Memoirs of a Superfan, Vol. 18.3: CAAMFest 2023 Shorts – Finding Our Way Home in an Emotional Multiverse
by Ravi Chandra
May 9, 2023
CAAMFest 2023 features 14 shorts programs and about 60 films! Check ‘em out!
What is even real?
Pre-pandemic CAAMFest was a supernova, a beacon, a pillar of light that expanded our horizons with stories and possibilities, entertainment and enlightenment.
It’s still that – but we’ve changed. I know I’ve changed.
Life has gotten deeper, so the imaginations of filmmakers seem somehow closer to my neurons, liminal. Memory, narrative, hallucination, ghosts, me – we all inhabit the same synapsiverse. Everything Everywhere All At Once showed Evelyn Wang coming home to herself and her daughter in an quotidian, humdrum universe, not that far from most of our own. It was perfect for COVID, when we had to come home to the superficially humdrum but emotionally rich, surrounded by the terrors of illness, racism, and chaos just outside our doors, frightening multiverses impinging on us all. EEAAO asked us to find our hearts, and fast.
Some days, I think our hearts are the only reality. Everything Else All The Time is fantasy, daydream, reflection, regret or nightmare, and when we wake up, it’ll all be ok. Can we lucid dream ourselves into the right awake?
Ask Community’s Danny Pudi, with his featurette RUNNING (directed by Arpita Mukherjee), playing in the shorts program DESI BLOCK PARTY. Pudi throws himself back into memories of his father who abandoned his family when he was two, as he tries to relate them to his own young son. His father gives him absence, and longing, and he discovers that this longing has crossed oceans, and generations. He carries the dissociation of migration in his mind, and naming it might allow melancholy to become mourning, revealing the First Noble Truth of it all.
“I began searching for a history, my own history. Because I had known all along that the stories I had heard were not true, and parts had been left out.”
– Rea Tajiri in 1991’s History and Memory: for Akiko & Takashige
CAAMFest 2023 spotlights revered veteran filmmaker Rea Tajiri, with her 1997 narrative STRAWBERRY FIELDS, the powerful 1991 short HISTORY AND MEMORY, and her latest documentary WISDOM GONE WILD, about her mother as she slips into dementia. (See this great overview by Grace Hwang Lynch on the CAAMedia blog.) In her unmissable and unforgettable HISTORY AND MEMORY, Tajiri subtly nods to virtual, surreal worlds from imagined scenes described in a text scroll reminiscent of either closed-captioning for the sensorily-impaired or the otherworldly epic Star Wars; to her opening shot of a photograph from the film The Worlds of Gulliver; then in newsreel and fictional representations of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the anniversary of which triggers a daughter’s recurring dream of a woman catching water in a canteen at a wellspout, like history or memory itself. The film goes on to do the same.
This, leads to that, leads to fragmentation, which I commit to bring to wholeness, and thereby challenge the fragmenting process and the fragmenter of oppression itself.
The scrolling text reminds us that wartime propagandists reframed unjustified imprisonment as “relocation.” The Great American Gaslight has always been operational.
History and Memory is a masterclass on dissociative memory and melancholia, and is in fact referenced in Eng and Han’s psychoanalytic text Racial Dissociation, Racial Melancholia.
“The daughter is depressed, and the parents argue over the etiology of her depression. Eventually, the daughter discovers that these nightmares are reenactments of the mother’s histories in camp. Ironically, the mother has history but no memory, while the daughter has memory but no history. For both mother and daughter, history and memory do not come together until the daughter visits the former site of the internment camp, Poston. There she realizes that it is her mother’s history that she remembers.
Tajiri’s film is an eloquent disquisition on racial melancholia.”
The daughter receives a dream transmission; she also intuits the exact location of her mother’s barrack when she visits the site of the Poston concentration camp. Memories have sunken into the Earth, which struggles to dream aright, or perhaps to wake us.
“We live on a revolutionary sphere
That turns us ‘til we’re one.”
– Ravi Chandra, The Gaia Hypothesis, unpublished poem
Tajiri is one of the turners, who has been turned. (HISTORY AND MEMORY is also available on Kanopy and The Criterion Channel.)
The “what if’s” and mental multiverses seem to be prominent throughout the shorts programs this season. The misunderstandings and fantasies of queer life in OUT/HERE. The comical, tragic, and tragicomic alters in REALITY BITES.
THE OLD YOUNG CROW (directed by Liam LoPinto) is one of the most visually appealing films I saw in the lineup, blending drawings, animation, and a ghost story into the warmth of an Iranian boy’s reckoning with embedded losses and migration to Tokyo. This fresh film reminded me of the power of play to imagine and reconstruct narrative into deeper meaning and belonging, something we desperately need, given our historical transmissions. (See MOSF 17.10: Asian American Histories of the United States: “Come, meet us in our wounds.”) Plays in RITES AND WRONGS.
Reality itself is often unimaginable, only seen by those who face it. HEARSAY (directed by Banban Cheng, in the COMPANION PASS program) hints at the hidden lives of women experiencing domestic violence, surrounded by avoidance, bystanders, gossip, and hopefully, critical allyship. This short film does not take the fight of our lives for women’s rights lying down. “If you’re a hairdresser, be a hairdresser for justice!” MLK might have said about this film.
There are several programs and shorts that revolve around food – and nothing is more real and heartful than meals shared with friends. I really loved Dustin Nakao-Haider’s CAMBODIAN FUTURES, about Ethan Lim’s novelle Cambodian restaurant Hermosa in Chicago. The film plays in AYCE (ALL YOU CAN EAT).“What would Cambodian food be like if the war never happened?” he asks. AYCE also features the lovely film MATSUTAKE (directed by Theodore Caleb Haas), with a spry 97 year old Homer Yasui foraging with his family for the precious mushrooms in Hood, Oregon. And the short narrative OYAKODON by Roxy Shih (in MAMA TRAUMA) captures family and Little Tokyo moods beautifully.
Short films often capture an essence, and move us in just a few minutes. Films like Chhengkea Ieng’s SKIN CAN BREATHE (in OUT/HERE), about a Cambodian American teen struggling with a stifled queer identity, or NǍI NAI & WÀI PÓ (in COMPANION PASS), a warm film about director Sean Wong’s grandmothers who live and dance together in their 10th decades, can take us into the lives of people we don’t know, or we do. They all live inside us, don’t they? Films allow us to recognize all we carry. They expand our interiors to beautiful, awesome, human scale, a scale which helps me, at least, live into the bigger life of us.
There are 14 programs and about 60 films in this year’s festival. See what you can, and find your own sweet spot of sentiment and storyline. Maybe you’ll find me there, too. It’s that spot where we’re all trying to belong, together.