Throwback Thursday: 1982 to 2015

At the first film festival
From the original festival to 2015, we've come a long way. Some of our original filmmakers return this year including Spotlight Honoree Arthur Dong and filmmakers Felicia Lowe and Ruby Yang.

The idea for an Asian American International film festival in the San Francisco Bay Area came about after the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (now CAAM) was formed in 1980. From CAAM’s history, by writer and scholar Oliver Wang:

Founded in 1980 the San Francisco-based Center for Asian American Media, formerly known the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), has grown into the largest organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian Americans in independent media, specifically the areas of television and filmmaking. CAAM’s inception at the beginning of the 1980s came at a key moment in the historical development of Asian American media. Earlier, in 1971, Los Angeles-based activists and artists established Visual Communications (VC), a community-based organization which was instrumental in helping to create many early examples of Asian American filmmaking, including the first Asian American feature film, HITO HATA: RAISE THE BANNER in 1980. In New York, Asian CineVision (ACV) formed in 1976 and pursued similar goals as VC, helping to nurture a nascent East Coast filmmaking community.

Pioneering filmmaker Felicia Lowe was at the first meeting that led to the formation of NAATA. Photo by Frank Jang.
Pioneering filmmaker Felicia Lowe was at the first meeting that led to the formation of NAATA.

CAAM’s mission in its early years reflected similar priorities as its counterparts in Los Angeles and New York but their origins were also intimately tied into federal policies and politics. In the late 1970s, the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) began to provide greater funding resources with the specific aim of encouraging the development of ethnic media. At a three-day conference held at UC Berkeley in 1980, Asian American activists from around the country came together to discuss the creation of an entity that could benefit from CPB’s policies, directly leading to CAAM’s formation later that year.

Filmmaker Felicia Lowe was at the first meeting that took place at UC Berkeley in 1980 to form NAATA.

“It was the gathering of Asian Americans who were working across the U.S. to think about how we can formulate our own group,” Lowe said. “By then, there had been a Black consortium and the Latinos had come together, so we were flexing our own muscles and trying to empower ourselves.” At the time, Lowe had just finished her film, China, Land of My Father (1979). Lowe will world premiere her latest film, Chinese Couplets, at this year’s CAAMFest at The Great Star Theatre in SF Chinatown at 7pm on March 14, and at The New Parkway Theater at 5pm on March 21.

Fast forward a couple of years after that initial meeting at Berkeley, and the inaugural Asian American film festival in the Bay Area was born. The 1982 Asian American International Film Festival was presented by NAATA (now CAAM) and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and took place over 3 days.

1982 NAATA Film Fest program
1982 NAATA Film Festival program

The 1982 festival’s program included many world premieres of now classic films and notable filmmakers, including Sewing Woman by Arthur Dong, who is the CAAMFest 2015 Spotlight Honoree. Dong will World Premiere his latest film, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, March 15, 2015. CAAM is also proud to premiere a new digitally remastered version of Forbidden City, U.S.A., about Chinese American nightclubs in the 1930’s, along with a live performance and book reading by Dong at the historic Chinatown Great Star Theatre on Saturday, March 14 at this year’s CAAMFest. Join Arthur Dong and B. Ruby Rich in conversation on Friday, March 20.

Forbidden City, USA premiere, November 15, 1989, Palace of Fine Arts. MC’s Emeral Yeh and Ben Fong Torres with filmmaker Arthur Dong (center). Photo by Bob Hsiang.
Forbidden City, USA premiere, November 15, 1989, Palace of Fine Arts. MC’s Emeral Yeh and Ben Fong Torres with filmmaker Arthur Dong (center). Photo by Bob Hsiang.

Director Ruby Yang screened her short film, Mirror Points, at the 1982 film festival. Between these years, Yang won an Academy Award for her documentary, The Blood of Yingzhou District. Yang will show two of her latest films at CAAMFest 2015: My Voice, My Life, about a group of misfit teens putting together a musical will play twice and A Moment in Time, about the role of Chinatown movie theatres in San Francisco, will play Tuesday, March 17 at the Great Star Theatre in SF’s Chinatown.

Also of note is that Stephen Gong introduced a special presentation of silent film star Sessue Hayakawa’s films at the 1982 festival; Gong is now CAAM’s executive director. Manongs, by Curtis Choy and Chris Chow, was branded as 10 minute “work in progress” at the inaugural festival; the film later became the celebrated and historic Fall of the I-Hotel documentary.

Check out what was on the program for our very first film festival on October 2, 1982:

7:00pm – Regret for the Past (1980) by Shiu Hua, People Republic of China, 108 min.
A feature film from China adapted from a short story by LuXun that tells the tragic love story of a couple living in Beijing during the 1920’s. It is an evocative tapestry that reveals the emotional turmoil prevalent in pre-revolutionary China.

9:30pm – Bittersweet Survival (1981) by Chris Choy, J.T. Takagi, New York, 27 min.
Bittersweet Survival examines the plight of Southeast Asian refugees resettled in the US and analyzes in political terms the aims of the US government in encouraging refugeeism.

Chiang Ching: A Dance Journey (1981) by Lana Pih Jokel, New York, 30 min.
The film explores the past and present life of noted dancer Chiang Ching by blending details of her early years, her career as an actress in China, her troubles marriage and her present career as a dancer and leader of her own company in a revealing portrait of a complex and accomplished artist.

Return from Silence (1981) by Shih Chung-wen, Washington, DC, 50 min.
Return from Silence features the first interviews since the Cultural Revolution with China’s major literary talents. It explores the lives and careers of these exceptional artists who were discredited and thrust into obscurity during the revolution.

Oct. 9, 1982 Sessue Hayakawa Retrospective

7:00pm – The Cheat (1915) by Cecil B. DeMille, 45 min.
The Cheat was Hayakawa’s breakthrough film. He became a Hollywood leading man and matinee idol. The film was to generate outrage because of the stereotyping and negative Asian image it proffered, but it would win praise also as a powerful melodrama and a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

The Dragon Painter (1924) by Sessue Hayakawa, 45 min.
A silent masterpiece starring Hayakawa and his wife Tsuru Aoki. Dragon Painter tells the story of a wild man of nature seeking an enchanted princess. This allegory of love and inspiration was originally written to give American audiences a different view of Asian art.

9:45pm – The Tong Man by William Worthington, 50 min.
The Tong Man was set in SF’s Chinatown and depicted drug dealing, extortion, kidnapping and murders. Hayakawa played the hero, a Tong hatchetman, who refuses to kill the father of the girl he loves. The film caused an uproar in the SF Chinatown community and was banned in New York.

Stephen Gong from the Media Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts will lead a special discussion on the life and career of Sessue Hayakawa. Narration and musical accompaniment: Walter Lew and Don Sossin.

Oct. 12, 1982 – Bay Area Filmmakers Night

7:00pm – Chan is Missing by Wayne Wang, San Francisco, 80 min.
Since its premiere, Chan is Missing has generated more interest and excitement than any other Asian American film produced to date. Dazzling in concept, though produced on a shoestring budget, it succeeds in turning a Hollywood-style mystery film into a casual but perceptive look at Asian American identity and culture.

Director Wayne Wang, a local filmmaker, is scheduled to be on hand to answer questions.

9:15 – Tattoo City by Emiko Omori, San Francisco, 18 min.
This documentary explores the Japanese art of full-body tattooing in a series of personal accounts and provocative images. Melding visions of gyrating tattooed bodies, the filmmaker makes the Japanese motifs come alive.

Sewing Woman by Arthur Dong, San Francisco, 14 min.
The story of one woman’s determination to survive–from war-torn China to a new life in America. The character is based on oral histories and the life of Zem Ping Dong, an immigrant woman who has worked in Chinatown sewing factories for over 30 years.

I am the Master of My Boat by Lambert Yam, 8 min.
A experimental short film depicting the filmmaker’s subconscious journey through his familiar Chinatown surroundings and life’s “dark sea of existence.”

Mirror Points by Ruby Yang, 6 min.
“I try to make films to express myself. I make myself try to express film. I expressly make films to try myself.” – Ruby Yang

Manongs by Curtis Choy and Chris Chow, 10 min.
A work in progress that documents the ten year struggle over the International Hotel in SF’s Manilatown/Chinatown. The hotel, which has provided low-cost housing for the poor and elderly, has since been demolished.