Give Me the Backstory: Get to Know Sean Wang, the Writer-Director of “Dìdi (弟弟)”

By Lucy Spicer

One of the most exciting things about the Sundance Film Festival is having a front-row seat for the bright future of independent filmmaking. While we can learn a lot about the filmmakers from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival through the art that these storytellers share with us, there’s always more we can learn about them as people. This year, we decided to get to the bottom of those artistic wells with our ongoing series: Give Me the Backstory!

For writer-director Sean Wang, the premiere of Dìdi (弟弟) at the Sundance Film Festival represents a real full-circle moment. “My first experience with Sundance was in 2019 when Carlos López Estrada invited me to work on his second feature film, Summertime, as a second unit director. Summertime premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and getting to be there for the premiere was truly magical and wildly inspirational,” says Wang. Four years later, Wang’s own feature directorial debut — for which López Estrada served as producer — is screening in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. 

Supported by the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship, Sundance Institute | The Asian American Foundation Fellowship, and the Institute’s Directors and Screenwriters Labs, Dìdi (弟弟) is a coming-of-age portrait of a 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy in the summer before high school. Set in the late 2000s, the film is sure to resonate with anyone whose formative years included the advent of social media, but many struggles that come with adolescence are universal. When asked how he wants people to feel after they see his film, Wang responds, “I hope it brings back fond memories of their own childhoods and how cringe we all were at 13.”

Below, discover how Wang got into filmmaking, his favorite part of making Dìdi (弟弟), and why this story needs to be told now.

What was the biggest inspiration behind the film?

My friends and family. My hometown. Skateboarding. Emo and pop-punk music. Late 2000s internet culture. My mom.

Describe who you want this film to reach.

First and foremost, I hope that it reaches people like my friends and me: first-generation children of immigrants who never got to see a version of themselves in the adolescent coming-of-age stories they loved.

Films are lasting artistic legacies; what do you want yours to say?

I hope that people can see an honest and specific portrayal of adolescence and what it was like to come of age in the late 2000s, featuring people and faces that were largely overlooked in the stories that were being told in the late 2000s.

Sean Wang

Why does this story need to be told now?

I think for many people, the feelings that we explore in this film surrounding identity, belonging, and shame, both cultural and societal, are shared. However, we often don’t have the perspective necessary to diagnose the behaviors that have resulted in those feelings until much later in life. With Dìdi (弟弟), I wanted to look back to a formative time in my life and examine how our adolescent roots can shape our worldview into adulthood.

Our movie also leans into the screens of its era to create an authentic portrayal of how we interacted with the internet, and with each other, during that time — something that, in my opinion, was never accurately depicted back then. By the time we learned how to integrate our screens with our stories, the language of technology, and the technology itself, had changed entirely. I wanted to revisit this period that I see as the intersection of past and present and capture what life felt like then in an honest way.

Tell us an anecdote about casting or working with your actors.

Most of the actors in our movie are first-time actors, largely from the Bay Area, who are just so naturally charismatic and electric. It was also the first feature film that our casting directors, Natalie Lin and Nafisa Kaptownala, cast. They’re incredible.

Your favorite part of making the film? Memories from the process?

Working with our incredible cast and crew and having my real family involved in the production. It felt very homegrown and communal.

Tell us why and how you got into filmmaking.

I got into cameras and photography through skateboarding. Eventually, I started filming myself and my friends and posting little videos of us skating on YouTube. After seeing Fully Flared, a skate video by Spike Jonze and Ty Evans, I became obsessed with wanting to do some version of that and have been making things since.

Why is filmmaking important to you? Why is it important to the world?

Filmmaking is important to me because it gives me a creative outlet to explore all of the things I feel and experience in my everyday life. And I think filmmaking is important to the world because people everywhere look to screens and stories to feel, learn, and connect to the world around them and beyond them.

What three things do you always have in your refrigerator?

LaCroix, apples, hummus

What was the last album you listened to?

I’ve been listening to The Linda Lindas a lot recently.

One thing people don’t know about me is _______.

I have the worst sweet tooth. Gummy worms are my vice.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl

What is something that all filmmakers should keep in mind in order to become better cinematic storytellers?

I think it’s important to make space and time for things in your life that are not directly related to filmmaking. Like naps.

Who were the first people you told when you learned you got into the Sundance Film Festival?

Producers, editor, mom

What’s your favorite film that has come from the Sundance Institute or Festival?

Fruitvale Station

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