Mineta doc premieres at Asian American film fest

For the first time, CAAMFest — the huge annual Bay Area showcase of film, food and culture presented by the Center for Asian American Media — is part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“We wanted to really elevate the immersive experience between culture and community,” says festival director Masashi Niwano, describing the 14 days of programs in the 36th annual event, which has moved from March to May.

Starting Thursday and continuing through May 24 in The City and East Bay, CAAMFest36 includes four more days than in previous years, as well as community gatherings, panels and live performances among its more than 100 offerings focusing on Asian and Asian American experiences.

With the main spotlight on film, however, CAAMFest36 opens with the premiere of “An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Castro. The documentary by Bay Area native Dianne Fukami profiles the political trailblazer, who was the mayor of San Jose, a prominent Japanese-American in Congress, and the first Asian American to serve in a presidential cabinet. (It apparently took Fukami and co-producer Debra Nakatomi years to persuade Mineta to be the subject of a film.)

Mineta is slated to attend opening night, which is followed by a gala at 9:30 p.m. at the Asian Art Museum.

Centerpiece screenings include the premiere of H.P. Mendoza’s “Bitter Melon,” a “home for the holidays” dark comedy by the Bay Area director who made the great “Colma: The Musical” (6:50 p.m. May 12 at the Kabuki, 7:30 p.m. May 19 at the Roxie, 6:30 p.m. May 23 at the Piedmont in Oakland) and the West Coast premiere of Kulap Vilaysack’s directorial debut “Origin Story,” a personal documentary from the actress and writer whose credits include “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation (6 p.m. May 13 at the Kabuki, 2:10 p.m. May 19 at the Roxie).

Pei-Pei Cheng, veteran actress and martial artist known as “Queen of Swords,” is in the spotlight with varied events, including a live conversation with gourmet snacks by chef George Chen at China Live (7 p.m. May 14, $80) as well as the local premiere of Mina Shum’s “Meditation Park” {6 p.m. May 15, Kabuki); 1966’s “Come Drink With Me” (9 p.m. May 14, Kabuki); and 1968’s “Golden Swallow (9 p.m. May 15, Kabuki).

In addition to the variety of narrative features are documentaries and shorts, as well as films falling into categories: America, “fighters and dreamers,” food, music, Pacific Islanders, women and more.

Storyteller and Bay Area activist Brenda Wong Aoki closes festivities with a live performance of “Aunt Lily’s Flower Book: One Hundred Years Of Legalized Racism” with music by Mark Izu and koto master Shoko Hikage (7 p.m. May 24 at Herbst Theatre); a talk called “The Power of Personal Story” with psychologist and filmmaker Satsuki Ina and CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong precedes the show at 6:15 p.m.

IF YOU GO
CAAMFest36
Where: 17 sites including AMC Kabuki 8, Asian Art Museum, Castro, New People Cinema and Roxie theaters
When: May 10-24
Tickets: $14 to $20 general; $75 for six-pack; more for special events
Contact: (415) 552-5580, www.caamfest.com

Leslie Katz

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