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TAAF and Sundance Institute Announce New Fellowship and Scholarship for AAPI Artists, Answering the Call for More Investments in AAPI-Driven Storytelling

12 AAPI Filmmakers Selected for the Annual Program, Collectively Representing Emerging Artists Working Across Fiction and Nonfiction.

WASHINGTON, DC, AUGUST 3, 2022 The Asian American Foundation (“TAAF”) and the non-profit Sundance Institute today announced the launch of the “Sundance Institute | The Asian American Foundation Fellowship and Collab Scholarship” to provide Asian American and Pacific Islander (“AAPI”) artists with creative and tactical support to develop their skills and grow professionally. The Fellowship and the Scholarship aim to improve AAPI representation in the film and television industries over the long-term by cultivating AAPI talent and elevating their stories.

The Fellowship and Scholarship are made possible by support from TAAF, through a $400,000 grant provided by its AAPI Giving Challenge partner Panda Express, as well as The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation which will also contribute $140,000 to support the program. Over two years, the funding will provide artists with grants and year-round resources to support the artists and program activities.

“TAAF is helping build the infrastructure needed to increase AAPI representation and storytelling so that our communities can feel a broader sense of belonging in this country,” said Norman Chen, CEO at TAAF. “Investing in and empowering AAPI artists is a powerful way of ensuring our stories are seen as part of the fabric of American life and culture. That’s why we are thrilled to collaborate with the Sundance Institute and our philanthropic partners to support AAPI artists who deserve the resources and opportunities they need to be leading storytellers in their fields.”

The Fellowship will offer six AAPI artists per year a year-round learning experience to advance their professional development in the arts. Through the fellowship, each artist will receive a $20,000 unrestricted grant to support their individual projects, as well as customized support from the Institute based on their goals. TAAF’s support will also fund the Sundance scholarships for six emerging AAPI creatives per year. Scholarship recipients will be able to enroll in a live online course focused on their discipline of choice, receive a Creator+ Sundance Collab membership to access the Master Classes in the video library, participate in exclusive networking and community-building events, and receive feedback from Sundance Collab Advisors on their projects

“Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences are diverse and multifaceted, and creative industries have a significant role to play in properly highlighting these stories through investing in AAPI artists,” said Carrie Lozano, Director, Documentary Film and Artist Programs, Sundance Institute. “Our Fellowship in collaboration with TAAF was created for this purpose. The scholarships for Sundance Collab also enable us to further support AAPI artists. The Sundance Institute is grateful for the support of TAAF for helping fuel the creative development of diverse artists in our network.” 

The artists selected for the inaugural cohort of fellows are: 

Vera Brunner-Sung 

About the artist: Vera was born in Michigan to parents from Korea and Switzerland. Her films have been screened at festivals and museums around the world including Sundance, Rotterdam, the Whitney Museum, and Ann Arbor Film Festival. 

Project: Bitterroot, a film about a Hmong man in Montana who hides the truth about his lost job and failed marriage from his mother. But when she suddenly falls ill, he must finally reckon with his painful past to save them both.

Desdemona Chiang

About the artist: Desdemona is a nationally renowned stage director working in new plays, Shakespeare, and musicals. She is known for her visceral, no-nonsense approach to storytelling, with her distinct point of view as an immigrant and Asian American woman, and a specific interest in international and multilingual stories.

Project: Made in USA, a TV series about a Chinese-American casino host who takes in the pregnant teen daughter of her wealthiest client after getting passed up for a promotion and unexpectedly fired, and turns her home into a birth hotel to regain control of her life.

Shayok Misha Chowdhury

About the artist: Misha is a many-tentacled writer and director. Misha was awarded a Jonathan Larson Grant for musical theater and collaborated on the Grammy-winning album Calling All Dawns. Upcoming: Public Obscenities (Soho Rep & Naatco). Recently: Mukhagni (The Public Theater); Brother, Brother (New York Theatre Workshop); Englandbashi (Ann Arbor Film Festival).

Project: Rheology, a live concert-memoir-physics-symposium about an artist son studying his physicist mother. She studies the strange behavior of sand. Together, they unravel the science—the story—of how things flow.

Tadashi Nakamura

About the artist: Tadashi is an Emmy-winning director and was named one of CNN’s Young People Who Rock for being the youngest filmmaker at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and one of the Top Rising Asian American Directors on IMDb. His films include Mele Murals, Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings, A Song For Ourselves, and Pilgrimage.

Project: Third Act, on its surface, a biopic that explores Robert Nakamura’s life and role as the “Godfather of Asian American film,” made by his son, Tadashi Nakamura. But with Robert’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the film poses a complex question: how can a father and son say goodbye?

Neo Sora

About the artist: Neo is a Japanese-American filmmaker working in New York and Tokyo. His short The Chicken (2020) premiered at Locarno International Film Festival 2020. Filmmaker Magazine named Neo one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2020. In 2022, he participated in the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab.

Project: Earthquake, a feature film focused on a rabble-rousing teenager living in near-future Tokyo, where inhabitants await the next big earthquake, who must decide between continuing a life of youthful abandon, or losing one of his best friends whose blossoming political consciousness has made him more distant.

Sean Wang

About the artist: Sean is a filmmaker from Fremont, CA, and a 2020 Sundance Ignite Fellow. Most recently, his film, H.A.G.S (Have A Good Summer), was acquired and released by the New York Times. He is currently developing his first feature film, Dìdi (弟弟), which was awarded the SFFILM Rainin Grant.

Project: Dìdi (弟弟), a feature film set in Fremont, CA in 2008. In the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable thirteen-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt and how to love your mom.

Additionally, Sundance is proud to announce its scholarship recipients for this year are: 

Georgia Fu

About the artist: Georgia is a Taiwanese American filmmaker interested in thematics surrounding unusual points of connection. Her shorts have been recognized at festivals such as Slamdance, New Orleans Film Festival, Hollyshorts, and LAAPFF. She is currently developing two features, one of which is an adaptation of a story by Edward Yang.

Project: Approximate Joy, a feature film about a young Taiwanese American teenager who decides to run away with her high school history teacher to escape her grief from the sudden death of her father. On the road, she discovers that no matter how far you run, you cannot run away from yourself.

Leomax (Ziyuan) He

About the artist: Leomax received his bachelor’s degree in Digital Media Arts and is currently a Film Directing MFA candidate at CalArts. He is an alumnus of Nespresso Talents 2021 and the Artist-in-Residence program of Art Nova 100. He wants to make narratives that have a sober intoxication.

Project: Gungnir, a thesis film set in 2020 Los Angeles, in which the outbreak of COVID-19 accidentally coincides with the birthday wish of a 9 year-old boy, Leo, who wants to stop a Chinese-American girl, Charly, whom he crushes on from going back to China. He thinks the pandemic is due to his wish and panics everyday as he fears others will learn his secret.

Jenna Lam

About the artist: Jenna is a Southeast Asian creative who relishes in business operations and identifying themes in communities’ stories to convert into creative projects.

Project: Ambitious, a web series starring an impatient, bold Vietnamese-Cambodian-American girl who navigates her new life as a college-dropout despite her immigrant mother’s wishes and plans for her.

Simi Prasad

About the artist: Simi is currently a showrunner’s assistant on a new fantasy show for Disney+. Previously, she assisted a feature literary agent at WME. Simi grew up in London, England, though her American accent implies otherwise. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Princeton University with degrees in Psychology and Creative Writing.

Project: Changing of the Guard, which is about a mythical world inspired by medieval India. After a dutiful commoner’s aunt is executed for failing to prevent the mysterious murder of the king she was sworn to defend, she takes her place as an elite guard to the new authoritarian queen to protect her family from retribution. 

Norbert Shieh

About the artist: Norbert is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker and cinematographer whose films explore the subtleties of the everyday. His work thrives with support from Creative Capital, CAAM, BAVC, Logan Nonfiction Program, True/False and Visual Communications. In 2019, Filmmaker Magazine named him as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. 

Project: Preserves, a feature-length documentary following the lives of those who keep a disappearing agricultural tradition alive through intimate moments between work and their quiet domestic lives. Taking place in Taiwan, the film is a lyrical portrait that explores “table to farm” for the culinary ingredient, suan cai – a pickled mustard green.

Nicole Solis-Sison

About the artist: Nicole is a multi-racial writer, producer and director. She is a founding member of the Undocumented Filmmakers Collective, an organization that tackles inequities facing immigrants in the media field. She is working on a script that explores rejection, acceptance, death, and healing as a young refugee.

Project: Papeles, a coming of age film about two young asylum refugees searching for the ICE agent that saved them.

About The Asian American Foundation (TAAF)

The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) is a convener, incubator, and funder committed to accelerating opportunity and prosperity for AAPI communities. TAAF supports advocates and organizations committed to AAPI causes so that together we can more effectively take action against hate and violence, and build the infrastructure needed to improve AAPI advocacy, power, and representation across American society. TAAF was founded to solve for the longstanding lack of investment and resources provided to AAPI communities and strive to be a catalyzing force for creating a permanent and irrevocable sense of belonging for the 23 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders living in the United States. For additional information about TAAF, please visit www.taaf.org.

About the Sundance Institute
As a champion and curator of independent stories, the Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists across storytelling media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Collab, a digital community platform, brings a global cohort of working artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors, and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported and showcased such projects as Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), CODA, Flee, Passing, Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On the Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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From the Archives: Sundance Founder Robert Redford on Why He’s Always Believed in the Power of Documentary Filmmaking

The Sundance Film Festival’s longstanding commitment to documentary has been driven by the personal connection founder and president Robert Redford feels for the form. Leading up to the premiere of Chicago 10, the second doc to ever open the Festival, we talked to Redford about the past, present, and possible future of documentaries.You made an early commitment to documentary.

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