Saturday, May 11, 2019

CAAMFest ’19: All in My Family

His family speaks Mandarin, but U.S.-based documentary filmmaker Hao WU’s Chinese mother will sure sound Italian to some of us. Yes, she nags and guilt-trips, but it is because she loves. At least she has somewhat come to terms with Wu’s sexual orientation, but he still must stay in the closet around his nonagenarian grandfather. After years of pressure to marry and have children, Wu thinks he will finally fulfill their hopes for the latter, but their response is more complicated than he expects. Wu turns the camera on himself, documenting some awkward family togetherness in the short-ish (forty minute) Netflix documentary All in My Family, which screens tomorrow during CAAMfest 2019.

Wu is generally not considered a “trouble maker,” but he did indeed see the inside of a Chinese prison (the reasons are murky, but there is speculation it stemmed from an as yet unseen project documenting Chinese Christians). There are times in the film when Wu might have been more comfortable back behind bars than at family gatherings. In fact, he readily admits he spent most of his grandfather’s 90th birthday party behind his camera as a defensive strategy.

The good news is Wu’s parents accept his American partner more warmly than he anticipated. However, they balk when they explain their plans to have two babies through egg-donor surrogacy. That rather shocks Wu, but process is well-underway regardless.

With Road to Fame and People’s Republic of Desire, Wu has become one of the leading observers of Chinese cultural currents. His docs are not political, per se, but they are still very much in tune with the world his subjects live in. In this case, he does not belabor still prevailing Mainland prejudices, because they are so obvious. An uncle also mentions surviving the Cultural Revolution in passing, but Wu never addresses the One Child policy, which created social, cultural and economic incentives to have a son, who would hopeful produce a grandson in turn.

Instead, Wu shares his experiences managing his family’s expectations. He even comes to some decisions that might surprise New Yorkers, but they make sense given the context of his experiences. All in My Family is smaller film than Republic in more ways than just running time, but it still has considerable merits. It is honest and maybe even optimistic, in messily human ways. Recommended for fans of Wu’s work and those who follow Chinese social trends, All in My Family screens tomorrow (5/12) as part of the Out/There shorts block at this year’s CAAMfest.