Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

PAAFF 2019
  NOV. 7-NOV. 17

2019 Festival Recap

PAAFF 2019’s festival program featured over 50 film screenings, speaker panels, live performances, and other special events. Continuing our commitment to accommodate low to moderate income individuals, PAAFF returned to Fleisher Art Memorial and Asian Arts Initiative to offer free film screenings that included a Southeast Asian film night and theater performances from Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA) 2019 Residents. 

PAAFF hosted a 3-day academic conference at the University of Pennsylvania that tied the festival’s theme of “Passage of Time” to the past, present, and future of Asian American Studies and its impact. The conference consisted of paper presentations, expert panels, an interactive workshop from PAPA Resident Daniel Park, and related film programs. 

For the sixth consecutive year, PAAFF featured up-and-coming hip hop artists from our community in a showcase emceed by Scott Jung aka CHOPS and DJ Roli Rho. The energy was high and the featured artists MIYACHI, Aisha Fukushima, and NITEMRKT performed for an entirely sold-out venue.

Director’s Statement

Whether you are a first-time attendee or long-time supporter of our festival, let me be the first to welcome you to the 2019 PAAFF. Now in our twelfth year, PAAFF has not only the distinction of being the largest film festival specializing in Asian American & Pacific Islander content in the East Coast,but it is also the third largest in the country.

While there is much for us to celebrate, I would be remiss to not mention the startling parallels we have seen over the past year between the history of our Asian immigrant communities and increasingly hostile immigration legislation that seeks to criminalize asylum seekers. As we marvel at the similarities between family detention centers and the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, it seemed necessary for us to delve into the history of our Asian American movement. Thusly with a hopeful eye towards the future we have largely based the next 11 days of programming around the past, present, and future of Asian America.

As usual there are far too many excellent programs for me to highlight them all in this short letter, but here are a few of my picks.

During Opening Weekend, you can engage in this conversation during the PAAFF Conference at University of Pennsylvania as we discuss the controversial subject of “Has Asian American Studies Failed?” Highlights include a participatory workshop around the Tsuru for Solidarity campaign hosted by the Japanese American Citizens League Youth Council and a preview of Phase II of the American Peril Exhibit of Anti-Asian racial propaganda, which both take place on Saturday 11/9.

For a subtler take on the 2019 festival theme related to the passage of time, check out Centerpiece Documentary Our Time Machine at Lightbox Film Center on Sunday 11/10. Co-directed by veteran documentarian and three-time PAAFF alumni, S. Leo Chiang, the film paints a vivid portrait of a father-son relationship impacted by Alzheimer’s.

Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists returns to the festival with three new original productions by their 2019 mini-residency artists and a special performance showcase featuring acts from the Philly Asian Histories projects that will take place on Monday 11/11 at Asian Arts Initiative. Other collaborations include a South Asian historical walking tour with South Asian American Digital Archive and two Spanish-language films co-presented by the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.

The following evening on Tuesday 11/12, Twelve Gates Arts will be hosting their third annual Experimental Video Art Fest, which will be included in our festival for the first time. The screening is part of our free community series and will screen again during the closing day of the festival. Our community series continues Wed 11/13 – Thurs 11/14 at Fleisher Art Memorial where we will be doing a deep dive into Southeast Asian visual culture.

Friday 11/15 we begin our Closing Weekend at Asian Arts Initiative with a Hip Hop Showcase that features an impressive lineup of bilingual rap artists who were guest curated by Scott CHOPS Jung of the legendary Mountain Brothers. Join us at the after party that will follow at the newly opened Triple Bottom Brewing company and featuring a pop-up Filipino food cart Tabachoy.

Saturday 11/16 we will be screening for the first time at the Barnes Foundation from 2-8 pm in their auditorium in a three-film mini-showcase that looks at the past, present, and future. Following that is our semi-annual Artist Bash performance showcase from 8-11 pm featuring several talented AAPI musicians, and tickets include access to the collection.

Last, don’t miss our Closing Night presentation of Chinatown Rising, an engrossing documentary that charts the decades-long fight for survival as San Francisco’s Chinatown maintained their claim on a neighborhood often targeted by developers.

Thank you to the volunteer staff, community partners, venues, sponsors, and audience members for being a part of our movement.

Rob Buscher
Festival Director


We always believe that amazing work should be awarded and praised. These were the best of the best from our 2019 festival.

Cecilia Mejia holding her trophy for Best Narrative Feature with Michael Wingate-Jones and Rob Buscher at PAAFF 2019

Best Narrative Feature

Director: Diane Paragas

Film Still from Geographies of Kinship

Best Documentary Feature

Director: Deann Borshay Liem

Film Still from The Chef

Best Narrative Short

Director: Hao Zheng

Film Still from Chinese Breakfast

Best Documentary Short

Desayuno Chino (Chinese Breakfast)

Director: Maria Isabel Burnes

Jenna Lam and Leon Le talking at PAAFF 2019

Audience Choice: Narrative Feature

Director: Leon Le

Film Still from Seadrift

Audience Choice: Documentary Feature

Director: Tim Tsai

Jason Da Silva with his trophy for the Vijay Mohan Social Change Award at PAAFF 2019

Vijay Mohan Social Change Award

Director: Jason DaSilva







THE memories

Festival photographs taken by Justin Chu, Heiu Tran, and Jamie See.