SCREEN GRABS The big event this week is CAAMFest (May 10-24), or what used to be called the SF Asian American Film Festival—now (like Frameline) boiled down to the name of its producing organization, otherwise known as the Center for Asian American Media. This year’s two-week event kicks off with the world premiere of Bay Area native Diane Fukami’s An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy, about the first Asian-American mayor of a major city—whose high-flying political career took him from a WW2 Japanese-American internment camp to San Jose’s City Hall, then onto cabinet posts under both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. A gala party at the Asian Art Museum will follow this Thursday night.
The official closer on May 24 is something unusual for CAAM: Not a movie, but a live theatrical performance by veteran local writer-performer Brenda Wong Aoki. She’ll perform her multi character not-quite-solo show Aunt Lily’s Flower Room: One Hundred Years of Legalized Racism at the Herbst with live accompaniment from her jazz composer husband Mark Izu and koto master Shoko Hikage.
There are also two “Centerpiece” selections, one narrative and one nonfiction. Bitter Melon is the third feature by SF’s own H.P. Mendoza, of Colma: The Musical fame. Another left-field surprise from him, this one isn’t a musical, or a supernatural mystery like 2012’s I Am a Ghost, but a dark comedy about a Filipino family deciding to take violent action against the most problematic member of the clan. Comedian Kulap Vilaysack’s documentary Origin Story is an exploration of her own family background, including the biological father she’s never met.
Another highlight will be a tribute to martial arts superstar Pei-Pei Chang, whose screen career has now spanned over half a century—including King Hu’s 1966 wuxia classic Come Drink With Me and Ang Lee’s 2000 genre homage Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
The former will be shown as part of a short retrospective also including her latest, Mina Shum’s Canadian seriocomedy Meditation Park.
As usual, CAAM will offer a variety of short, feature-length, narrative and non-fiction work from thought the Asian diaspora, with work from China, India, Taiwan, Nepal, Malaysia, Hong Kong and beyond. There’s also a Filmmaker Summit, a four-part showcase for films by Pacific Islanders, a sidebar of “Food Films,” and the usual healthy emphasis on music both on-screen and live. Venues are all over town (as well as in Oakland), but most of the program will be shown at the AMC Kabuki and New People Cinema in Japantown.
For those whose favorite Asian cinematic flavor is Japanimation, the week brings something outside CAAM’s program: The opening at Embarcadero of Lu Over the Wall, a new feature by Masaaki Yuada, whose surreal 2004 cult favorite Mind Game also just got a (belated) US theatrical release. This latest is about an unhappy teen whose life gets a lot more interesting when he meets a twin-tailed, music-loving mermaid.
Elsewhere this coming week:
EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY
After starting out in theater (where he found most of his recurrent acting ensemble), Rainer Werner Fassbinder spent only 13 years on the screen works that made him famous, before dying in 1982 at age 37. But he was so astonishingly prolific during that period that hitherto forgotten projects keep surfacing decades later. One such is this five-part 1972 drama, recently restored and seen for the first time since its original TV broadcast. Subtitled “A Family Series,” it stars Gottfried John as a factory worker who meets the self-possessed Marion (Hanna Schygulla in a giant mop of Shirley Temple curls) by chance. They set out to make a life together, with complications on both the domestic and labor front. But after the first, each of the five episodes focuses on a different “couple” in those protagonists’ orbit, en route illuminating larger social issues and changes—notably the rising independence of women.
Not the usual Fassbinder tragedy, this surprisingly boisterous and upbeat (if still occasionally barbed) snapshot of working-class life was supposedly meant to run longer, but despite its popularity ended early—the story goes that trade unions objected to the unrealistic portrait of negotiations with management. (The workers here generally come up with clever ways to convince the bosses to do what they want them to, rather than going through official arbitrators.)
The PFA is showing the entire eight-hour series in two marathon screenings: The first broken up between this Friday and Saturday, the second all day Sunday. If you love Fassbinder, you’ll be in heaven. If you don’t, this might actually be atypical enough that you’ll enjoy it nevertheless. I’m in the middle, and Eight Hours immediately leapt to the top of my short list of favorite RWF works. Fri/11-Sun/13, PFA. More info here.
FILMS OF SKY HOPINKA
Washington-born, Milwaukee-based filmmaker Hopinka finished his university studies less than two years ago—so it’s very auspicious that his work has already been included in the Whitney Biennial and Sundance Film Festival. While his own ancestral roots are in the Sioux-speaking midwestern Ho-Chunk tribe, his videos have explored myriad indigenous identities, in landscape and politics as well as hereditary specifics. He’ll present seven recent shorts at this SF Cinematheque show, encompassing subjects from the Pacific Northwest to West Virginia, from a logging father’s legacy to the protests at Standing Rock. Thurs/10, Artists’ Television Access. More info here.
HECHO EN MEXICO
The favorite kicking post of our current POTUS, modern Mexican society has a lot more complexity than it seems the GOP would like Americans to be aware of. This RoxCine-presented long weekend brings together some of the most acclaimed Mexican documentaries of recent years. Friday’s much-awarded opener Devil’s Freedom is an incendiary look at the pervasive role of organized crime in Mexico, with perps and victims alike interviewed wearing masks for anonymity-bestowing safety.
Other features include looks at Mexico City sex workers (Plaza de la Soledad), the political aspects of agriculture (Maize in Times of War), life in the remotest reaches of Usumachinta River jungle lands (The Swirl), and a California-raised 10-year-old boy’s trip south of the border to visit the mother who can’t get a visa to join him (Artemio). Filmmakers will be available for Q&A’s in person or via Skype after each screening. Fri/11-Sun/13, Roxie. More info here.
BIANCA, BARBARELLA & BLAISE
With a rising tide of “religious freedom” laws seemingly directed largely at abetting discrimination against the LGBTQ communities, not to mention our POTUS’ ongoing love affair with the Kremlin, it seems an apt moment for the Castro to host Hurricane Bianca 2: From Russia With Hate. The 2016 original indie feature starred Roy Haylock as a Manhattan schoolteacher lured to a job in Texas, only to be unceremoniously fired for being gay. He returns incognito as femme fatale Bianca del Rio to wreak elaborate revenge.
Director Matt Kugelman’s sequel finds our hero/heroine once again locking talons with Rachel Dratch, whose narrow-minded nemesis this time entices the much-mascara’d lady to Moscow—but hopefully not Siberian exile. As before, there will be familiar painted faces from RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as celebrity cameos (Cheyenne Jackson, Wanda Sykes, Janeane Garofolo). At the Castro itself, the evening will include the star and fellow performer Shangela being interviewed onstage by local luminary Peaches Christ.
If this crossdressing superheroine puts you in the mood for more vintage fantastical females, the Castro is putting up one hell of a Swinging Sixties campfest on Thursday. Jane Fonda was at her early sex-kitten peak in then-spouse Roger Vadim’s 1968 Barbarella as the titular 41st-century “queen of the galaxy,” a planet-hopping adventuress forever getting into life-threatening (and clothes-depriving) scrapes. Likewise based on a hip comic strip was Joseph Losey’s very arch 1966 Modesty Blaise, with Antonioni muse Monica Vitti abandoning all ennui for frolicking amidst pop-art settings as a beautiful but deadly superspy. Hurricane: Mon/14. Barbarella/Modesty: Thurs/17. Both at Castro Theater. http://www.castrotheatre.com/