Plans for a South Korean same-sex wedding, the politics of ping-pong and the shame of infertility on an overly fertile planet highlight this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film festival. Now known as CAAMFest (for Center for Asian American Media), this 10-day event (with food and musical sidebars) unfolds between Thurs., March 12 and Sun., March 22 in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, from our historic Castro Theatre to Japantown’s Kabuki Cinemas, the New People Cinema, SF Chinatown’s Great Star Theater, Berkeley’s Pacific Archive Theater (PFA), Oakland’s New Parkway Theater, and the Oakland Museum of California.
My Fair Wedding from South Korean director Jang Hee-Sun. A male filmmaking couple, Gwang-Soo and Dave Kim, decide to make a very big deal about South Korea’s first same-sex marriage, their own as it turns out. The couple takes us through the usual pre-nuptial jitters. As the boys plan and quarrel, long-hidden fissures in their union surface, causing us to wonder if a same-sex divorce might soon be in the offing. The filmmakers demonstrate how much a 19-year gap in their ages matters when everything that counts is on the line. (Castro, 3/15)
Out/Here This collection of eight documentary shorts is highlighted by the bold decision of Diana Li in Finger Running to go silent, to allow her female actors to face each other and wordlessly explore each other’s faces, particularly each other’s hair. This nine-minute piece is without music. The ambient soundtrack includes traffic flow from a nearby freeway, a plane flying overhead and the ever-so-gentle rustlings of two human beings in wordless communication.
My Beautiful Resistance In this moving short, Oakland resident Penny Baldado relates her journey from leaving her native Philippines to creating a new life as a business owner, proprietor of Cafe Gabriela. Her story highlights the fears and hopes of many of the nearly 12 million asylum-seekers currently hoping to have status adjudicated so they can remain in this country.
Scene from veteran director Quentin Lee’s Operation Marriage. Photo: Courtesy CAAMFest
Operation Marriage Veteran director Quentin Lee opens this off-beat fiction piece on a grade-school playground where the kids of a female couple hear their moms denounced by a snotty-boy schoolmate for going against “God’s plan.” The taunt prompts the kids to push their parents into a full-scale marriage. At first one of the mothers dismisses her children’s insecurities: “We both adopted you together, so you have nothing to fear.” But she soon has a change of heart, and we see how big a deal a modern wedding inevitably becomes. A nice example of a feature-length idea neatly encapsulated into nine minutes without feeling rushed. (Castro, 3/15)
Top Spin by Sara Newens & Mina T. Son (USA) Three American teens – Michael, Ariel and Lily – show what a big deal a simple game of table tennis can become when the reward for winning is a trip to London to face down the best of their peers worldwide. Michael, in particular, is a study in the new style of competition on display from a 21st-century-raised generation of U.S. adolescents throwing themselves enthusiastically into contests that are still new to most Americans, but which are as vital as baseball, basketball and the gridiron for millions of Asian fans. Michael quietly steals the movie from his soft-spoken female teammates, trotting out the kind of All-American charm offensive that Americans have grown to expect since the heyday of Norman Rockwell covers at The Saturday Evening Post. The filmmakers keep us on edge as to the outcome as their cool kids pull off the big-time juggling act that is today’s global sports scene. (New People, 3/14; Oakland’s New Parkway, 3/22)
Seoul Searching by Benson Lee (USA/South Korea) The opening-night gala carries an 80s soundtrack teen accent as Lee plays with the myriad shenanigans possible when frisky kids flock to a Seoul-based summer program. Besides its John Hughes-style theme, this program combines a Castro Theatre screening with an equally sublime post-film party at our city’s world class Asian Art Museum. (Castro, 3/12)
Cicada by Dean Yamada (USA) Jumpei is in the uncomfortable spot of being an adult man who’s unmarried and lacking in sperm. His answer to these challenges is as odd as you’ll see in any personal film this year. (New People, 3/13; PFA, 3/14; Kabuki, 3/18)
Dot 2 Dot by Amos Why (Hong Kong) Imagine my surprise a while back when a close movie-buddy dropped out of our cinema dates in favor of photographing Bay Area graffiti artists. Dot 2 Dot explores an amusing variation on this situation in a drama where a handsome man, Chung, gives many of his Hong Kong friends a similar bout of disbelief when he begins leaving his own type of dot-sized marks in public spaces. The local cops are not amused, nor is a potential romantic partner. (Kabuki, 3/16, 18)