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CAAMfest 36 captivates

by David Lamble

Scene from director H.P. Mendoza's "Bitter Melon." Photo: Courtesy CAAMfest
Scene from director H.P. Mendoza's "Bitter Melon." Photo: Courtesy CAAMfest  

There's quite an LGBTQ accent to the 36th edition of CAAMfest, formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. It unspools May 10-24 at the Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater, AMC Kabuki 8 and New People Cinema in Japantown, China Live in Chinatown, Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, Asian Art Museum in Civic Center, Black Cat in the Tenderloin, Herbst Theatre, Lighthouse for the Blind, SF Public Library (Main Branch), Midway in Dogpatch, Curran Theatre, Oakland Asian Cultural Center, Oakland Museum of California, Piedmont Theatre, and Starline Social Club. What follows are capsule reviews of the LGBTQ films on the schedule.

"Bitter Melon" San Francisco's own H.P. Mendoza delivers a gem of an "I'll be home for Christmas" family dramedy that spells out why you might want to make other plans when your clan invites you home for the holidays. "Bitter Melon" unfolds in SF and Daly City as family members gather for an Xmas party. Mendoza's dark revenge comedy shows just how hard it is to recover when decades of domestic strife and secrets have gone unaddressed. Everyone seems to have a grievance, and nobody wants to call the cops. The drama centers on a bitter sibling clash between the now openly gay Declan (Jon Norman Schneider) and brash, quick-tempered Troy (Patrick Epino). Both brothers suffered under the rule of an abusive Muni bus-driving dad who may or may not be in the family's rear-view mirror. (Kabuki, 5/12; Roxie, 5/19; Piedmont, 5/23)

"Looking For?" Taiwanese filmmaker Chou Tung-Yen explores the dramatic changes dating apps have had on gay men's abilities to connect for both long-term and quickie-sex moments. In 61-min. doc format, the filmmaker hears from 60 young men from Chinese backgrounds in seven different cities. (Chinese dialects, subtitled in English. Plays with:)

"Lions in Waiting" Writer-director Jason Karman sets a teen male love story in the competitive world of Vancouver, BC high school boys' hockey. Ray (Taylor Kare) is struggling under the burden of his mom's hectoring, his coach's hard-ass approach to practice sessions, and his own burgeoning awareness of his attraction to other boys on his squad. (both Roxie, 5/19)

"Lady Eva" The coming-of-age story of a female-identified adolescent from the island nation of Tonga shows how hard gender identity can be in societies still wrestling with hard-core sexism and homophobia. Plays with feature "Island Soldier" as part of CAAMfest's Pacific Islander showcase. (Kabuki, 5/11)

"Grandmother and Me" Kat Cole presents an intriguing short about a female-to-male transperson who has to negotiate the tricky path of visiting an elderly Missouri relative who believes he is her beloved granddaughter. (Kabuki, 5/15)

"Hella Strangers" The 60s Barbara Lewis hit single "Hello Strangers" is an inspiration for this rambling, Mission-set short that finds young gals seeking gals using BART the way an earlier generation navigated Manhattan's West Side IRT. (New People, 5/12)

"98 Years and Counting: More Women Leaders Needed Everywhere" A strong 3-minute statement (with a strong backbeat) on the necessity for increased female involvement in all phases of life, from filmmakers Kirthi Nath & Zel Anders. (Kabuki, 5/14)

"Decoding Darkmatter" Crystal Waterton presents ethnically Indian kids who use standup and slam-poetry formats to tell how they have evolved as Americans with a trans identity. Performers Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian discuss how their paths crossed, how their joint act developed, and how the experience led to a harmonious breakup so they can pursue the next phase of their careers. (Kabuki, 5/15)

"Rani" Pakistani writer-director Hammad Rizvi offers the heart-warming tale of a young transperson, Rani (a moving performance from Kami Sid), who finds an infant in the street and decides to adopt her, despite the misgivings of her more practical mother. Rani's good deed almost comes to a tragic end after a vicious attack by transphobic street thugs, but fate intervenes in this beautifully executed narrative short filmed on the streets of Karachi, with a moving plea for help by its creator for aid to LGBTQ persons in one of the more difficult places to be queer on the planet. (In the local language, with English subtitles.) (Kabuki, 5/15)

"Khol (Open)" Director Faroukh Virani presents a 12-minute tale about an openly gay American Indian man Vijav (Shawn Parikh) who is being fucked by his white boyfriend when he gets a text that his homophobic father has died. Boyfriend: "Shall I stop?" Vijav: "No, keep going."

Shortly after sex, we see our hero picked up at the airport by his sympathetic but combative sister, whose car DVD player has a Bollywood disc playing as they drive off to greet their mother. The film is a witty exploration of why early childhood traumas are so hard to overcome. (Kabuki, 5/15)

Info: www.caamfest.com

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