With the Philadelphia Asian American Film Fest starting tomorrow, Cinedelphia took a moment to get some insight from festival director Rob Buscher about how it comes together.
Cinedelphia: Can you describe your curatorial philosophy?
Rob: As a programmer, I tend to approach a film from the question of 'what kind of dialogue is the filmmaker trying to facilitate?' Within the niche of Asian American cinema a majority of our films tend to be either directly cause-based or inspired by specific social issues, so these films really lend themselves to a conversation afterwards. Inviting filmmakers to screenings is an easy way to start those conversations, but I'm more interested in the films that elicit discussions that takes place between audience members in the lobby between films or car ride home. I think you will find that the majority of our films at PAAFF'14 accomplish that goal.
C:What are some unique challenges in assembling and curating a festival of this nature?
R: PAAFF is unique amongst other festivals in Philadelphia because the audience that we represent in our films is so incredibly diverse. It is a challenge to make sure that we are adequately representing each of the groups within the myriad of ethnicities that make up our community. On the other hand our curatorial priority is first and foremost the quality of the work, and the volume of quality work from each community differs from year to year. Our biggest challenge is trying to bring members of different ethnicities to each others films. For example it is easy to market a Chinese American film to the Chinatown community, but you won't see many fourth generation Japanese Americans at a film about a Vietnamese American refugee, and vice versa.
Part of the strategy behind our programming this year is to build connections between communities that might not have had much interaction previously. For example in our Documentary Double Feature we are screening films from India and the Philippines, two communities that are extremely different from one another, and yet both have intricately decorated transportation vehicles that are legacies of colonialism in each of their respective countries. Our hope is that by bringing audiences together in the same theater who might not otherwise be in the same room that we can help build a more unified community, amongst Asian Americans and Philadelphia as a whole.
C: What were some goals you set for this years fest over previous fests?
R: 2014 has been a landmark year for PAAFF, marking our first year-round pre-festival program and introducing our new PAAFF+ peripheral program, including three new sections: PAAFF Eats, PAAFF Pulse, and PAAFF Pride – which refer to our food, music, and LGBTQ programming respectively. It is our hope that through these targeted sections along with the collaborative partnerships we have developed throughout this year will result in a larger mainstream audience at PAAFF'14, since a large part of our mission is educating the mainstream public about Asian Americans. Additionally this is our largest festival to date, so our main goal is to have a well attended festival and continue growing our festival throughout the 2015 season.
C: What are some highlights of the fest's past few years?
R: Now in its 7th year, PAAFF has undergone some major milestones to get here. Presented by HBO since 2008 with Comcast NBC10 as our Premier sponsor since 2009, we have continued to build relationships with major national brands to bring the best quality entertainment from the Asian American community here to Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my previous response, this year was our first year-round program, which we intend to build upon throughout the 2015 year.
C: What is your vision for the fest in the future?
It is my ambition to make PAAFF a true destination festival where filmmakers choose to host their premieres. All of the films screened at PAAFF'14 are Philadelphia premieres, and several are either East coast or Northeast premieres. We also have the Indie Action/Adventure film Faraway, which is a World Premiere at this year's festival. Shot entirely in the Philippines and starring a mixed cast of Americans and Filipinos, Director Randal Kamradt and several of the cast and crew will be in attendance at the 8:30PM screening on Saturday 11/15.
PAAFF is part of a growing network of ethnic niche festivals here in Philadelphia, and I intend to continue building partnerships amongst the larger community of minority cinema. There is a large divide between what mainstream theaters are showing and the amount of quality films out there. PAAFF will continue bringing more of that great work here to Philadelphia for many years to come.
PAAFF Starts Wed Nov 12th at the International House! Check out the program guide here.