Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

PAAFF 2018
  NOV. 8-NOV. 18

2018 Festival Recap

PAAFF 2018’s opening night featured a Southeast Asian narrative film (In the Life of Music) for the first time in our organizational history. The film brought attendance from all over the city, most significantly from the Cambodian communities in South and North Philadelphia.

Expanding our commitment to a diverse showcase, PAAFF offered our first Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Experimental Shorts program hosted at Fleisher Art Memorial. Our audience was also able to enjoy live performances by local creators through our partnership with Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists. Performances included a script reading by Stephanie Walters, a one-woman performance by Pratima and an interactive performance by Claris Park.

In partnership with the Music of Asian America Research Center, PAAFF hosted a 3-day academic conference at the University of Pennsylvania that ran parallel to the festival’s film programming and tied into the festival theme of music. Some of the topics discussed include: the origin and definition of Asian American Music, the role of music in collective memory-making, and the use of music to combat emasculating stereotypes of Asian Americans.

During the month of November, PAAFF featured an exhibit of printed Anti-Asian propaganda spanning the late 19th to mid-20th centuries at Twelve Gates Arts. Curated by Festival Director Rob Buscher, these original print materials demonstrate the extent to which Asians have been historically misrepresented in mainstream media contexts. The exhibit was accompanied by a two-part lecture given by Kate Pourshariati and Rob Buscher. Since the end of 2018, PAAFF has expanded on this exhibit with a portrait series and interviews aimed to show audiences the real, long-term effects that the propaganda has had on our society.

Director’s Statement

As PAAFF begins its second decade of programming, I find myself reflecting on the incredible progress that has taken place in the last 11 years. Even at this time last year it was impossible to imagine a world in which an Asian American led film could take the #1 box office spot in a nationwide summer release. In the past months since Crazy Rich Asians hit theaters, we have already seen more than a dozen AAPI led projects become green-lit by major Hollywood studios and TV networks.

However, as much as we laude the achievements of our community working in the mainstream, it is equally important to remember this was only made possible by decades of advocacy, talent building, and pipelining of independent filmmakers by media organizations such as Visual Communications, Center for Asian American Media, and others. It is important we acknowledge these historic contributions, but also remember the work in the independent space is vital to the continued success of our peers working in Hollywood.

It is important to remember that there are still many within our diaspora who have never seen their stories represented on the big screen. To that point, PAAFF is excited to present an incredible Cambodian American narrative feature In the Life of Music, as our Opening Night Film—the first time we’ve opened the festival with as Southeast Asian American story. Beyond the sheer excellence of this title and significance as a film from a marginalized group within our community, the film aslo centers music at its core.

As you may have noticed, many of the programs in our opening weekend and throughout the festival revolve around the Music of Asian America. Despite recent advances in film and television, AAPIs are almost completely absent from the popular music charts. We have incredible musicians who excel across all genres who are being overlooked by the recording industry. Music is an integral part of the Asian American experience, and thus important to advocate on behalf of our artists in this sector as well. By partnering with Music of Asian American Research Center to host a conference during opening weekend on this very subject, we are hoping to spark a national dialogue about the state of AAPIs in the music industry. I hope that in another decade, or less, we may also see face that look like our own in popular music charts.

Highlights of the 2018 program are numerous, but here are my top picks. Be sure to check out the Musical Showcases on Friday 11/9 and Saturday 11/10 if you want to catch some of the most talented AAPI folks at the forefront of their respective genres. Sunday 11/11 visit us at Reading Terminal Market where we are celebrating Filipino Food Sunday and later at Lightbox Film Center for Centerpiece Documentary Ulam: Main Dish. I’m also thrilled to announce that one of my personal heroes, former US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta will be in attendance at our Sunday 11/18 Closing Night presentation of his biopic documentary An American Story at Asian Arts Initiative.

Lastly, be sure to visit the special exhibit of anti-Asian racial propoganda titled “American Peril: Imagining the Foreign Threat” at Twelve Gates Arts throughout the month of November. Although difficult content to look at, it is important we understand our past in order to advocate for a better future. Thank you to the many sponsors, community partners, volunteer staff, and countless others who have made this festival possible.

Onwards and upwards.

Rob Buscher
Festival Director


We always believe that amazing work should be awarded and praised. These were the best of the best from our 2018 festival.

In the Life of Music Crew holding their trophies for Best Narrative Feature and Rising Star at PAAFF 2018 Opening Night

Best Narrative Feature

Director: Caylee So & Sok Visal

Film Still from Call Her Ganda

Best Documentary Feature

Director: PJ Raval

Film Still from Besieged

Best Narrative Short

Director: Mengchen Niu

Film Still from Moving Walls

Best Documentary Short

Director: Sharon Yamato

Adriel Luis Accepts the Best Experimental Short award for AFTEREARTH at PAAFF 2018

Best Experimental Short

Director: Jess X. Snow

Film Still from Call Her Ganda

Vijay Mohan Social Change Award

Director: PJ Raval

In the Life of Music Crew holding their trophies for Best Narrative Feature and Rising Star at PAAFF 2018 Opening Night

Audience Choice: Narrative Feature

Director: Caylee So & Sok Visal

Film Still from An American Story: Norman Mineta & His Legacy

Audience Choice: Documentary Feature

Director: Diane Fukushima

In the Life of Music Crew holding their trophies for Best Narrative Feature and Rising Star at PAAFF 2018 Opening Night

Rising Star Award

Norman Mineta receiving a Lifetime Achievement award from Festival Director Rob Buscher

Lifetime Achievement Award






THE memories

Festival photographs taken by Justin L. Chiu and Julia Hatmaker.