Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jason goes to CAAMFest--Closing Night

I only caught one film, the big closing night gala. But first, the most important news ever!

Next year, CAAMFest is moving from March to May. Which is great not only because it's Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It also means no more conflicts with Cinequest! Woo hoo! Best news ever!!!

Okay, then there was a lot of speechifying, a lot of thanking of everyone who makes CAAMFest possible (allow me to echo all those thank-yous, especially for the volunteers) and finally on to the closing night film

THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT is a wonderful documentary, logging in at over 2 1/2 hours, but flying by like it's taking a brief overview of Chinese American history, and it's extraordinarily educational. First thing I learned was a pretty cool local positive, the namesake of the Bay Area city of Burlingame. Anson Burlingame was the first American minister to China (appointed by Abraham Lincoln,) and was so good at it that when his term was up, the Chinese hired him to be their envoy to Washington. We could even back up before that time to how important Chinese trade (ummm...including opium) was to the fledgling United States, but I like the Burlingame story. Especially how it concludes with the Burlingame Treaty, which provided basically unlimited immigration between China and America.

So then things go kind of bad. Chinese labor builds the railroads, but then...what are these new Chinese Americans to do? How do they live? Well, the resentment to all these "others" took root on the Pacific coast, especially in California (an interesting contrast to our current liberal, pro-immigrant attitudes.) Over the years, the resentment in California sets in, and turns into attempts to curb/ban Chinese immigration, but it's consistently stymied by the Burlingame Treaty. Until finally, with the help of the southern states suffering under Reconstruction, the Chinese Exclusion Act is passed. At this point, the movie has a lot to say about the injustice of banning an entire people--not just based on country, but based on ethnicity--not just from immigration but from ever becoming citizens, even if they are already here in America. And there's plenty of that but the cheers in the audience came up from the stories of resistance. There are many cool stories in that vein (my favorite is the story of how birthright citizenship was formalized by a SCOTUS decision about a Chinese American man, Wong Kim Ark.)

There's a lot going on in this documentary, there's no way I could summarize it all. Best I can say is that it's fascinating, relevant for our times, and coming soon to a PBS station near you.

Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,337

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