First up was OFF THE MENU: ASIAN AMERICA, by festival favorite Grace Lee (THE GRACE LEE PROJECT, AMERICAN ZOMBIE, AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS.) This time she's taking on Asian American identity through food. From the sushi king of Texas--who does a lot more than sushi...and a lot more than Japanese food, but at least it's Asian! To the tofu king, also in Texas. Or kimchi burgers. Or a Sikh temple that serves food for anyone who comes by (it's a Sikh tradition, and it's kind of killing me that I forgot what it's called.) Or new fusion restaurants in New York. It presents food both as a way to connect to your culture but also to express your individuality. And here in America there's a strange tension between traditional dishes and the fusion of the great melting pot. Personally, I'm all about fusion. One of my favorite things I used to get at the Indian grocery store I used to live near was jalapeno and nacho cheese samosas. They're exactly as good as they sound, and to me they taste like America.
Then a more sobering documentary, with THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR. Dr. Ngor is most known here for winning the Oscar for best supporting actor in THE KILLING FIELDS. But before that, he was a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust, and saw horrors that make the movie pale in comparison. He was killed in 1996 outside his Los Angeles apartment. Officially it was a robbery and he was shot when he refused to give up a locket with a picture of his late wife My-Huoy (who had died under the Khmer Rouge.) But there are still conspiracy theories that he was assassinated by Khmer Rouge sympathizers. Anyway, this movie covers pretty much the entirety of his life, based on his own memoirs. From being a wealthy doctor in Phnom Penh (where both he and his wife had their own Mercedes and driver.) To the underpinnings of corruption in Cambodia that led to the Khmer Rouge taking control. The first few days of excitement that at least they can't be worse than the previous regime. To that all falling apart, and the years of abject horror in the jungle. No food, frequent beatings. Even a crucifixion (yeah, the guy was literally crucified, and survived it.) To the escape and 20 miles of mine fields to the Thai border (out of ~200 that joined him on the journey, 17 survived.) His was truly a harrowing life, but one he survived to make a life for himself in America, work with refugees, and sort of randomly be cast in a movie for fun. And the rest, as they say, is history. But history that will live for hundreds of years, and should never be forgotten.
And then the centerpiece program, MARGARITA WITH A STRAW. Laila is a student at Delhi University. She has friends, is a lyricist for a school rock band, and she has sever cerebral palsy. She goes to study in New York, where she meets and befriends a blind Pakistani girl. Oh, and they become lovers. Although she also has sex with a boy. Oh yeah, and her mom has cancer. Yeah, trying to describe it makes it sound like the movie is trying to set a record for the most dramatic buttons it can push--disabled rights, bisexuality, intolerant parents, India-Pakistan conflict (although the politics isn't featured,) cancer...but it doesn't feel like that when you're watching it. Anchored by excellent performances by Sayani Gupta (who I was surprised to learn is not actually blind) and especially Kalki Koechlin (who I was surprised to learn is not actually disabled) and a smart script, this transcends all the emotional hot buttons to be a sweet, tender, and smart story about people. Just...people.
And finally, the night (and the weekend) ended with MY FAIR WEDDING. Specifically the wedding of film director Gwang-Soo and his producer and long time love, Dave. Ah, yeah, gay marriage in Korea. Nope, it's not legal. But it's a huge media circus and spectacle. And that's intentional...and kinda puts a strain on their relationship at times. But it's all fun as the gay community comes together to throw them an amazing public party. At times the editing leading up to the festival is choppy and head-spinning (probably evoking how they felt at the time) but when they get to the actual wedding, the crowd and spectacle is fabulous. And just a couple of protesters who actually break in and try to disrupt things. So...hundreds (thousands?) come out to celebrate and only two object? Not bad, now if the laws can just catch up. I would have liked to stay for the Q&A, as the two lovebirds were there in person. But it was late and I had to catch the BART home.
And that was the first weekend at CAAMFest. I'm slowly catching up...
Total Running Time: 337 minutes
My Total Minutes: 391,121