5 movies to see at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Now in its eighth year, the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival is going big with more than 60 films from over a dozen countries representing a wide diversity of Asian cultures. The 10-day fest features series focused on food, music and LGBTQ themes, along with a series of free screenings at South Philly community centers commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Here are a few titles worth checking out.

1. “Aroma of Heaven”
As several interviewees repeat, in America a “cup of Java” is synonymous with coffee. This short doc examines the history and present state of the coffee industry in Indonesia, where some of the most valuable beans in the world are exported while locals drink an unpalatable blend of cheap imported beans and corn.

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2. “Crush the Skull”
Viet Nguyen expands his YouTube short into a feature that combines a comedic heist film with “Saw”–inspired horror when a group of dimwitted thieves stumble into the lair of a demented serial killer. The combo sometimes falls flat, finding the lowest common denominator between the two less-than-highbrow genres, but it’s amiable and bloody enough to appease the less discriminating fans of both.

3. “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten”
Usually when the subject of a rock n’ roll doc isn’t around to speak on their own behalf, there’s a tale of fatal excess at the end of their story. Almost the entirety of Cambodia’s rock scene is missing from this fascinating doc, however, and like most of the country’s history that scar is attributable to the Khmer Rouge. John Pirozzi’s feature is likely the most toe-tapping film you’ll ever see on the subject of genocide.

4. “Jalal’s Story”
Bangladesh’s official selection for the 88th Academy Awards, this downbeat parable begins with a baby floating down the river a la Moses, though he’s not exactly destined for greatness – and ends up back on the water more than once. Director Abu Shahed Emon tackles political hypocrisy, religious hucksterism, persistent superstition and the oppression of women, not always subtly but with grim fatalism and wry humor.

5. “Waiting for John”
The residents of the South Pacific island of Tanna are considered the last remaining Cargo Cult. Filmmaker Jessica Sherry spent a life delving into the rituals and schisms of the John Frum Movement, which believes a mythical white American will someday return with a planeload of bounty.

If you go:
2015 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival
Nov. 12-22