Monday, September 2, 2013

2013 CAAMFest San Jose

In March, during the 2013 CAAMFest, festival programmer Masashi Niwano mentioned CAAM would have San Jose screenings later in the year.  This year's CAAMFest (formerly San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) did not have any screenings in San Jose which they have had every year I have gone.  I forgot about it until receiving an email from CAAM announcing CAAMFest San Jose from August 16 to 18 at the Camera 3.

Although there were 11 films on the program, I couldn't spare the time to spend all weekend in San Jose.  I only watched two of the eleven.

Go Grandriders; documentary; directed by Tian-Hao Hua; Mandarin & Taiwanese with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Best Friends Forever starring Brea Grant & Vera Miao; directed by Brea Grant; (2013) - Official Website

Go Grandriders was extremely well attended.  After the screening, it was announced that the Grandriders were riding from San Jose to Los Angeles with a local motorcycle club.  Several of the people in attendance were affiliated with the motorcycle club.

Grandriders is about a group of senior citizens who ride motorcycles or mopeds around the perimeter of Taiwan.  The ride was organized by a senior citizens organization and appeared to have government blessing since they frequently had police escorts.  The whole felt partially like a tourism board product combined with some elder care infomercial.

The group of riders, collectively known as the grandriders, were certainly entertaining.  However, the film really didn't delve too much into their lives.  There were obligatory vignettes into the major participants but I really didn't get a sense of who these people were.  They were, without exception, upbeat and spirited.  Even when the team captain falls ill or another member has a road accident, the film rarely stayed far from the buoyant mood exhibited throughout.

After the film, the grandriders entered the theater to great applause and high fives from the audience.  Through an interpreter, they answered questions from a greatly appreciative audience.

Go Grandriders was a lightweight and lighthearted film.  That's not necessarily a criticism although my tastes in films tend towards darker or raunchier films.

After getting a latte at Psycho Donuts, I looked for someone to take my ticket at the theater entrance.  No one was there so I peaked my head in and saw Niwano introducing the film to a near empty theater.  I entered as he was walking off stage.  No one ever did take my ticket.

Best Friends Forever is a hybrid film - gal pal road movie cum post-apocalyptic nightmare.  All that was missing were the zombies.  Screenwriters Brea Grant & Vera Miao also starred as Harriet and Reba.  Grant was also the director.  Harriet and Reba are best friends who are drifting apart.  Harriet is moving from LA to Austin for grad school or maybe to become a librarian.  I recall which.  She has just gotten out of psychiatric hospital.  She talks Reba into taking the road trip with her and the isolation in the car on the long highways serve to reopen old resentments between.

Just when you think this is going to be one of "those movies" you see a mushroom cloud appear behind them.  They don't see it.  What Harriet & Reba don't realize is that Los Angeles has been destroyed by a nuclear bomb.  That's quite a plot twist and I wondered where they were going to take it.  The two women meet up with a trio of hipsters who carjack them.  Still unaware of the catastrophe, they have more adventures before recovering their stolen car from the hipster (Reba running one over in the process).  By this point, Harriet has learned about the explosion but doesn't tell Reba since her mother is likely dead from the blast as is most of the resident of the Southland.

Eventually, the pair show up at Harriet's sister's house where there is a weird end-of-the-world party going on.  At this point, Reba discovers the fate of LA and strangely angry at Harriet.  By that point, the film had meandered too far off the reservation for me to be fully engaged.  They both leave the party on foot despite there being a curfew and martial law.  If I recall correctly, Reba is nearly gang raped by cops before Harriet saves her; getting shot in the process.  They take refuge in the library Harriet was going to work in (oh I forgot to mention Harriet didn't actually get accepted to the grad school so the whole trip was a ruse).  At the end of the film, they emerge from the library looking like a post-apocalyptic, post-feminist ass-kicking duo which is only reinforced as their images morph into comic book art.

As you can read, this film was a pastiche many different genres.  It never quite found its footing in my opinion.  I think it was too ambitious for its budget and screenplay.  At its heart, as the countdown intertitles point the audience to, is a female friendship put to the test.  If they stripped away the nuclear bomb, I thought the film had the possibility of being a solid buddy film without a Y chromosome for miles.  Both of the lead actresses have that quirky, indie film vibe though and I give them credit for trying something different.  I'd be interested in seeing both of them in future projects or even checking some of their previous work.

When it was all said and done, the trip to San Jose was not quite satisfying.  I hope the attendance at Best Friends Forever was the exception and not the norm.  CAAMFest San Jose had a slapdash feel to it and it wasn't well advertised.  I hope it continues and thrives.  It's nice to have screenings by them in the summer.

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