Over three-plus decades, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival has expanded, evolved and shape-shifted into the cultural compendium CAAMFest. Movies still comprise the lion’s share of the program (May 10-24 in numerous venues in San Francisco and Oakland), with music and food now taking a turn in the spotlight. What hasn’t changed across the years, though, is the festival’s commitment to Asian American history by way of tributes to directors, actors and public figures who overcame prejudice and racism.
Norman Mineta, the first Japanese-American mayor of a major U.S. city (San Jose, in 1971), is just such an individual. Later a congressman and Secretary of Transportation, Mineta is expected at the Castro on opening night for the world premiere of Dianne Fukami’s An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy. Another Bay Area icon, the writer, actress and activist Brenda Wong Aoki, showcases her range and versatility May 24 at Herbst Theatre in the performance film Aunt Lily’s Flower Book: 100 Years of Legalized Racism.
Taking a cue from Aoki, the young female filmmakers of Dead Pigs (May 13 at the Kabuki and May 20 at the Roxie) and Unlovable (May 11 at the Kabuki and May 20 at the Roxie) chose titles that grab attention. Cathy Yan’s ambitious debut Dead Pigs follows five characters across China’s newly fluid social strata who are upended in some way by the discovery of thousands of deceased swine floating down the river. Suzi Yoonessi’s U.S. indie feature Unlovable, co-written with lead actress Charlene deGuzman, follows a sex/love addict going through the highs and lows of a 12-step program. Unlovable embodies another key aspect of CAAMFest: Highlighting the breadth of representation of Asian Americans in contemporary cinema. Did Norman Mineta imagine this degree of expression, acceptance and freedom half a century ago?