Now Playing! Local Filmmakers’ Personal Portraits Propel CAAMFest 37

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Still from 'Geographies of Kinship,' Estelle Cooke-Sampson as a child with her adoptive father, Sgt. Cooke, at the St. Paul’s Orphanage in Seoul, South Korea. (Courtesy Estelle Cooke-Sampson)

The lighthearted title of Bay Area filmmaker Valerie Soe’s brand new documentary, Love Boat: Taiwan, also serves to evoke a sense of mystery. That just comes with the territory when romance is involved. Except the Taiwanese government steadfastly maintains (wink wink) that matchmaking wasn’t and isn’t an ulterior motive for luring countless young Chinese-Americans to the island over the years on free cultural vacations—dubbed “the love boat” by irreverent travelers—primarily designed to heighten and tighten connections to their heritage.

Still from 'Love Boat: Taiwan.'
Still from 'Love Boat: Taiwan.'

Soe effortlessly blends irreverence with insight, steering Love Boat: Taiwan (May 17 at the Roxie) from the pleasant shoals of awkward personal experience into deep-water themes of assimilation, identity and obligation. It’s natural that Soe’s doc would premiere at CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s annual film festival, which runs May 9–19 in San Francisco and Oakland. But the film’s relevance to all immigrants shouldn’t be overlooked.

The night before (May 16 at the Asian Art Museum), CAAMFest honors Soe with a survey of her previous short films and Mila Zuo’s short portrait, Detourning Asia/America with Valerie Soe. The program includes episodes of performance artist Kristina Wong’s seriocomic web series, for a doubleheader of witty feminist truths.

The spotlight also falls on another essential local woman filmmaker, Deann Borshay Liem, with the closing night world premiere of Geographies of Kinship (May 19 at the Roxie). Borshay Liem’s latest shocking investigation into the lives of Korean children adopted by Western families in the 1950s manages to be both shattering and hopeful. If you’ve never seen Borshay Liem’s stunning debut, First Person Plural, that 1999 landmark of personal documentary will be reprised at the San Francisco Public Library on May 18.

Borshay Liem and Soe are emblematic of the 37th edition of CAAMFest, which ventures near, far and wide. This is one festival where you don’t actually have to see a film to experience stereotypes being smashed. Just read the program.