HomeBad Ass AsiansFilm executive Dave A. Liu is in Utopia
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Film executive Dave A. Liu is in Utopia

By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

The media company Utopia, founded in 2018 by Cole Harper and Robert Coppola Schwartzman as a distributor and seller of independent and documentary films, has named Dave A. Liu as strategic advisor to the CEO and board of directors. 

The Penske Media Corporation-owned entertainment industry magazine Variety made the exclusive announcement earlier today, sharing that Liu will helm the company’s strategies and financial initiatives as it continues to grow and gather clout.

According to the publication, Utopia acquired four films in all of 2019 but now has an output of nearly the same number of new productions every month.

Recently, these have included movies like Cannes-winning drama Holy Spider (2022) by Ali Abbasi and the box-office successful documentary Meet Me In The Bathroom (2022), chronicling the early days of musical groups The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and LCD Soundsystem in the New York City arts scene at the millennium.

Liu and Utopia will also focus on developing and acquiring titles by Asian and Pacific Islander filmmakers as part of an overarching mission to buy and distribute films made by all underrepresented creators.

On a phone call with AsAmNews after the announcement, Liu expressed excitement at being in a position that makes him uniquely poised to carve out a platform for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander filmmakers.

“Whether you like it or not, AAPI filmmakers are indie filmmakers – we are not mainstream. If you try to help Asian filmmakers, you’re really helping indie filmmakers,” he said. 

He also explained that most films, lacking backing by major studios, never make it to distribution, meaning that many narrative films and documentaries simply never get seen since they do not appear on the menus of streaming platforms or in the screening schedules of movie theaters. 

Liu wants to change this, one strategy, project, and acquisition at a time – and he has many pots on the proverbial stove.

A known Wall Street and Silicon Valley veteran, advisor, author, entrepreneur, investor, filmmaker, philanthropist, Liu had advised media companies and been a part of film ventures for years before this involvement with Utopia, often specifically in support of Asian creators.  

[Full Disclosure: Dave Liu is on the AsAmNews Board of Directors] 

He told AmNews that he first met Utopia co-founders Harper and Schwartzman in 2023 and that their visions resonated. He admired the entrepreneurs. They had plenty of experience in the business but where just in their late thirties and early forties, championing the tagline “supporting the next wave of storytelling.”

He said that everything else came together within that same year, which was already proving to be a big one for Liu in terms of film. 

Last year, he was the executive producer of the Oscar-qualified short documentary Every Day After (2023), which portrayed the daily existence, surgery, and healing process of a boy in the Philippines living with cleft lip and palate (CLP).

Two of his films also became selections for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah, which means that, next week, he will attend three back-to-back premieres of his film ventures.

He will barely have enough time to show up for the red carpet opening for one show before rushing off to the next. He said that he regretted being unable to watch the screenings themselves, though he has viewed all of the titles on his own, off the big screen. 

The first two premieres will be at Sundance.

DÌDI (弟弟) (2024), the debut feature-length film of writer and director Sean Wang, is the coming-of-age story of a 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy in Fremont in the Bay Area of California in 2008. Liu said that Wang and creators like him are exactly the reason he wanted to get into the film industry with his financial and strategic acumen and passion for elevating AANHPI voices and works in mainstream media and entertainment.

Sasquatch Sunset (2024) has a yet-to-be-revealed plot that promises the tale of a “singular” family, played by silver screen personalities Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg

The third film Liu executive produced was INHERITANCE, which is having its world premiere at Slamdance, the counter-Sundance indie film festival held concurrently, practically right across the street. The documentary is directed and produced by Matt Moyer and Amy Toensing and written by Curtis Whitear, who followed a boy named Curtis and his family for 10 years to show the effects of drug addiction across five generations in rural Appalachia.

Liu is looking forward to adding his role at Utopia to fulfilling projects like these. 

“They’ve got a really cool platform of films that really represent what indie’s supposed to be. They embrace technology, they don’t run from it. And they have pretty cool taste,” Liu said of his colleagues.

He also admiringly referenced the Utopia’s content discovery site Altavod, where filmmakers and supporters can connect, describing it as “Vimeo on steroids.”

“I’m pretty jazzed and already getting bombarded with calls from Asian filmmakers,” he concluded, cheerfully.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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