Friday, October 5, 2012

DC DPA Film Festival 2012 - Opening Night - Mr. Cao Goes to Washington

Movie: Mr. Cao Goes to Washington

I had the pleasure of attending the opening night festivities and of the 13th Annual DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival.  And, the first night’s feature film was an absolute delight.  This documentary tells the story of Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.  And, even more remarkably, he achieved this as a Republican candidate from New Orleans—a difficult feat in a predominantly Democratic and African American district.  This really is a story about a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed political newbie setting of for Washington to change the world with his fresh new ideas and his strong moral compass.  Of course, Cao really winds up getting his optimistic dreams dashed to pieces by the harsh reality of partisan politics, but the movie doesn’t really feel like a downer.  Joseph Cao is such a charismatic figure, and he has such firm convictions that it’s impossible not to be completely charmed by him, regardless of your politics.  If anything, the film made me optimistic that there are still politicians like him out there trying to make a difference, even if they’re having a hard time of it.

This documentary is really special in that filmmaker Leo Chiang really had amazingly comprehensive access to the internal workings of Joseph Cao’s reelection campaign.  Chiang follows Cao everywhere.  They attend exciting political rallies and thoughtful community meetings.  And, they even bring cameras into Cao’s own home to meet his lovely wife and energetic little girls, and peek in on the rare, few moments of quiet, alone time in Cao’s Washington office.  It feels like a very complete account of all the hard work it takes to run a Congressional campaign, and the film provides a very interesting portrait of an idealist.  This is a fascinating documentary, and you should definitely check it out if it pops up at a festival near you.

Movie: Traces No. 2: Union

The feature film was preceded by a sweet, little, short documentary about an elderly couple revisiting the community church in which they got married.  The church had since been converted into a center for performing arts, but the building still retains many of the old memories of all the important events that had happened there in the past.  Some even think the building is haunted by spirits from the old days.  It’s a gentle meditation on the past and the future, and the power of architecture on a neighborhood.

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