The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival is a volunteer run festival which celebrates and elevates the Asian American experience by presenting films directed by and/or featuring Asian and Asian Americans. This year, PAAFF celebrates its tenth anniversary, and runs from November 9 – 19. This year’s selections include seventeen feature-length films, shorts, documentaries, and live performances that are directed by and and starring Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans, or relate to Japanese and Japanese American history. Here are some highlights from the festival:
Thursday, November 9
- The Dragon Painter (1919, USA). PAAFF opens with an early silent film starring Japanese immigrant Sessue Hayakawa. Produced by Hayakawa’s own Haworth Pictures, The Dragon Painter deliberately provides an authentic perspective on Japanese culture that counters the stereotypes of so-called “Oriental” films of the period, and can be considered one of the first Asian American films in history. See it at Lightbox Film Center
at 7:00 pm.
Saturday, November 11
- Legacies of Camp Short Films (2017, USA).This collection of FREE shorts explore the myriad experiences of Japanese Americans who lived through the incarceration of WWII and the impact of inter-generational trauma. Filmmakers expected in attendance. See them for FREE at Institute of Contemporary Arts at 11:30 am.
- And Then They Came For Us (2017, USA). This compelling documentary narrated in part by George Takei brings history into the present, retelling the difficult story of Japanese American incarceration and following contemporary activists as they speak out against the Muslim registry and travel ban. See it at Institute of Contemporary Arts at 1:10 pm.
Metamorphosis Short Films (2017, Canada, Taiwan, Tonga, USA). This series of FREE shorts explores variations on the theme of metamorphosis: transitions between life and dead, emotional growth, and physical transformation. Im/Perfection (dir. Andrew Hida, USA) tells the story of one Japanese American man’s pursuit of perfection in his creation of hand drawn architectural renderings in Hawaii.
- Relocation, Arkansas (2016, USA). This documentary explores the effect of the Japanese American incarceration experience in Arkansas during WWII on the generation that was born after the camps closed, the unlikely tale of those Japanese Americans who remained behind, and the even more unlikely tale of how a small-town Arkansas mayor of Italian descent became a legend in the Japanese American community. Documentary subjects Paul and Alice Takemoto expected in attendance for post-film Q&A. See it at Lightbox Film Center at 3:30 pm.
- Family Style Short Films (2017). This collection of FREE shorts revolve around the Asian American family. In Mayumi Yoshida “Akashi,” a young woman visits Japan to pay her respects to her deceased grandmother, and finds her own relationship problems come into focus. See them for FREE at Institute of Contemporary Arts at 4:50 pm.
- Aunt Lily’s Flower Box (Live performance). Emmy-winning musician Mark Izu accompanies his wife and “America’s foremost Asian storyteller” Brenda Wong Aoki to retell family memories that span over 100 years of history in the American West. The PAAFF performance will be a 20-minute excerpt out of the larger play, followed by an interactive discussion activity. See it live at Lightbox Film Center on November 11 at 6:15 pm.
Sunday, November 12
- Finding Kukan (2017, USA). In this Philadelphia premiere, documentary filmmaker Robin Lung investigates Li Ling-Ai, the uncredited female producer of KUKAN, a landmark color film about the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan in China. Lung discovers the sole surviving copy of the film and pieces together the inspirational tale behind its production and complex identity of the woman who made it. Filmmaker Robin Lung expected in attendance for post-film Q&A. See it at Lightbox Film Center at 6:45 pm.
Thursday, November 16
- Ghost Magnet Roach Motel (2016, USA and Mexico). Japanese filmmaker and visual artist Shinpei Takeda presents a punk music documentary that follows the cross-cultural experimental punkformance unit Ghost Magnet Roach Motel. With a soundtrack to match their madness, this film offers a compelling look at the blurred line between chemical dependency, mental illness, and creativity. See it for FREE at Fleisher Art Memorial at 5:00 pm.
- Far Western (2016, USA). Seventy years after the US occupation of Japan, a devoted group of Japanese musicians pursues their passion for American country and bluegrass music in honky-tonks from Tokyo to Nashville in this character-driven and music-filled documentary. See it for FREE at Fleisher Art Memorial at 7:45 pm.
Saturday, November 18
- Kakehashi (2017, USA and Japan). This new documentary celebrates James Beard Award-winning Chef Nobuo Fukuda. Facing the challenges of a strict environment and emigrating to a new one, Chef Nobuo unexpectedly bridged the gap through his cuisine. See it at Asian Arts Initiative at 11:00 am.
- Resistance at Tule Lake (2017, USA). Japanese American filmmaker Konrad Aderer presents a new feature-length documentary about the Tule Lake Segregation Center, one of the incarceration camps in the United States during World War II. Aderer expected in attendance for post-film discussion with Tule Lake camp survivor Ed Kobayashi. See it at Asian Arts Initiative at 3:30 pm.
Sunday, November 19
- The Apology (2017, Canada, China, Korea, Philippines). After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, three former “comfort women” —Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines— face their twilight years with fading health. Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward to seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice. See it at Asian Arts Initiative at 12:15 pm.
- A Whale of a Tale (2016, Japan). After The Cove, a documentary film denouncing Japan’s longstanding whale and dolphin hunting practices, won an Academy Award, the fishing town of Taiji suddenly found itself in the global spotlight. The camera delves into the lives of local whalers, global activists, and an American journalist, and suggests that not everything is as black and white as it might seem. See it at Asian Arts Initiative at 2:30 pm.
For a full program schedule, visit the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival’s website.