We're in the midst of film festival season, and while much of the cinema-loving world will be focused on the movies that get rave reviews at Telluride or TIFF, many significant works—especially those by filmmakers of color—are bound to be tragically overlooked. But with support from the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), four documentaries focused on Asian-Americans throughout history are receiving significant support in the journey to reach a wider audience.
The recipients of CAAM's 2015 Documentary Fund Awards are far-reaching in their themes, but they are unified by subject matter that focuses (per CAAM's mission) on Asian populations and diaspora, with emphasis on the stories of those not typically given promient public visibility. Each recipient receives between $15,000 and $50,000 from the San Francisco-based organization to help defray production costs. The funding is made possible thanks to support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Three of the films focus explicitly on Asian Americans. The fourth, "A Guangzhou Love Story" by Kathy Huang (director) and Debbie Lum (producer), examines the lives of Chinese women who marry African men and raise families in the face of widespread xenophobia and racist immigration policies. Huang said that this film, with CAAM's support, will offer lessons to people from all societies dealing with pluralistic populations:
Through their taboo romances and determination to protect their families at all costs, the characters in our film are the vanguard of a quiet social revolution helping to forge a new, more integrated China. Their stories hold a mirror to all countries struggling to accommodate people of different origins and races—from Mexican migrant workers in the U.S. to Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe.
"Who Is Arthur Chu?" by director/producers Yu Gu and Scott Drucker, focuses on the "Jeopardy!" superstar champion and culture critic's rise to fame and struggles with a public that isn't willing to accept a confident Asian-American victor. In a statement about the award to Colorlines, Gu and Drucker explained how the funds will help them complete the story:
Our portrait of Arthur Chu, in this seminal moment of his life, will fully explore his contradictions, passions and his efforts to enact social change through personal struggle. While the world may see him as "that Asian guy," we want to tell a universal story of an individual struggling against society while battling his own demons. We believe this human and nuanced approach can change the way people view Americans and American society. The funds from CAAM comes at an important turning point in our journey. It will allow us to complete our production phase to its fullest potential, and allow us to work with a great editor to strengthen our work.
"Frank Wong's Chinatown" is a working title for a film by director/producer James Q. Chan and producer Corey Tong looking at 81-year-old San Francisco-based artist Frank Wong and his journey from Chinatown youth to renowned miniature-model artist, as well as the decades-long journey of the neighborhood. Chan offered this statement to Colorlines on the award:
Working with CAAM gives us the incredible opportunity to complete and present our film not only to their primary communities of Asian- and Chinese-Americans in the U.S., but globally into Chinatowns and other ethnic and racial immigrant communities around the world. Our program fills significant holes in mainstream media; seniors seen not only as aging or health care concerns, but as active, healthy, creative individuals from Asian-American families. Through artist Frank Wong and his artwork we explore the power of memory, history, legacy.
Director/producer Konrad Aderer and co-producer Michelle Chen go back in history for "Resistance at Tule Lake," a stereotype-shattering look at the World War II-era Tule Lake Segregation Center, a militarized internment camp for Japanese Americans branded as "troublemakers," many of whom stood up for their rights despite the intense stigma and repression facing them and their peers.
Visit CAAM's website for more information about the four Documentary Award recipients.