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Sundance Film Festival arrives in Taipei with star-studded cast

International festival championing independent film casts spotlight on local talent with short film competition

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Sundance Film Festival Asia arrives in Taipei. (Sean Scanlan, Taiwan News photo)

Sundance Film Festival Asia arrives in Taipei. (Sean Scanlan, Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Sundance Film Festival comes to Taiwan on Friday (Aug. 18) for a weekend of programming including feature films, a short film competition, and seminars for aspiring filmmakers.

The arrival of festivals like Sundance, the largest and best-known U.S.-based film festival dedicated to independent voices, is a boost to independent filmmakers. They are under threat from having to make studio films for streaming services or franchise and IP (intellectual property) backed films based on comics and toys such as Transformers and Barbie.

This is the fate that L.A.-based film director Justin Chon has faced for the past few years. He has premiered two films at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and is in Taipei with his latest feature film, "Jamojaya," which screens this weekend at Huashan Spot Theater.

"Jamojaya" is loosely based upon the life of rapper Brian Rich who is of Chinese-Indonesian descent. The film replicates the rapper’s rise to fame and the challenges of working with a major record label as well as disapproving family members.

Like the best kind of independent film, the plot gives audiences a peek into the lives, environment, and emotional state that they would unlikely experience in their daily lives.

Sundance Film Festival arrives in Taipei with star-studded cast
Local rapper, ØZI, (left) turns out to support the film "Jamojaya" at Sundance Film Festival. (Taiwan News, Sean Scanlan photo)

Chon is fortunate that his film has resonated with Taiwanese-American rapper ØZI, who appeared at a press conference for the Sundance Film Festival Asia to give a personal review of the film.

"I have seen all of Justin’s work, and I even took notes when watching this film, such as the cinematography, the one-take shots, and the family drama. I could even write a whole Rotten Tomato review of the film, which is really great, and I would give it a score of about 90–95%," said ØZI.

Another filmmaker at the opening press conference was Rachel Lambert, who will present the film "Sometimes I Think About Dying."

"I have never had a movie shown in Asia and to represent Sundance is quite a big honor. The Sundance Film Festival has done so much for independent film," said Lambert.

Lambert says the title of her film "tells a lot" and that "sometimes you do think about death." However, she believes that the film is both "funny" and "meaningful," adding, "we are coming out of a dark time, and we all need some healing."

Sundance Film Festival arrives in Taipei with star-studded cast
Filmmakers and festival staff turn up for Sundance Film Fest Asia press conference. (Taiwan News, Sean Scanlan photo)

While it is important for Taiwanese audiences to see independent films, the organizers of Sundance Film Festival Asia also believe it can be important to shine a light on Taiwanese films.

Sundance Film Festival Asia Core Team Member Kevin Lin (林士斌) said: "We are so excited to bring the Sundance Film Festival to Asia and shine a light on Taiwanese film. We had 250 submissions to our short film competition, which was incredible considering how little time we had.

"We did this all in three months, and we have a great weekend ahead of us. Fortunately, we had support from many people, including our sponsors."

To give Taiwanese filmmakers more access to the Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah, every January, three members of the Sundance Institute were brought to Taiwan, including Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming Kim Yutani.

"I first came to the Golden Horse Awards in 2019 before the pandemic. I didn’t expect to encounter such a vibrant film community.

"When I heard that there was an opportunity for Taipei to host this event, I knew that there would be some real synergy, as we are very excited about showing these three feature films," said Yutani.

She went on to say that the films presented this weekend are representative of the types of Sundance films that are screened at the festival each year in Utah.

Yutani also teased future cooperation, noting, "This is just the beginning, three films is just a small sampling, but we are thrilled to have this opportunity to dip our toe into Taipei and enjoy this experience and let it blossom."

For more information about the complete schedule, visit the social media website for Sundance Film Festival Asia.