The marvelous thing about identity-oriented film festivals is they are perennially and intrinsically fresh. New films from all parts of the world provide a built-in mirror or window (depending on whether you identify with the core identity, or are outside looking in) into the various ways in which people see themselves within their countries, communities and families. CAAMFest, formerly called the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, necessarily encompasses a lot of territory, bridging borders, cultures and generations. In keeping with the themes of journeys and sight/image, we could call this preview a snapshot of a snapshot.
Television producer and documentary filmmaker Felicia Lowe previously explored the suffering of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island in Carved in Silence and her family's roots in China: Land of My Father. She continues digging into personal history in Chinese Couplets (Mar. 14 and 21), a heavily narrated piece in which Lowe reconciles her lifelong disappointment in her late mother's inability to nurture her with the painful, and to some degree, shameful events that defined her mother's own childhood and beyond. Chinese Couplets is a valuable reminder of the ways in which ordinary people are derailed and rerouted by larger forces, and the ongoing travails of refugees, but the film's emotional impact is diluted by convoluted storytelling.
The slick, stylish and willfully disorienting Taiwanese drama Partners in Crime (Mar. 13 and 16) continues CAAMFest's long track record of reaching out to twenty-something moviegoers. Chang Jung-Chi's second feature opens with a scene of bullying, followed by the seemingly unrelated discovery of a high school student's body in an alley in an apparent suicide. The boys who find her set about uncovering what happened, punishing those responsible and trying desperately to puncture and escape the bubble of loneliness, confusion and apathy that defines their experience of high school. Teenage wasteland never looked so green, so lush and so besieged by text messages.