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Now Playing! CAAMFest, UNAFF and Isaac Julien Brighten the Home Screen

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'Coming Home Again,' directed by Wayne Wang, opens this year's CAAMFest Forward. (Courtesy CAAMFest)

An ever-growing number of Bay Area film festivals have successfully gravitated online in the coronavirus era. I suggest they jointly adopt an umbrella slogan: Think Global, Watch Local. Not terribly original, perhaps, but with a sharp logo? Pure magic. The message? The wide world of cinema is available in our living rooms.

CAAMFest Forward
Oct. 14-18
Streaming and drive-in
Few festivals anywhere have embraced change—nay, reinvention—in recent years like the Center for Asian American Media. Going online, as CAAMFest did in May with the “Heritage at Home” program reconstituted from its COVID-affected annual bash, was a piece of cake. (A very big piece, but still.)

To mark its 40th anniversary, CAAMFest has put together an ambitious second festival in one (plague) year. Wayne Wang’s Coming Home Again, inspired by Chang-rae Lee’s first-person essay about a Korean American son returning to San Francisco to care for his mother, receives its U.S. premiere. Another stateside debut, writer-director Norris Wong’s romantic social drama My Prince Edward, traces the build-up to a Hong Kong wedding day jeopardized by a decade-old sham marriage.

76 Days, an essential documentary in a year filled with nonfiction investigations and exposés, captures the crisis and chaos of Wuhan, China during the initial outbreak of COVID-19. Slow your pulse by indulging in an hour of contemplative bliss with The Story Beyond a Cup of Sake, Hironori Sakurai’s immersion in a small Nagano brewery. There’s a whole lot more in the CAAMFest Forward lineup, and you don’t need a passport.

Installation view of Isaac Julien’s 'Lessons of the Hour.'
Installation view of Isaac Julien’s ‘Lessons of the Hour.’ (McEvoy Foundation for the Arts)

Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour
Oct. 14, 2020 through March 13, 2021
McEvoy Foundation for the Arts
The British artist Isaac Julien emerged 30 years ago with a pair of breakthrough films, Looking for Langton and Young Soul Rebels, that centered the complicated experiences of being Black and queer. In the ensuing years, he’s adopted, and mastered, the difficult format of the multi-screen gallery installation—as those who caught the U.S. premiere of Playtime at Fort Mason a couple years ago will attest.


That show dealt with money, power and privilege, and so does Lessons of the Hour, albeit from a vastly different perspective: Julien’s subject is Frederick Douglass, the powerhouse activist and influential intellectual who remains one of the towering figures of the 19th Century. There are any number of ways in which Douglass speaks loudly in the present moment, but one that Julien spotlights is the urgency of choosing a political life or, rather, the impossibility of pursuing an apolitical life.

Julien participates in two upcoming Zoom events: The first, with Leila Weefur, the Oakland artist and writer who curated the short-film program “New Labor Movements” running concurrently at McEvoy Arts, is on Oct. 15. Julien then joins Angela Davis in conversation on Nov. 11. Clear your calendar.

'The Last Mambo' is Rita Hargrave and Reginald D. Brown’s dynamic and eye-opening history of Latin music in the Bay Area.
‘The Last Mambo’ is Rita Hargrave and Reginald D. Brown’s dynamic and eye-opening history of Latin music in the Bay Area. (UNAFF)

United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF)
Oct. 15-25
For more than 20 years, thanks in large measure to local volunteers wading through hundreds of documentaries from around the globe, UNAFF has brought the best nonfiction social-issue films to the Bay Area. Many of those films played other local festivals, but that hardly means they were overexposed. Furthermore, screenings at the Stanford/Palo Alto-associated festival invariably provoked impassioned and informed Q&As and discussions.

It’s all online this year, so access to the films is even greater. Lose yourself in the program for a stretch and discover rare birds like Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani, veteran East Bay filmmaker George Csicsery’s quietly inspiring portrait of Iran’s beloved female savant. Alternatively, pick up on the beat of The Last Mambo, Rita Hargrave and Reginald D. Brown’s dynamic and eye-opening history of Latin music in the Bay Area.

Indefatigable founder and director Jasmina Bojic coins a different tagline for UNAFF every year, attuned to the tenor of the times. “The power of empathy” is the 2020 theme, and it’s the bedrock of Charles Burnett and Daniel Loewenthal’s historical documentary The Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution. The moral arc of the universe is bending.

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