CAAMFEST 2014: All the World’s a Film

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This year’s CAAMFest was the biggest yet in many ways. First, there was the sheer number of films, big-name sponsors, venues and extra-film programming, which made it much more of a culture festival. This is not entirely inappropriate for a long-standing and much admired film festival whose films often touch on experiences of cultures. Further, there was a diversity of formats, genres and styles, with plenty of extraordinary non-narrative work.

What struck me about many of the films presented this year were how universal they are.  This seems like a facile observation, given that many filmmakers strive for a certain kind of universality, even as they operate in very specific geographies. It’s not just about the universality of individual human experience, such as those in films like A Picture of You (a parent’s death, sibling rivalry), Delano Manongs (workers’ rights), Flat 3 and How to Fight in Six Inch Heels (friendships, girl power). It’s also about how identities are parceled out, re-packed, re-purposed, and re-imagined. These identities cross race, class, gender, ethnicity and sexuality, but also geography, art, and politics, which is what makes this film festival universal, even as it holds “Asian” in its title. I was particularly struck by this in films like Brahmin Bulls, where a family of the same ethnicity can come from different worlds; Ilo Ilo, where two very different individuals come to be oppressed under the same power and economic structures; and the wonderful shorts program A Modern Family, where the notion of family is not just personal but is also political and global.

Perhaps it is partly due to the familiarity of the cinematic language and the plurality of the visual image—we are prepared to empathize and to find some commonalities with live and even animated characters (Canadi(an)imation was another excellent shorts program). It is also due to the festival’s curators, who seem to have a strong sense of what’s relevant, contemporary, and fresh. Much credit, of course, should also go to the filmmakers, who truly live in a world with different (or no) boundaries, and continue to engage us with their points of view.

Center for Asian American Media presented CAAMFest 2014 from 3-23 March, 2014, in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, CA.