I've found a place to live! I expect I'll be updating this blog more often once I've actually completed the move, but I'm happy I'll be able to stay in my beloved hometown, even in this crazy rental market. I'll be moving to a spot not far from the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, which is one of the only cinemas in town I've never actually been inside. It hasn't been used for movies much in years, but will be a venue CAAM Fest, the long-standing Asian American film festival that starts its 32nd annual edition tonight at the Castro. My move will preclude me from attending much, but I hope to catch at least one of the Shaw Brothers titles screening at my new neighborhood theatre this Saturday. More coverage of CAAM Fest comes from Michael Hawley and Tony An, but here at Hell On Frisco Bay I'm so pleased that my friend Adam Hartzell has offered an article on an (unfortunately) often-overlooked topic that every film festival and screening location, not just CAAM and its venues (also including the Kabuki & New People in SF'S Japantown, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, and the New Parkway among other cinemas in Oakland), should consider seriously. Here's Adam:
Film Festivals make films accessible to us that would often otherwise not be. Those who are excited about seeing films earlier than their theater release, if they even get one, have their interests accommodated by film festivals. Films from other countries are shipped to local venues so one does not have to travel far to watch them. Through subtitles, films that would be partially accessible through images and music are made more accessible through translation of dialogue. Yes, some but not all films ultimately become available on the internet, but festivals provide a communal experience that film-goers savor and the buzz from a festival makes films more 'accessible' in that they are on the radar of folks who might stumble upon them on the internet. Film festivals make films accessible in tangible ways and through the word of mouth that spreads from audience responses that eventually land on the internet as tweets and likes.
Many don't think of these as accommodations. Words like 'accessibility' and 'accommodation' are reserved when talking about the disabled. Non-disabled privilege is not having to think about how your 'orthodox' body is accommodated daily in how buildings and transportation are engineered, in how your convenience is structured for you.
Through efforts such as the displaying of films in foreign languages, film festivals provide accommodations to some disabled groups unintentionally. Subtitling is not closed captioning, as the latter include notation of diegetic sound, but subtitled films provide greater film access for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. By taking place in venues that meet ADA guidelines, many of the venues where film festivals take place are already accessible for wheelchair users and other individuals who require greater mobility assistance.
One of the Centerpiece Presentations at CAAMFest this year is on the work of director Grace Lee and includes her most recent documentary, American Revolutionary, about the amazing Civil Rights activist Grace Lee Boggs. In addition to her political work, Boggs is also a wheelchair user. Her presence at this year's CAAMFest had me wanting to explore something that should always be on the minds of filmmakers and film festivals - accessibility.
Even though the internet has increased our access to media, many of us still enjoy, if not prefer, watching films communally, watching with others. So how does a film festival like CAAMFest make their festival accessible to all who might appreciate what the Center for Asian American Media provides the San Francisco Bay Area every March? In addition, what makes film sets accessible? To find out, I spoke to three individuals about aspects of film accessibility, primarily focusing on wheelchair accessibility. I spoke with Festival & Exhibitions Director Masashi Niwano about making CAAMFest accessible, with wheelchair-using actress Jennifer Kumiyama about film/stage/TV accessibility, and with local disability activist Alice Wong about her experience attending local San Francisco Bay Area film festivals as a wheelchair user.