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Sundance and TAAF partner to create scholarship for AAPI artists

by Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor

The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) and the Sundance Institute announced the launch of a new scholarship for AAPI artists on Wednesday morning.

The “Sundance Institute | The Asian American Foundation Fellowship and Collab Scholarship” will provide AAPI artists with creative and technical support. TAAF and Sundance hope the scholarship will help improve AAPI representation in the film and television industries.

“We wanted to partner with the Sundance Institute given its power and ability to really make an impact when it comes to AAPI representation across the arts,” Norman Chen, CEO at TAAF, said in an emailed statement to AsAmNews. “Through this partnership, AAPI artists can access more resources and more opportunities — ultimately helping them advance in their respective fields,”

“We are thrilled to play a part in empowering these rising visionaries, and we are incredibly grateful to all of the partners who are helping make this happen,” the statement continued.

TAAF will fund the scholarship through a $400,000 grant provided by its AAPI Giving Challenge partner Panda Express. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will also contribute $140,000 to support the program.

Six AAPI artists each year will receive $20,000 unrestricted grants to support their individual projects. TAAF will also provide funding scholarships for six AAPI creatives to use Sundance institute resources.

According to a press release, the six 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.”

“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,” Carrie Lozano, Director, Documentary Film and Artist Programs, Sundance Institute said in a press release. 

TAAF has provided bios and project descriptions for this year’s full list of recipients:

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.

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