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Sunrise Collective: Highlights from the AAPI Filmmaking Community

by Neil Bui
Discover Proudly Amplifies Diverse Voices

Sundance Film Festival marks the start of the year for the film industry as creatives and cinema fans converge in snowy Utah for a celebration of film through screenings, conversations, and gatherings. Daniel Dae Kim’s 3AD, Gold House, and The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) came together as the Sunrise Collective to host its Sunrise House a second time as a home for the greater Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community at Sundance.

Photo credits: Christine Chang

Day 1 – Friday, January 19, 2024

The first day began with a fireside chat with directors Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) and Shaunak Sen (All That Breathes) about their experiences as filmmakers.

“My big criterion is if I can think of anybody else who can make that film, they should make it. Not me,” Nair said. “I’m a very peculiar sort, and I will make the film in a peculiar way.”

Photo credits: Andrew Ge

Then a Sunrise Collective Welcome featured a heart-wrenching tribute to the late Michael Latt with speeches from those who knew him personally.

The rest of the day included panels such as Entertainers as Activists, Southeast Asia on the Rise, Multicultural Producers Roundtable, and Talanoa: Standing in Solidarity with NHPI Communities.

Photo credits: Andrew Ge

Day 2 – Saturday, January 20, 2024

The highlight of the second day at the Sunrise House was the conversation with Lucy Liu followed by the fireside chat with Steven Yeun. Liu shared her thoughts on what legacy is, which resonates with her work as an actress and now director.

“I think your legacy is what you’re doing and what you’re putting out there. It’s a form of exploration and exploring also involves being brave and seeing beyond, but it also involves fear; really seeing it, understanding it, if it is even possible to understand,” Liu said.

Photo credits: Andrew Ge

Yeun described his journey into the Korean entertainment industry after making a name for himself in Western media, but also addressed the struggles when it comes to discussing personal identity.

“Identity is a struggle for me. I think there’s a really difficult battle in being asked to explain yourself, and I think that’s valuable. The notion of never explaining yourself is also selfish,” he said. “There’s something to be said about having the space and awareness to communicate truths that you hold that other people don’t understand. At the same time, you can only really communicate that in a real way in yourself.”

During the later evening, the venue became “Snowed In at Sunrise,” a merry evening of food, drinks, and music by DJ Zeemuffin.

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 20: Atmosphere during the “Snowed In at Sunrise Collective” party at Riverhorse On Main on January 20, 2024 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for Sunrise Collective)

Day 3 – Sunday, January 21, 2024

The final day included a fireside chat with producer Milton Liu, actor-filmmaker Sung Kang, and publicist David Magdael, which touched on the influence of Better Luck Tomorrow, which screened at Sundance 20 years ago. That very night, Robert Ebert famously spoke up in defense of the film and its cast and crew, when a different audience member found it “empty and amoral for Asian Americans.”

“This film has the right to be about these people and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be, they do not have to represent their people,” Ebert stated.

I’ve never heard a more eloquent string of words that encapsulated my thoughts and feelings when it came to bearing any responsibility for representation. Representation is important, but it isn’t fair to place that responsibility onto someone who does not wish to bear it.

Kang also shared the significance that same night had for another filmmaker – Jon Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), who had told Kang years after that he was there that night and it was on that day that he had made the decision to become a filmmaker. So basically, without Sung Kang and Better Luck Tomorrow, there would be no Jon Chu and Crazy Rich Asians.

“I didn’t know a small independent movie like that could have [such an] impact,” Kang said. “We are all connected somehow.”

Photo credits: Christine Chang

The author’s content and opinions have not been pre-reviewed, approved or endorsed by Discover.

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