A chance to explore the spectrum of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience arrives at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival with its opening ceremony on Thursday, November 10. And this year’s PAAFF will transcend being just a film festival. The festival, alongside its robust catalog of features, shorts, and documentaries, invites attendees to academic presentations, live theater performances, and culinary exhibits centered in the various Asian American experiences.
Rob Buscher, the third-year director of the festival, knows that film is inclusive in how it employs all sorts of art forms. We spoke with him about how these means of expression are vital in the AAPI communities, particularly for multigenerational immigrants who might be slipping from the embrace of their connection to home. Buscher, whose parents were born in Japan, noted how film has to come to the community first, especially if it isn’t pervasive in an institutionalized, “OscarsSoWhite”Hollywood:
“You’ve got to do a lot more than just show a movie to bring an audience. Even the Hollywood system is breaking down. It’s even harder to fill the theater for an indie film that no one’s ever heard of. We’re still looking at building conversations around having the shared experience.”
According to Buscher, 80 percent of the filmmakers involved in the films on display will be in attendance. That includes Danny Pudi, the Indian-Polish-American actor of Community fame, who will have his lead actor feature debut in PAAFF’s opening night film The Tiger Hunter.
The festival has grown each year, seeing consistent growth in attendance. It’s the largest Asian American Film Festival on the east coast and is quickly becoming nationally recognized as a leader in the film festival wire.
The AAPI communities refuse to live in silence. Many voices aren’t being heard, and this festival protrudes as a platform. Yes, there have been innovative steps forward. Fresh Off The Boat has been a huge success for ABC. Steven Yeun was beloved on The Walking Dead. The Mindy Project saw a vivacious revival on Hulu and Master of None resonated boldly to a wide audience. But then, hope deflates when Scarlett Johansson gets cast as Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live-action American adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Buscher touched on #OscarsSoWhite, and how that discussion is nothing new:
“We’ve known for a long time that this is how Hollywood is. We have to create our own channels. There need to be these spaces in order for [AAPI experiences] to be celebrated. The last five years have been groundbreaking…but one show can’t represent all experiences. We have to figure out our own culture in a monocultural environment: Fresh Off The Boat does not represent the entire AAPI experience.”
The 2016 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival takes place November 10-20, 2016. The Tiger Hunters, opens Thursday, November 10 at 7PM at the International House. Tickets are $10 for general admission and are discounted for students, seniors, and International House members. Visit paaff.org for more information on showtimes, exhibits, and volunteering.