CAAMFest returns to live audiences for 40th year of celebrating Asian American culture

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMFest has grown into one of the largest film festivals in the country, and on Thursday the festival will return in front of a live audience for the first time since the pandemic.

“No more watching in your pajamas on your computer,” joked the new festival director Thuy Tran. “We can’t wait to see everyone in person and having people feed off their energy. I noticed people have been yearning for that connection.”

Tran takes over CAAMFest as the festival enters its 40th year showcasing Asian American stories.

“There is so much talent within our community that we don’t talk about, that people don’t know,” said Tran.

This includes the festival’s Opening Night film at the Castro Theater, “Free Chol Soo Lee” – a documentary that looks back at a local gangland murder investigation in San Francisco Chinatown in 1973.

Thuy Tran, CAAMFest Director


“It is about a real case in the Bay Area, but largely forgotten,” said Tran. “When you break down that case, the reason that he was wrongfully convicted was they were looking for a Chinese person to blame Cho Soo Lee is Korean.”

Other films will reflect the current times of surviving the pandemic in a country deeply divided. The festival’s centerpiece documentary “Bad Axe” follows the life of a Cambodian family trying to save their businesses in a conservative part of the country.

“And you see them face white supremacists in their neighborhood are targeting their restaurant,” said Tran. “That’s another deeply moving documentary.”

But the festival will feature a wide variety of genres. “Mud Water” was based and filmed in Oakland and follows the lives of dance crews. And a sci-fi film from Vietnam called “Maika” tells the story of an eight-year-old becoming friends with an alien girl after a meteor falls to earth.

“When I am curating, that’s what I am looking for, this range, and we see that reflected in this year’s film festival,” said Tran. “We have a lot to say. Asian Americans have a lot to say, but we don’t always have the space or platform to say it. Which is why I think it is so important for a space like CAAM and CAAMFest.”

CAAMFest opens Thursday night and runs through May 22nd. Films will be shown both virtually and at theaters in San Francisco and Oakland, including The Castro Theater, The Great Star Theater, Yerba Buena Gardens, and the New Parkway Theater.

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