Orient Express

A Sunday's worth of Asian-American docs

SUN 5/18

The "Asian American Documentary Showcase"offers viewers a chance to catch impressive West Coast premieres, as well as three short early films by Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham fame. Acting Our Age, for example, highlights her now-trademark cross-cultural sense of humor in a project by South Asian-British elderly activity center members to film themselves. Chadha keeps her bemused presence in the background while reminding them to point the camera at their subjects and focus on their experiences as first-generation Asians, catching them blurting out gems like "Boys should be drowned at birth" or "You've driven me to Guinness" as well as petitioning City Hall. I'm British But..., a history of the U.K. bhangra scene in the late 1980s, features interviews with young Scottish, Welsh, English, and Irish South Asians to find out how the musical style, traditionally played at harvest festivals in the Punjab, could catch fire on another continent.

Sumo East and Westis a rambling but endearing documentary about the inroads made by foreigners, particularly Pacific Islanders, into the esoteric, tradition-bound world of Japanese sumo wrestling. Being a sumo fan who until now could hear the Polynesian wrestlers speak only formal, rote phrases in Japanese, I was thrilled to hear them express themselves openheartedly in English. Despite some questionable music choices (why The Mikado?) and the omission of a particular high-ranking wrestler (Musashimaru) I'd been hoping to see, the film is fascinating for its other-end-of-the-microscope view of Americans as overly emotional in competition and growing more enthusiastic for the sport just as the official guardians were closing ranks.

Death of a Shaman.
Death of a Shaman.
Death of a Shaman.
Death of a Shaman.
Himalayan Fair dancers.
Barbara Mercer
Himalayan Fair dancers.
Patriotism and Prejudice Walk.
Aaron Farmer
Patriotism and Prejudice Walk.

For my money, the best pieces in this showcase are the "reverse pilgrimage" docs, which trace an Asian-American returning to his or her birth country for a rediscovery of self, family, and tradition. The Flute Player follows a Cambodian boy whose musical abilities were used by the Khmer Rouge for propaganda. Having grown to manhood in Lowell, Mass., Arn Chorn Pond returns to Cambodia to track down the few surviving master players and help revive the musical traditions the Khmer Rouge nearly destroyed. In Death of a Shaman, young Fahm Saeyang, haunted by the ghost of her shaman father, returns to the Mien community in northern Thailand to retrace the steps he took from there to Mennonite-sponsored residency in Kansas, and thence to the mean streets of Sacramento, where the refugee family encountered tragedy and disgrace. Screenings begin at 2 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki, 1881 Post (at Fillmore), S.F. Admission is $6-20; call 922-4AMC or visit www.naatanet.org. -- Frako Loden

Yak It Up
A taste of mountain culture in Berkeley

SAT-SUN 5/17-18

The Himalayan Fairisn't your typical street fest. Chances are you won't find grilled yak meat on Union or Haight, so if culinary adventure is your goal, don't miss this annual salute to the mountain cultures of Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, among others.

The shindig also spotlights the region's traditional music and dance forms, such as Mongolian throat-singing and Indian Odissi dance, beginning at 10 a.m. at Live Oak Park, 1300 Shattuck, Berkeley. Admission is $5; call (510) 869-3995. -- Lisa Hom

Don't Forget

SUN 5/18

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote philosopher George Santayana in 1905. Although many a history teacher has abused this quotation, its rock-solid logic remains. The Patriotism and Prejudice Walkexplores the historical contradiction of Japanese-American soldiers training at the Presidio during World War II, as their families were forced into internment camps. This fact, especially now, is worth remembering. The walk visits Building 640, where soldiers brushed up on their Japanese, and the former West Coast Defense office. Start at 1 p.m. from the Crissy Field Center, 603 Mason (at Halleck), S.F. Admission is free; call 561-7752 or visit www.crissyfield.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser

Get Off

THURS 5/15

Who cares about being the master of your domain when you can indulge in "Screaming Orgasms," "Blow Jobs," and "Buttery Nipples"? These are just some of the drinks you'll find at tonight's party at the Red Devil Lounge. Good Vibrations hosts the event as a kickoff for its annual "Come for a Cause" Masturbate-a-Thon, a weekend of self-love in which participants get folks to sponsor them for every minute they spend spanking the monkey. This year's proceeds benefit the AIDS Health Project of San Francisco. The bash begins at 8 p.m. at 1695 Polk (at Clay), S.F. Admission is free; call (800) 289-8243 or visit www.goodvibes.com for pledge sheets. -- Lisa Hom

 
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