Common Ground – Fourth Annual Fest explores Asian-American Experience in Film

Artist Jimmy Mirikitani is the subject of "The Cats of Mirikatani," being presented as part of "Sharing Our Common Ground:The Fourth Annual Asian-American Film Series Mongrel Media photo
Artist Jimmy Mirikitani is the subject of “The Cats of Mirikatani,” being presented as part of “Sharing Our Common Ground:The Fourth Annual Asian-American Film Series
Mongrel Media photo

Back in the early years of Santa Barbara, the Chinese community and Japanese community lived across the street from each other, a Chinatown and a Japantown, living in perfect harmony on the site where Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens looks out over the Presidio. Those days are long gone, with only a few remnants remaining, but the Asian-American experience continues. That’s the subject of “Sharing Our Common Ground: The Fourth Annual Asian-American Film Series” put on by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. The three-film series starts tonight and continues until July 26, with screenings at the Alhecama Theatre.

The three films are all documentaries on the Asian-American experience and take in adopted Chinese children, Bruce Lee (born in San Francisco), and a Japanese-American homeless man who has a painful history of the internment camps in sunny California.

 "I Am Bruce Lee" studies the famous martial arts movie star LeeWay Media photo

“I Am Bruce Lee” studies the famous martial arts movie star
LeeWay Media photo
The Asian American History Committee, which selects the films, started as an informal group back in 2009, but now is an intrinsic part of the Trust. Terease Chin heads the committee, and the 2010 fest started small.

“At first it used to be films that originated on the West Coast, but we’ve enlarged that to include the East Coast as well,” says Ms. Chin. “And we want films that really pick out and identify Asian-American culture. We are also focused on younger, new directors to help promote their films.”

The committee tracks the LA and San Francisco Film Festival and of course the Internet. They reach out to directors and distributors. For tonight’s opening film, “Somewhere Between” (2011), director Linda Goldstein Knowlton will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

The documentary focuses on four Chinese teenage girls, adopted by four different American families across the country. All four were offered up because of China’s One Child policy, and the film takes an unsentimental look at how identity is shaped, erased, and adapted and how the tug of ancestry is still there. “The film is very good for teenagers for that period where we’re wondering exactly who we are,” says Ms. Chin.

On the following Friday, “I Am Bruce Lee” (Pete McCormack, 2012) looks at the world’s most famous martial arts movie star, and how he had to fight to get beyond non-speaking parts and land a leading role. This is something we take for granted now, but making Mr. Lee a star — in a very brief series of films — was revolutionary, and it’s something that still reverberates through current action movies.

The last film in the series, “The Cats of Mirikitani” (2006) stars 80-year old Jimmy Mirikitani, who survived the Tule Lake internment camp only to wind up homeless later in life. Worse, he was on the streets during the dust and debris of 9-11 until filmmaker Linda Hattendorf took him in and a friendship developed, and they both explore his two subjects in his art, cats and internment camps.

So it’s a short series, but one that has a definite audience. In addition the festival demonstrates the Alhecama Theatre, now that the Ensemble theater group has begun its migration to Victoria Street, continues to function in a new way. And the mini-Fest may already have a slate for next year … and the next.

“Personally, I’m a big Jeremy Lin fan,” says Ms. Chin. “But his film (Linsanity) we couldn’t even see it. It’s being released in September. So hopefully, we will have something in the queue for 2014. We’ll see if that happens.”

Sharing Our Common Ground: Fourth Annual Asian-American
When: 7 p.m., every Fri. until July 26
Where: Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St.
Cost: $5 suggested donation
Information: or 965-0093

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