CAAMFest is Back May 12-22

By Grace Hwang Lynch

The world’s leading showcase for new Asian American and Asian film, food, and music programs takes place this month with in-person and virtual events

Main image from "Like a Rolling Stone," directed by Suzanne Joe Kai, and screening May 21. Photo of Ben Fong Torres by Fred Morales, Jr.

At SFMOMA’s Koret Education Center, visitors can sit in front of a vintage wood console TV and watch episodes of "Bean Sprouts," a 1970s children’s show featuring a diverse cast, including many local Asian American youngsters. On the wall are historic photos, plus an interactive mural featuring scenes from classic films and the sounds of one of San Francisco’s most historic neighborhoods. These are all parts of "Representing Chinatown," a collaboration between the museum and the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), a San Francisco non-profit organization that helps amplify Asian American films and stories.

Macro Waves, A Cinematic Schematic of Chinatown Resilience, 2022 (detail); commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; image: courtesy Macro Waves

Curated by CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong with SFMOMA’s Barbara and Stephan Vermut Director of Public Engagement Tomoko Kanimitsu, "Representing Chinatown" features new commissions, including Macro Waves’ interactive audio-visual mural inspired by independent films on Chinatown and a coloring book zine by Chelsea Ryoko Wong. A display of archival photographs and video curated by Reagan Louie features never before seen archival family photos of CAAM founder Loni Ding, and clips from her 1970s children’s TV series "Bean Sprouts" produced at KQED. Representing Chinatown explores how generations of Asian American residents, artists, and filmmakers captured the people, places, and events of Chinatown. It also examines xenophobia’s and racism’s past and present effects on the neighborhood, its place in artistic and popular imagination, and ways to support its ongoing recovery.

“Growing up, my knowledge of Asian American history and the Filipino diaspora came from independent cinema, like The Fall of the I-Hotel, by Curtis Choy,” says Robin David, one of the artists in the Macro Waves collective, referring to a film whose images are featured in the mural. “The chance to integrate these critical films into my mural at SFMOMA in collaboration with CAAM has been a grounding experience for me to connect back to the role cinematography had in shaping my identity as a Filipinx growing up in the Bay Area.”

The exhibition is part of CAAM’s Community Residency at SFMOMA on view through June 30, 2022, the first onsite residency of this series. The project also features a selection of films from CAAMFest40, the annual showcase of compelling films from Asian and Asian American filmmakers.

A bridge to community awareness, connections and empowerment

The exhibition’s grand opening comes after nearly three years of anticipation and planning. SFMOMA originally approached CAAM in 2019 to be their inaugural partner in the community residency program, which awards paid residencies with the museum’s Public Engagement department to community centers, nonprofits, publishers, collectives, and individuals to create an exhibition for SFMOMA’s Koret Education Center–before the pandemic put everything on hold. It also comes during a period where hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have been on the rise, and Asian-owned businesses in Chinatown and across the nation have suffered losses. By building this exhibition, SFMOMA, CAAM and featured artists create a captivating storytelling experience that also serves as a public education resource and space for visitors to expand their knowledge, awareness and support for San Francisco’s Chinese American community. 

“We are thrilled to partner with SFMOMA to give the visitors to this world-class museum a glimpse of the ethos that has guided CAAM’s forty years of bringing Asian American stories to the world,” says CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong. “The exhibit houses some of the most powerful and canonical images and stories of this neighborhood that are shown through the eyes of artists from within the community.”

“Opening the Koret Education Center to community partners such as CAAM is a way that SFMOMA reflects and serves the diverse population of San Francisco,” says Tomoko Kanamitsu, Barbara and Stephan Vermut Director of Public Engagement at SFMOMA. “We were inspired by the activism of the 1970s and CAAM, with its long history of creating art and film in San Francisco, was a natural partner.”

CAAMFest brings music to SOMA Pilipinas

As CAAMFest, the nation’s leading Asian and Asian American showcase of film, music and food celebrates is 40th anniversary, it’s introducing another new venue: Yerba Buena Gardens in the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District. “We have always been centered in Japantown and Chinatown during CAAMFest, but the pandemic really gave us an opportunity to reflect more on how we can increase the visibility in other communities throughout the Bay Area,” says Don Young, Director of Programs at CAAM. 

As a Filipinx American, CAAM Events Production Manager Jo Boston recollects the historical importance of the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District. “San Francisco is a hub where many Filipinos have landed—it is a gateway to possibilities for Filipinos,” she says. The redevelopment of Manilatown and South of Market in the 1960s and 1970s displaced many Filipino families. Boston adds, “This is history that brings us together and strengthens our Filipino community in the district and beyond.”

In correlation with this new emphasis, Thúy Trần, the new Festival and Exhibitions Director at CAAM, is excited to bring programming that parallels and intersects with what community partners are already doing in the neighborhood. Programs that highlight Filipinx culture and artists as well as the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District include the Pinays on the Rise concert and a screening of the film Leonor Will Never Die.

In addition to the CAAMFest programs at SFMOMA and Yerba Buena Gardens, the festival is also collaborating with the Asian Art Museum to present a virtual panel discussion about the complex role of rice in the formation of Asian Americana. During this free online event, rice farmer Robin Koda and wheat farmer Mai Nguyen will be in conversation with chef and cookbook author Diep Tran.

In addition to these venues, there will be an array of film screenings in theaters and online. Opening Night returns to the Castro Theatre followed by a gala at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and Closing Night will be held at New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Screenings will also take place at the newly renovated Great Star Theater in San Francisco Chinatown.

Highlights of CAAMFest40

FREE CHOL SOO LEE, directed by Eugene Yi, Julie Ha

Thursday, May 12, 6:30 p.m. at the Castro Theatre
In 1973, Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee was wrongfully convicted of a gangland murder in San Francisco Chinatown. Ten years later, the landmark efforts of the local pan-Asian community helped set him free. However, was an unexpected icon ready for the outside world after years on Death Row?

BAD AXE, directed by David Siev
Sunday, May 15, 6:00 p.m. at Great Star
On the eve of pandemic shutdowns, burgeoning filmmaker David Siev returns to his hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan, a rural red pocket of America. This personal and intimate portrait of a Cambodian-Mexican family shows the struggles of sustaining the American Dream amidst a pandemic and clout of deep set racism. 

LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE, directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar 

Saturday, May 21, 5:30 p.m. at SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater
What if you could change what was happening before your very eyes? Genres collide in this wild tale of an aging filmmaker who becomes the hero of her own unfinished script, after she's knocked into a coma by a television. 

EVERY DAY IN KAIMUKĪ, directed by Alika Tengan

Sunday, May 22, 7:00 p.m. at New Parkway
When his girlfriend receives an opportunity outside of their small Hawaiian town, Kaimukī, Naz also decides to leave. Though, the journey towards the hustle and bustle of New York spurs Naz to question everything—from logistics for his cat to whether he'll ever find belonging.

CAAMFest40 Film Screenings at SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater

Anita, directed by Longman Leung
Thursday, May 19, 2022
6:00 p.m. PT
Anita Mui lost her father when she was young and grew up in a single parent household where she fell into show business for survival. Anita and her sister sang to provide for their family. It skyrocketed Anita to stardom, but it was also her eventual downfall. This is the story of Anita Mui, the "daughter of Hong Kong" and a beloved Cantopop icon. 

Silent River, directed by Chris Chan Lee
Friday, May 20, 2022
6:00 p.m. PT
Elliot checks into a motel, estranged from but hoping to reunite with his wife. Broke, broken, and in the middle of nowhere, he meets Greta, a woman who is the uncanny semblance of his wife. Who is she? Why is he pulled in? What is she hiding? 

Like a Rolling Stone, directed by Suzanne Joe Kai
Saturday, May 21, 2022
12 noon PT
Rolling Stone magazine started in San Francisco but made waves across American pop culture. It was shaped and catapulted into success partly by Ben Fong-Torres, who was the magazine's first music editor. His landmark interviews, a list that consists of hall-of-famers—like Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Grateful Dead, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Stevie Wonder—shaped the way America consumed the counterculture movement of the time.

Conversations on Chinatown
Saturday, May 21, 2022
3:00 p.m. PT
Join us for a wide-ranging conversation on the ways in which generations of Asian American residents, artists, and filmmakers have recorded very different qualities of San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown neighborhood. Lenore Chinn, artist and niece of photographer Benjamen Chinn, will be joined by James Q. Chan, producer and director of films such as Forever, Chinatown, to discuss a selection of photographs and moving images capturing people, places, and community events in Chinatown through the years. Moderated by Stephen Gong. 

Leonor Will Never Die, directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar 
Saturday, May 21, 2022
5:30 p.m. PT
What if you could change what was happening before your very eyes? Genres collide in this wild tale of an aging filmmaker who becomes the hero of her own unfinished script, after she's knocked into a coma by a television. 

Virtual Panel in Collaboration with the Asian Art Museum
Thursday, May 19, 2022
6:30 p.m. PT
A virtual panel collaboration with the Asian Art Museum featuring rice farmer, Robin Koda, and wheat farmer, Mai Nguyen, in conversation with chef and cookbook author, Diep Tran about the complex role of rice in the formation of Asian Americana.

About CAAM
For over 40 years, CAAM (Center for Asian American Media) has been dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. As a nonprofit organization, CAAM funds, produces, distributes, and exhibits works in film, television, and digital media. For more information about CAAM, please visit www.CAAMedia.org

About CAAMFest
Celebrating its 40th year in 2022, CAAMFest is the world’s leading showcase for new Asian American and Asian film, food, and music programs. CAAMFest takes place May 12-22, 2022. Check CAAMFest.com for more details.

About San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States and a thriving cultural center for the Bay Area. Our remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and media arts is housed in a LEED Gold-certified building designed by the global architects Snøhetta and Mario Botta. In addition to our seven gallery floors, SFMOMA offers 45,000 square feet of free, art-filled public space open to all. Visit sfmoma.org or call 415.357.4000 for more information.

Thanks to Our Supporters!
CAAMFest40 is made possible with lead support from Presenting Sponsors Comcast Xfinity and Amazon. Additional support is provided by the Asian Art Museum; Bloomberg; Meta; Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, San Francisco; AARP; Motion Picture Association; Verizon; NBCUniversal; Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc.; Pacific Islanders in Communications; San Francisco Symphony; The Gotham; Viki Rakuten; Film SF; Kaiser Permanente; POV; and America ReFramed. Special thanks to the following institutional funders and government agencies: Corporation for Public Broadcasting, San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Ford Foundation, simplehuman, National Endowment for the Arts, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Asian Pacific Fund, Jessie Cheng Charitable Foundation, and APA Heritage Foundation. Thank you also to the following media supporters: KQED, KTSF, KTVU, SF/Arts, and AsAmNews.

Grace Hwang Lynch
Grace Hwang Lynch
Grace is a San Francisco-based writer whose work focuses on race, culture and family. Her writing has appeared on PBS, Salon and MSNBC. She also blogs about Asian mixed-race families at HapaMama.
Grace is a San Francisco-based writer whose work focuses on race, culture and family. Her writing has appeared on PBS, Salon and MSNBC. She also blogs about Asian mixed-race families at HapaMama.
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