the energy within the rockin’ show these three rabble-rousers put on. The documentary does display how some bodies are kept at bay. One particularly overzealous fan is edited in the film as one of those groupies Galaxy Express wants kept away. But the conclusion of the film underscores how linguistic barriers can be crossed and strangers can be embraced through the medium of music.
The year’s festival opening film, Linsanity, has multiple offshoots for discussions of what we aspire through our bodies. But sadly, there’s a hold review notice on this film so I can’t detail for you any of my thoughts on this documentary on Jeremy Lin’s rise in the NBA until closer to its release date. I hope it’s at least kosher for me to say, in conclusion, that Lin’s body’s rise above the rim might be brief, it might be temporary, (although I hope not), but director Long shows how freaking beautiful it is to revisit that winter moment in 2012, how beautiful it was for the fans who have been waiting for someone like Lin to emerge for a long time.
Adam Hartzell began focusing his writing on South Korean cinema after seeing retrospectives on the works of Im Kwon-taek and Jang Sun-woo at San Francisco film festivals in the late 1990’s. In 2000, he became a contributing writer to the premier English-language website on South Korean cinema, Koreanfilm.org. He has written for Kyoto Journal quarterly, online for GreenCine and fANDOR, and was a contributing writer for the San Francisco Film Society’s webzine sf360.org. He has written often about Hong Sang-soo, including the main essay for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival’s retrospective on Hong’s work in 2007 and a chapter on The Power of Kangwon Province for The Cinema of Japan and Korea (Wallflower Press).