Sundance Institute Returns From Presenting Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue In China

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Beijing, China — FILM FORWARD: Advancing Cultural Dialogue, an initiative of Sundance Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, took place in China March 14-22, 2012. In collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and CNEX, a Chinese non-profit organization devoted to the production and promotion of documentaries related to the Chinese people, FILM FORWARD presented screenings of six films as well as personal appearances and workshops with filmmakers from two of the titles at a variety of community locations in Beijing and Kunming, China.

“This was the second consecutive year we traveled to China with the FILM FORWARD, which allowed us to build on the success of the previous year in engaging audiences around stories that transcend cultural differences and geographic boundaries,” said Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam. “Particularly exciting to us this year was the opportunity to host multiple screenings at a number of universities in Beijing and Kunming, including a second year at the Beijing Film Academy. Students thoroughly connected with the program and with lively debate, explored a variety of universal issues and themes.”

The films that screened as part of FILM FORWARD were: Another Earth, Beginners, Buck, On the Ice, Somewhere Between and Unfinished Spaces. The films screened at each location with in depth Q&A sessions with the filmmakers of Buck and Unfinished Spaces.

Andrea Meditch, Co-Executive Producer and Creative Consultant for Buck, and Ben Murray, Co-Director and Cinematographer of Unfinished Spaces, were in attendance in both Beijing and Kunming to participate in discussions following the screenings, conduct documentary workshops, and meet university students and other audience attendees.

“FILM FORWARD provided an invaluable opportunity to meet directly and openly with emerging Chinese artists, filmmakers, students and faculty for in-depth discussions on a broad range of topics,” commented Meditch. “We had great conversations from how Buck is a metaphor for many societal issues including how humans treat the planet to the need for new international co-production models that will bring the great wealth of Chinese stories to the rest of the world.”

Sundance Institute’s Jill Miller, Managing Director, Cara Mertes, Director, Documentary Film Program and Brittany Ballard, Manager, FILM FORWARD were in attendance. Programs were conducted in Beijing in collaboration with Beijing American Center, Beijing Film Academy, Beijing Foreign Studies University and Tsinghua University Documentary Saloon and in Kunming with Yunnan University’s Center for Visual Anthropology, Yunnan Arts University, and Beichen Cinema.

The films participating in the FILM FORWARD program represent a powerful exploration of universal themes that provide an avenue for greater cultural understanding. The films illustrate coming-of-age stories, explore identity and reveal the transformation process, both political and personal. On The Ice navigates the rocky landscape of adolescence; The Green Wave depicts the challenges and resourcefulness of a country and people in conflict; The Beginners explores the relationship between father and son and the endurance of love; Unfinished Spaces shows the collision between art and politics; Grbavica reveals the scars of war as a mother and daughter struggle through post-war Sarajevo and ultimately the strength of family; Somewhere Between follows the story of four Chinese-American girls struggling with their Identity as they grow into young women. FILM FORWARD mirrors the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints it promotes, underscoring the importance of mutual understanding and respect for other cultures and traditions that is at the heart of cultural exchange.

All FILM FORWARD screenings were free and open to the public. A full schedule of screenings and events as well as a complete list of outreach partners is available at

2012 Film Forward Films

 Another Earth / USA (Director: Mike Cahill) — After the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes, and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined. When one of them is presented with the opportunity to travel to the other Earth and embrace an alternative reality, which new life will they choose? Cast: Brit Marling (also co-writer), William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach.

BEGINNERS / USA (Director: Mike Mills) — BEGINNERS imaginatively explores the hilarity, confusion, and surprises of love through the evolving consciousness of Oliver, whose life is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover. Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent.

BRAN NUE DAE / Australia (Director: Rachel Perkins) — This musical, set in the Summer of 1969, tells the story of a young man who flees the Catholic mission where he is studying to join the priesthood. He journeys across Australia on a life-changing journey that ultimately leads him back home. Cast: Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Geoffrey Rush.

BUCK / USA (Director: Cindy Meehl) — BUCK profiles famous “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, tracing his life from an abusive childhood to his career as a world-renowned horse handler and trainer. By teaching people to communicate with horses through instinct, not punishment, he frees the spirit of the horse and its human comrade.

Grbavica / Bosnia and Herzegovina (Director: Jasmila Zbanic) — GRBAVICA explores the painful long-term effects of war on a Bosnian woman and her daughter as they struggle to make a life in post-war Sarajevo. Removing the veil from the ultimate taboo of the war in the Balkans: the use of rape as a weapon, the film reveals that the post-war denial of this war crime is as devastating as the crime itself. Cast: Mirjana Karanovic, Luna Mijovic, Leon Lucev.

THE GREEN WAVE / Germany (Director: Ali Samadi Ahadi) — Ali Samadi Ahadi’s timely documentary reveals how Iranian civilians reacted to the 2009 Iranian Presidential elections. Using animation and live action footage of the protests as well as interviews with Iranian bloggers and political leaders, Ahadi paints a compelling portrait of a nation on the brink of revolution.

ON THE ICE / USA (Director: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean) — Two Alaskan teenagers deal with guilt and a web of deceit after accidentally killing a friend in a fight that got out of control. With their future in the balance, the two boys are forced to explore the limits of friendship and honor. Cast: Josiah Patkotak, Frank Qutuq Irelan, Teddy Kyle Smith

SENNA / UK (Director: Asif Kapadia) — The story of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest race car driver who ever lived, is an epic tale that literally twists at every turn. Facing titanic struggles, he conquered Formula One and became a global icon who was idolized in his home country.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN / USA (Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton) — SOMEWHERE BETWEEN tells the intimate stories of four teenaged girls. They live in different parts of the US, in different kinds of families and are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China, because all four had birth parents who could not keep them, due to personal circumstances colliding with China’s ‘One Child Policy’.

UNFINISHED SPACES / USA (Directors: Benjamin Murray, Alysa Nahmias) — Fidel Castro invites three exiled architects back to Cuba to finish work on an art school they started 40 years ago. Featuring intimate footage of Fidel Castro, the documentary offers a remarkable view into Cuba’s past, present, and future.


Arizona, USA: February 27-March 1

China: March 14-22

India: March 15-22

Imperial Valley, USA: May 1-4

Morocco: May 6-13

Colombia: July 9-14

Puerto Rico: August 22-26

Oklahoma, USA: September 6-8

UNESCO, Paris: September dates tbd

U.S. Embassy in China

The U.S. Embassy in China is dedicated to achieve a dynamic public diplomacy, people-to-people exchanges, and other programs designed to support the development of civil society, promote religious freedom, and improve policies to protect the unique languages, cultures and religions of China’s ethnic minorities. In conjunction, the U.S. Embassy collaborates and coordinates with various U.S. Consulates throughout China to promote educational and cultural exchanges with local partners.


CNEX is the short form of “Chinese Next”. CNEX is a non-profit organization founded by a group of professionals, from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, who are passionate about Chinese culture. It is devoted to the production and promotion of documentaries related to the Chinese people. CNEX provides a platform of supports for and exchanges among Chinese documentary filmmakers by organizing and coordinating international cultural activities, both of independent initiatives or securing supports from governments. It aims to help more professionals in the effort of preserving cultures of Chinese communities, in the forms of visual and audio documents. CNEX hopes to establish and develop a library of global Chinese nonfiction work, and to enhance a sustainable strategy for the contemporary Chinese documentary making.


FILM FORWARD is an international cultural exchange program designed to enhance cross-cultural understanding, collaboration and dialogue around the globe by engaging audiences through the exhibition of film and conversation with filmmakers. FILM FORWARD is an Initiative of Sundance Institute and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Federal Partners

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) bridges the interests of American federal agencies and the private sector, supports special projects that increase participation and excellence in the arts and humanities, and helps incorporate these disciplines into White House objectives. First Lady Michelle Obama is the Honorary Chairman of the PCAH.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an independent federal agency, provides support for documentary films, digital media and other educational programs in the humanities through competitive grant programs. The NEH is the nation’s leading supporter of research, education, preservation and public programs in the humanities.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is an independent federal grant-making agency dedicated to creating strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The IMLS works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.

Sundance Institute

Founded by Robert Redford in 1981, Sundance Institute is a global, nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to nurturing artistic expression in film and theater, and to supporting intercultural dialogue between artists and audiences. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to unite, inform and inspire, regardless of geo-political, social, religious or cultural differences. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival and its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, film composers, playwrights and theatre artists, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


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