Beauty and the East: San Diego Asian Film Festival

SDAFF celebrates two decades of excellent Eastern cinema.


Actors, filmmakers and cinephiles from far and wide are set to descend upon local theaters as the 20th annual San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) takes over movie screens across the county.

Organized by the Point Loma-based Pacific Arts Movement (Pac Arts) — and billed as the most comprehensive portrait of Asian and Asian American cinema in North America — this year’s SDAFF takes place November 7 to 16 and boasts more than 170 movies spanning 29 countries and 40 languages.

Established in 2000 by a group of locals who shared a passion for both film and Asian culture, SDAFF has evolved from a grassroots effort into one of Southern California’s most respected cinematic events.

“Not many festivals make it to 20 years,” says Brian Hu, artistic director of Pac Arts. “We’re grateful for the continued support from our audiences, members and filmmakers.”

The organizers expect more than 15,000 people to flock to eight local venues to watch a curated lineup of award-winning and cutting-edge cinema, including movies by famous filmmakers and rising auteurs alike.

Kicking off the event, however, is a documentary commissioned by Pac Arts itself.

“This year,” Hu says, “we will honor our supporters by opening the festival with a film specifically about San Diego’s Asian American community.”

The organization’s first feature-length documentary, The Paradise We Are Looking For aims to introduce audiences to San Diego neighborhoods with deep connections to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

In the nine days that follow, SDAFF will screen a steady stream of films highlighting the rich diversity of Asian nations and bringing awareness to international cinema in general.

Each of the movies is either directed by or stars an artist from Asia, the Pacific Islands or one of the many Asian American communities in the US. In addition to all the movies, SDAFF’s 10-day schedule also includes Q&As with filmmakers, a star-studded red carpet awards gala and programs to help minority youth pursue careers in media.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights:

11.7: Opening Night Film — The Paradise We Are Looking For at The Conrad, La Jolla

Commissioned by Pac Arts, this collection of four short documentaries celebrates the stories of San Diego’s historically AAPI neighborhoods, transcending ethnicity, geography and history.

11.9: SDAFF Awards Gala and After Party at the US Grant, downtown

This red carpet event unites more than 500 entertainment, business and community leaders to celebrate the SDAFF’s top independent films.

11.9-11: Taiwan Film Showcase at UC San Diego’s Price Center Theater

Tap into the zeitgeist of the Taiwanese people during these three days of films about many facets of life on the East Asian island.

11.10: Centerpiece Film — Straight Up at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley

This unorthodox rom-com set in L.A. centers around the hetero-affective relationship between a gay man and a straight woman in love with each others’ minds, but not their bodies.

11.14-15: Mira Mesa Screenings at Edwards Mira Mesa Stadium

If you want to experience SDAFF but don’t feel like dealing with traffic south of the 52, you can catch many of the festival’s biggest films during these two days.

11.16: Indie Films in North Park at Digital Gym Cinema

With a focus on movies filmed without big studio backing, this showcase includes shorts and features made possible by independent producers.

11.16: Encore Screenings at Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park

Can’t make it to the weekend screenings? Don’t miss this chance to see the most buzzed-about movies before the festival comes to a close.

11.16: Closing Night Film — To Live to Sing at the San Diego Natural History Museum, Balboa Park

Winner of Best Film at the 2019 Shanghai International Film Festival, this acclaimed film focuses on a Chinese opera troupe dealing with the demolition and dissolution of their theater.

Visit for ticket information, and follow #SDAFF19 for more news about the film festival.