Small Screen Berkeley: CAAMFest 2020

San Francisco’s annual celebration of Asian and diaspora cinema will be coming to a device near you, albeit in a curtailed form, starting Wednesday, May 13 and continuing through Friday, May 22.

I Will Make You Mine. Photo: Courtesy Larsen Associates

I’ve given CAAMFest — San Francisco’s annual celebration of Asian and diaspora cinema — regular coverage over the years, but assumed that, in common with the San Francisco International Film Festival, it simply wouldn’t be happening in 2020. How wrong I was: though in a much curtailed format, CAAMFest will be coming to a device near you beginning Wednesday, May 13 and continuing through Friday, May 22.

Perhaps even more surprising: the opening night feature has already sold out! I don’t know how many virtual tickets were available for Lynn Chen’s I Will Make You Mine, but it’s a good choice for an opener and will be worth tracking down whenever it goes on wider release.

In addition to writing and directing, Chen stars as Rachel, one of three primary female characters. Rachel is happily married to Josh, but has unfinished business with old high school chum Goh (Goh Nakamura), a slacker whose career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter has been stuck in the mud for a while.

Goh’s sister Erika (Ayato Fujitani) is the responsible sibling charged with arranging their father’s funeral, while close chum/hipster babysitter Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) can’t decide whether or not she’s ready to grow up and settle down. Chen’s screenplay effectively weaves each character’s distinct story into a satisfying if somewhat predictable cinematic brew, but it’s the laid-back Nakamura who makes the greatest impression: his teddy bear charm, sweet singing voice, and songwriting talent suggest he has a more successful future ahead of him than the fictional Goh.


First Vote (screening on Friday, May 15 at 5 p.m.) is a documentary about Asian-American voters, and certainly provides some food for thought. Filmed during the 2018 midterms, the film (directed by  Yi Chen) emphatically proves there is no single Asian-American voting bloc: several Trump enthusiasts are featured, and they’re just as devoted to their man as Chad and Karen.

Foodies will want to check out ‘Bay Area Food Stories’, a collection of short subjects revolving around cooks and comestibles, screening at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 21. Included in the program are Manjula Varghese’s The Food Historian, which examines her work with Oakland’s People’s Kitchen Collective; Roots and Wings: Yana Gilbuena, focusing on a local chef’s pop-up restaurant; and Takahashi Market: Since 1906, a salute to a well-loved shop in San Mateo.

Two films about mother-daughter relationships viewed through the prism of Alzheimers are offered at 2 p.m. on May 22: Leena Pendharkar’s Awaken, featuring the always excellent Parminder Nagra as a woman trying to provide an ailing parent peace and stability, and Eris Qian’s Mother Tongue, an examination of communication when a common language has been lost.

The fest’s closing film is an old favorite, albeit one I hadn’t seen before. Fruit Fly (screening at 5 p.m. on May 22) originally appeared at CAAMFest 2010 and comes from polymath H. P. Mendoza, a San Francisco native whose 2006 picture Colma: The Musical I really, really disliked. I don’t know if I’ve changed, or if Mendoza’s film-making improved shortly after he made Colma, but Fruit Fly’s tale of an aspiring artist newly arrived in the city absolutely delighted me with its cheeky dialogue and extremely vulgar (and extremely hilarious) songs. Best of all, CAAMFest is offering a sing-a-long version – but make sure your windows are closed before belting out its X-rated lyrics!