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    A Bevy of Queer Films at CAAMFest

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    CAAMFest, the Asian American Film Festival, will screen May 9–19 at Bay Area venues. There will be several films by, for, and about LGBTQ Asians screening this year.

    CAAMFest will give viewers another opportunity to see Extremely Unique Dynamic(May 11, 8 pm, Roxie), the shaggy, amusing meta-movie written, directed by, and starring Harrison Xu, who grew up around Oakland / Fremont, and out gay Ivan Leung. Best friends Daniel (Leung) and Ryan (Xu) are living in LA, but Ryan is about to move to Edmonton, Canada. The film chronicles the buddies’ last weekend together as the straight Ryan coaxes the closeted Daniel into making a movie together about their friendship.

    One of the highlights of this year’s fest will be All Shall Be Well(May 11, 7:30 pm SFMOMA), a poignant, touching drama by out gay writer/director Ray Yeung. Yeung has been making terrific films about queer Asians since 2006 with his debut feature Cut Sleeve Boys. He gained considerable attention for his fabulous 2015 romance, Front Cover. But his latest feature, All Shall Be Well, like his last feature, Twilight’s Kiss, chronicles the lives of LGBTQ Asian seniors.

    This new film, set in Hong Kong, opens warm and gently with lesbian couple Pat Wu (Lin-Lin Li) and Angie Wang (Patra Au) celebrating the mid-Autumn festival with Pat’s extended family. Yeung immerses viewers in the couple’s dynamic, eating together, shopping arm in arm, and spending time with their loved ones. But suddenly and unexpectedly, Pat dies, which leaves Angie bereft. Moreover, Pat had no will, and her family assumes control over the funeral arrangements—ignoring what Angie claims were Pat’s wishes—only for things to get increasingly worse for Angie. She may have to give up the home she and Pat shared for decades.

    All Shall Be Well lets viewers feel such empathy for Angie, and Patra Au delivers a beautifully calibrated performance. She is silent and stoic; her grief and loneliness as well as her pain and memories are all palpable. Yeung’s absorbing film may be modest and understated but it is also quietly powerful.

    CAAMFest will have a queer shorts program, Out/Here (May 12, 2:35 pm, Roxie), featuring a half dozen films about gender identity and expression.

    The first two films are rather experimental. Mooncake, directed by Rraine Hanson, is a visually imaginative story about an unnamed protagonist (Kennie Zhou), who recalls the crush they had on their teacher (Kae Fujisawa) when their memory is triggered buying a mooncake. Retrieval, by writer/director Fatimah Ashgar, is a meditation on recovery. Ashgar stars as a young woman who seeks healing after a sexual assault. The short has a dreamlike quality to it that gets more serious and thoughtful as it unfolds.

    The program contains two narrative shorts. In Squeegee Boy, Eugene (Cody Vu) is at odds with his mother, Lina (Jenny Jia), in part because Lina refuses to see her preteen daughter Erika as Eugene, the young male he is. When Eugene learns that Lina is in debt, he asks Ben (Ahmire Ingram), who washes car windshields in the street, if he can work with his crew—something Lina frowns upon. As Eugene and Ben connect, they encounter some unexpected trouble. Squeegee Boy is a well-made short that speaks to issues of race, gender, and family. In The Performance, Lin (Lesley Lei Wang) wants her singing at church to “touch” people. At home, she struggles with her gender non-conforming son, Tan (Xiao Jager), who wants to dress as female. The short addresses issues of shame and support as Lin and Tan each forge their own way forward. 

    Two documentary shorts will round out the program. Wouldn’t Make It Any Other Way is a compelling portrait of Marc Marcos, a queer Guam transplant, currently living and sewing in Iowa City. When they are called back home to make costumes for a local theater production, Marc grapples with feelings about family as their mother pressures Marc to stay, despite their father’s attitudes towards Marc’s sexual identity. This short film, directed by Hao Zhou, is as ingratiating and as engaging as its subject.

    To Write From Memory, by Emory Chao Johnson, is a video diary featuring scenes of the filmmaker cooking, eating, doing laundry, and taking testosterone while conversations they had with their mother are heard on the soundtrack. The discussions are labeled “diet” and “demands,” and address issues of weight and gender identity and expression. This striking short film shows how Emory Chao Johnson absorbs all their mother’s judgment and anxieties, while trying to live authentically and as they want.

    In the shorts program Lionhearted (May 12, 12 pm, Roxie),the documentary Mia’s Mission provides an inspiring profile of Mia Yamamoto, a criminal defense attorney who transitioned at age 60. Queer director Jireh Deng’s short shows the power of visibility, and respect.

    The shorts program Navigating Intimacy (May 18, 5 pm, Roxie), features several queer shorts. Next of Kinis an absorbing film about Tommy (writer/director Timothy Guion Smith), who is rejected during a threesome because of his HIV status. Turning to his mother, Flores (Joan Almedilla) for comfort, Tommy processes his conflicting emotions. The film is an auspicious debut and addresses an important concern for the queer community.

    After Sunset, Dawn Arrives has Won’s (Jesse Wang) interest piqued when he happens upon a same-sex ballroom dance hall. When Won sees the dance instructor Ken (Todd Liem) in the spa one day, Ken encourages Won to attend the dance. Won reluctantly does, and it sparks a flight of fancy about what gay life might be like for this senior widower. Writer/director Andy Yi Li’s film is both charming and moving.

    Also playing in the program is homecoming, written and directed by queer Bay Area native Monica Mai. In this short, Micah (Joyce Keokham) has her senior homecoming dance disrupted by her father Peter’s (Fenton Li) early release from prison. As father and daughter navigate their relationship, they take stock of their places in life and expectations from the other. This is a somber short that one might wish were longer.

    In addition, two features and three shorts made by queer filmmakers will screen at CAAMFest. These include Light of the Setting Sun, directed by Vicky Du; Nobuko Miyamoto: A Song in Movement, directed by Quyên Nguyen-Le & Tadashi Nakamura; Lion in the Wind, directed by TT Takemoto; Thời Thơ Ấu (Childhood), directed by Vi Tuong Bui; and Between Earth & Sky, directed by Andrew Nadkarni.

    For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit:

    © 2024 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” He teaches Short Attention Span Cinema at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and is the moderator for Cinema Salon, a weekly film discussion group. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on May 9, 2024