Big Screen Berkeley: Asian American Film Festival

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Pee Mak, a Thai satire on Southeast Asian horror movie conventions, screening as part of the Asian American Film Festival 2014

It’s almost spring time in the East Bay (and, not too surprisingly, the rest of the Northern Hemisphere as well), which means two things are about to happen: the Oakland Athletics will drop their Opening Day game (can the team extend its already impressive nine-season losing streak to an unprecedented tenth, setting a new Major League record?), and the Asian American Film Festival (officially known as CAAMFest 2014) is about to put in its annual appearance at Pacific Film Archive.

This year’s Berkeley component of the Festival kicks off at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, March 14 with Farah Goes Bang, a comedy about a young campaign volunteer desperately trying to lose her virginity while working tirelessly to get John Kerry elected President in 2004. Nikohl Boosheri stars as the title character, an Iranian-American lass spending her days criss-crossing the battleground state of Ohio in search of votes and love. Despite its less than promising premise – is there anything or anyone less exciting than John Kerry? – the film won the Nora Ephron Prize at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Appropriately, Farah Goes Bang has been double-billed with another comedy, this one a Thai satire on Southeast Asian horror movie conventions entitled Pee Mak. Screening at 9:15 p.m., Pee Mak is probably best appreciated by those who’ve seen a lot of Southeast Asian chillers, as its broad humor and Three Stooges-style slapstick left me completely befuddled. Judging from the film’s many positive reviews on IMDb (most of which are from people in Asia), I must be missing something – to these Occidental eyes, it wasn’t much better than one of those awful Scary Movie movies.

Saturday, March 15th sees PFA hosting a trio of intriguing pics, starting at 4:45 p.m. with Rea Tajiri’s Lordville, an hour-long examination of the history of a small New York-state town; continuing at 6:30PM with Ilo Ilo, a Singaporean drama about a Filipina hired to keep house and help raise the son of a well-off Chinese family; and concludes at 8:30PM with Innocent Blood, a Los Angeles-shot crime drama about a Korean-American detective (James Park) whose young son is kidnapped by an old nemesis.


The festival continues at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 16 with The Great Passage, Japan’s official entry for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar. A drama about a bookish young man helping compile a new dictionary, the film racked up an impressive twelve nominations at the Japanese Academy Awards, yet managed to take home not a single gong. It’s followed at 6:10 p.m. by The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, a 2010 documentary about the Automonous Region’s 2008 uprising against Chinese rule, and at 8:15 p.m. by The Way We Dance, a Breakin’-style tale of a food service worker’s desire to give up tofu-slinging for hip hop. Sadly, the film features neither Shabba Doo nor Boogaloo Shrimp.

As always, CAAMFest’s ten day program is both diverse and eclectic, offering moviegoers a wealth of choices. Other films will be screening at PFA throughout the upcoming week; for more information, please visit the CAAMFest website. Please note that all admissions are separate.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. 

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.