By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
Stephen Gong attended the founding meeting in 1980 that lead to the creation of the Center for Asian American Media.
Today Gong is in his 16th year as executive director of the center’s film festival, CAAMFest, which this year celebrates its 40th year in San Francisco. AsAmNews is a sponsor for the third year in a row. Gong has seen a lot of change in four decades.
“It’s remarkable to even think about how the Asian American community has evolved. It’s grown in diversity and numbers,” said Gong to AsAmNews.
But even as representation in Hollywood has exploded on the big screen with Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings and on TV shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, Gong thinks it’s premature to say Asians have arrived in Hollywood.
“Our mantra in the early years, ‘just have representation.’ Today we still find the need to express the range and diversity of the Asian American experience. The last two years have been sobering. The racial divide has been as strong as ever. We have to push forward to make sure we are integral to the American story.”
CAAMFest opens Thursday at San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theater with the documentary Free Chol Soo Lee, the story of a Korean immigrant wrongfully convicted of a San Francisco Chinatown gang murder. The community rallied behind Lee while the investigative reporting of a pioneer Korean American journalist, KW Lee, led to a new trial and for Lee’s conviction to be overturned.
Tickets are free and can be acquired on CAAMFest’s website. Directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi are expected to attend along with other special guests.
That will be followed by an opening night gala at the Asian Arts Museum featuring the 14-piece Hip Hop and classical orchestra, Ensemble Mik Nawooj led by composer and pianist JooWan Kim. Tickets are $40.
New festival director Thuy Tran sees the 40th anniversary as a year of change, not only with her leading the festival but where the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are at.
“We’re at a transitional junction. CAAMFest continues to be a gathering space. A place for healing. A catalyst for change and a catalyst for joy,” she said at a recent news conference held at B-Side at the San Francisco Jazz Center.
She’s particularly looking forward to the shorts program where she says festival-goers will find “young and emerging artists” and she says don’t forget the Pinay Showcase which will be free on May 21 at Yerba Buena Gardens.
The event which starts at 12:30 that Saturday afternoon will celebrate Fil-Am culture through the years in San Francisco and will feature an outdoor music festival of rising Filipino artists.
Ben Fong Torres chronicled popular culture for Rolling Stone from 1969 to 1981. The new documentary from Suzanne Joe Kai titled Like a Rolling Stone chronicles his life during those years and brings back many of the superstars he interviewed through the years. It plays at CAAMfest on Saturday, May 21.
Regrettably, Fong Torres says he had few opportunities to interview Asian Americans in those days.
“Frankly and sadly there weren’t that many,” he recalled to AsAmNews. “Now we’re everywhere. Asian American culture is more in the mainstream.”
Yet he sees the community in the midst of a danger zone thanks to “you know who and I’m not talking about Putin,” he said.
Gong said its in this climate of fear and anti-Asian hate that brings out the importance of storytelling and mainstreaming AAPIs.
“We how how dangerous it is to give in to hostility towards other groups,” he said. “It’s politically motivated fear aimed at immigrants-Asians and Muslims. “Storytelling is more important than ever at a time like this. To be fully invested in society, you need to be able to see yourself. We need to be able to experience other cultures to be more empathetic. What we want for everyone to see an Asian American story, it follows we understand other people’s stories as well.”
The festival runs through May 22.
Here are highlights from CAAMfest from AsAmNews.
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