CAAMFest: Art, Music, Film Take the Stage

By Grace Hwang Lynch

Returning to San Francisco for its 42nd year this May 9-19, CAAMFest will shine light on Asian American storytelling, including the myriad ways that arts and music have shaped our public consciousness. From films about a trailblazing Chinese American dancer or a Japanese American singer-activist, to a free concert featuring a Vietnamese American singer-songwriter, this annual event will bring the Bay Area’s music, arts, and film community together. 

“We look to artists and storytellers to ground us and remind us of the responsibility of our shared humanity,” says Festival and Exhibitions Director Thúy Trần. “With this year’s CAAMFest, we are proud to lift the voices of these brave and tender storytellers.” 

Still from Opening Night film "Admissions Granted." Image courtesy CAAMFest

The festival has a long history of activating cultural spaces, and this year’s Opening Night film screening of the documentary “Admissions Granted” will be held at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), which presents its eponymous festival, has for four decades uplifted documentary films about the Asian American experience, and this selection touches upon one of the most electric debates of our times. Focusing on the lead-up to the 2023 Supreme Court case pitting a group of Asian American college applicants against Harvard University, “Admissions Granted" takes audiences behind the scenes, featuring interviews with Bay Area residents: Calvin Yang, one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case and current UC Berkeley student; Michael Wang, who previously filed a discrimination complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights; and Sally Chen, Harvard graduate and employee of the San Francisco-based organization Chinese for Affirmative Action. 

The Opening Night screening will be followed by a gala at the Asian Art Museum, which will also open its new East West Bank Art Terrace for this year’s festivities, which will include tasty bites and beverages from some of the Bay Area’s trendiest Asian restaurants and food vendors. The museum’s galleries will also be open for guests, who can check out the permanent galleries, as well as the current exhibit “Phoenix Kingdoms: the Last Splendor of China’s Bronze Age” in the Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, that features artifacts from two rival kingdoms that flourished at the end of China’s Bronze Age. 

Film Screenings at SFMOMA

Museum aficionados will be also able to spend two full days watching movies at SFMOMA; the museum’s Phyllis Wattis Theater will host film screenings on Saturday, May 11 and Saturday, May 18.

Highlights, Saturday, May 11

11:45 a.m.
“Ashima” directed by Kenji Tsukamoto, is an intimate portrait of young elite rock climber Ashima Shiraishi as she travels to South Africa to try to become the youngest person in the world to climb a V14 graded boulder problem. Accompanying Ashima is Poppo, an eccentric, hermit-like, retired avante-garde dancer, who also happens to be her father. Emotional and rooted in character, Ashima is a love letter not only to climbing, but to immigrant parents and the realization of the American Dream.

“Q,” directed by Jude Chehab (2020 CAAM Fellow).
Where do we draw the line between love and devotion? An intimate and haunting portrayal of a quest for love and acceptance at any cost, Q depicts the pervasive influence of a secretive matriarchal religious order in Lebanon on three generations of women in the Chehab family. Filmmaker Jude Chehab potently documents the unspoken ties and consequences of loyalty that have bonded her mother, grandmother, and herself to the mysterious organization. A masterful portrait of the toll that decades of unrequited love, lost hope, abuse, and despair takes on a person, Q is a multigenerational tale of the eternal search for meaning. This film was made with support from CAAM’s Documentaries for Social Change Fund.

7:30 p.m.

"All Shall Be Well," directed by Ray Yeung
Angie and Pat are a lesbian couple living in Hong Kong who have been together for over four decades. After Pat's unexpected death, Angie finds herself at the mercy of Pat’s extended family as she struggles to retain both her dignity and the home that they shared for over thirty years. The film won the Teddy Award for best LGBTQ-themed feature film at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. 

Saturday, May 18

11:30 a.m.
“The Lyricist Wannabe,” directed by Norris Wong
Believing that writing Cantopop is her God-given talent, Law Wing-sze decides to make it her lifelong career. But as hard as Sze tries to polish her lyrics writing skills and expand her social circle, nothing seems to go her way. What if there’s a will, but there’s no way? The first major motion picture about Cantopop lyrics writing, Norris Wong’s long-awaited follow-up to her acclaimed debut "My Prince Edward" is an unsentimental autobiographical dramedy that reminds us no dream is guaranteed to come true. Ironically, the film’s star, up-and-coming actress Chung Suet-ying, is actually a real-life Cantopop lyricist.


“Girls Will Be Girls,” directed by Shuchi Talati
In a strict boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, 16-year-old Mira discovers desire and romance. But her sexual, rebellious awakening is disrupted by her mother who never got to come of age herself.

“And So It Begins,” directed by Ramona S. Diaz (2020 CAAM Mentor)
Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. In a decades-long nonfiction saga of the Philippines, director Ramona Diaz presents the latest chapter on her homeland as the despotic reign of President Rodrigo Duterte is coming to an end. In the months leading up to the country’s 2022 presidential election, And So It Begins proffers unbridled access to all the key players including former Vice President of the Philippines and current presidential candidate Leni Robredo and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. With her keen observational eye and deep knowledge of the socio-political history and landscape, Diaz continues to find her own forms of storytelling as political disruption. This film was made with support from CAAM. 

Thao takes the stage at CAAMFest Yerba Buena Gardens Festival music showcase, May 18. Photo by Shervin Lainez; image courtesy CAAMFest

Saturday, May 18 at 1.pm at Yerba Buena Gardens

Directions in Sound: Thao

"Directions in Sound," CAAMFest’s fresh music showcase, returns once more to the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Heritage District for a renewed collaboration with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. Taking over the stage will be Thảo Nguyễn aka Thao—artist, songwriter, touring musician, and producer originally from Northern Virginia. Thao has also been the subject of “Nobody Dies,” a CAAM-funded documentary exploring her first trip to Vietnam as the daughter of refugees who fled during the war. 

Other Dance and Performance Programs

Sunday, May 12, 12:00 PM | Roxie Theater 
These leaders in dance, law, politics, and youth organizing, take brave steps toward their highest ideals. From performance prowess to professional leadership and praiseworthy mentorship excellence is on view. Following individuals through journeys of becoming, these films inspire reflection on our collective aspirations and what it means to lead.

"Duckworthy," directed by MG Evangelista
Leading, directed by Grace Lee
Mia’s Mission, directed by Jireh Deng
Ten Times Better, directed by Jennifer Rita Lin

"Kinetic Inheritances"
Sunday, May 19, 6:00 p.m. | New Parkway Theater
Sensuous images and euphonious music map a transpacific arkipelago of Filipina/o/x diaspora through the eyes and experiences of local Bay Area Pinoy filmmakers. Through these films, land, place, and body fold into a powerful record of diasporic expression. Histories of imperialism in the Philippines and racial disenfranchisement in the US find remediation in the proud, virtuosic work of these Filipino storytellers.

"Lupa," directed by Kirstian Kabuay
"Regalo," directed by Eduardo Taylor
"Art of Work," directed by Patrick Cruz

CAAMFest will present nearly 40 programs over the 11-day festival taking place in San Francisco and Oakland. To learn more about other events, including film screenings, industry panels, and chef dinners, visit CAAMFest.com for the full schedule and to buy tickets. 

Main image: Still from “Ashima” directed by Kenji Tsukamoto. Country CAAMFest

Grace Hwang Lynch
Grace Hwang Lynch
Grace is a San Francisco-based writer whose work focuses on race, culture and family. Her writing has appeared on PBS, Salon and MSNBC. She also blogs about Asian mixed-race families at HapaMama.
Grace is a San Francisco-based writer whose work focuses on race, culture and family. Her writing has appeared on PBS, Salon and MSNBC. She also blogs about Asian mixed-race families at HapaMama.
More Stories

Echoes of a New Frontier: Deconstructing the Archetype

By Emily Wilson

Echoes of a New Frontier: Deconstructing...

By Emily Wilson

Metaphor for Mortality: Artist Don Hersh...

By Mark Taylor

Bay Area Summer Festivals: Bundle Up for...

See All Stories
About Us
Join Our Newsletter

©2024 SF/Arts Media. All rights reserved.

©2024 SF/Arts Media. All rights reserved.

Submission Policy