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APA's report on the 27th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival includes capsule reviews of Whatever it Takes and Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority.
Ahead of the Majority: Patsy Mink
dir: Kimberly Brassford
Before there was Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, there was Patsy Takemoto Mink. Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, follows the life of Patsy Mink, the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress. From award-winning filmmaker Kimberly Brassford, this documentary portrayed Mink as a strong liberal woman who wanted to serve the needs of the people and then showcased that commitment. A large portion of the documentary discusses her efforts as the co-author to Title IX, which allowed equal access and opportunities in higher education. Brassford also discusses Mink's challenges as a woman of color, as she was subjected to discrimination in college, as well as humiliation as she was asked to hula-hoop on national television despite being a congresswoman. Brassford paints Mink as a fierce woman of color, not afraid to voice her opinions. It's certainly timely, given this past election year with Obama at the helm. The documentary is meant to be inspiring for young women, but inspiring to all. --Kanara Ty
Whatever it Takes
dir: Christopher Wong
High school films are in no short supply today, and inspirational teachers are stock characters in both highbrow (The Class) and populist (Freedom Writers) films. In fact, with the genre's prominence we can easily pinpoint certain conventions we've come to expect: the unlikely teacher, the underprivileged but brilliant student, the horrors of bureaucracy. Christopher Wong's feature debut, the documentary Whatever it Takes, looks at Edward Tom, a first-year principal in South Bronx. Wong forgoes some of the more adventurous innovations in the high school documentary (as in Frederick Wiseman's classic High School and Nicolas Philibert's To Be and To Have) and relies heavily on the staple ups-and-downs to structure his 100+ hours of footage, shot across Tom's first year as principal. There's nothing wrong with this, as Wong proves to be an adept storyteller, and Tom is extraordinarily charismatic as an administrator, disciplinarian, and leader. But Wong -- and Tom, an old friend -- have bigger ambitions than simply rehashing cliches; they want the documentary to be part of the educational project Tom has innovated at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. But to inspire aspiring teachers and help educators formulate strategy, Whatever it Takes would work better as a multi-part TV series with a more comprehensive, sociological view. Instead, the film focuses on Principal Tom, and this becomes its biggest weakness. As compelling a figure as Tom is, focusing on him takes attention away from the larger problems in the school system. Tom is an inspiring character, but to fix the school system, we need more than just a hero. --Brian Hu
You Don't Know Jack
dir: Jeff Adachi
Filmmaker Jeff Adachi returns with his second documentary, You Don't Know Jack, in which he pays a touching tribute to Japanese American performer Jack Soo by uncovering his life history -- a history that hasn't been shared in the public eye before. While adopting a Chinese name to escape any forthcoming backlash in nightclubs following World War II, Soo's real name was actually Goro Suzuki. In the documentary, Adachi's efforts go far and wide, uncovering rumors -- such as the fact that Soo was the original artist behind "For Once in My Life" for Motown Records. Regardless if you know Jack Soo's history or not, the documentary provides a refreshing portrayal of the performer who wouldn't take roles portraying ethnic stereotypes, the young man jiving in Asian American nightclubs, or the boy who grew up in Oakland singing at his local church. Adachi presents to us perhaps the coolest Asian American cat to ever walk this planet -- and it's a story definitely not to be missed. --Kanara Ty
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Date Posted: 4/3/2009