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INTERVIEW/Bringing Sundance to Taiwan: A celebration of independent film and culture

06/11/2024 03:36 PM
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From right: Co-founder of video live-streaming service Twitch Kevin Lin, co-founder of co-working space FutureWard Jonathan Liao, founder of sound company Ambidio Inc. Iris Wu. CNA file photo
From right: Co-founder of video live-streaming service Twitch Kevin Lin, co-founder of co-working space FutureWard Jonathan Liao, founder of sound company Ambidio Inc. Iris Wu. CNA file photo

By Teng Pei-ju, CNA staff reporter

"We want people to fall in love with Taiwan," Kevin Lin (林士斌), an entrepreneur best known for co-founding the video live-streaming service Twitch, said regarding bringing the Sundance Film Festival Asia to Taiwan in a recent interview with CNA.

The extension of the United States' largest independent film festival will return to Taipei for the second consecutive year, showcasing works by independent and up-and-coming filmmakers and featuring award-winning panels from the industry from Aug. 21 to 25.

It was a significant crossover for Lin, who may have mocked himself as a "poser" in the film industry but was able to parley his success in the U.S. startup circle into this new venture in Taiwan.

He brought his two entrepreneur friends, Iris Wu (吳采頤) and Jonathan Liao (廖炳坤), the co-founder of the Taipei-based co-working space, FutureWard, on board.

"The Sundance Film Festival Asia" highlights Taiwanese talent and allows filmmakers from abroad to "understand and then fall in love with Taiwan," said Wu, the only one of the trio who works in the movie industry.

Bringing people together to mingle between film screenings, talks, and even parties is truly how collaborations begin, said Wu, founder of Ambidio Inc., a Los Angeles-based sound company that has worked with Hollywood film studios and streaming services.

If a filmmaker establishes connections with a place and the people there, they are more likely to consider it when opportunities for projects arise, she added.

"We really focus on how to bring people [to Taiwan]," she said, noting that this year's festival has been extended from three days to five and would feature more speakers who have either won an Oscar or been nominated for the award, as well as various networking events.

The trio, however, had declined to disclose the lineup as of press time, saying it was still being finalized.

Lin noted that the aim was to "build a bridge" between the Sundance community and talented Taiwanese filmmakers, referring to the Sundance Institute -- a non-profit established by Hollywood star Robert Redford to organize the festival -- and its collaborators.

Over the past few years, the Sundance Film Festival has held its Asian editions in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

According to Lin, Taiwan has been chosen for its free and robust filmmaking environment where one "can cover any subjects [without] restrictions," a quality highly valued by the festival dedicated to "celebrating independent arts" and providing a platform for "diverse stories from diverse voices."

He noted that the trio had been mindful of all the local festivals in Taiwan, making considerable efforts to integrate Sundance's activities smoothly into Taiwan's cultural landscape without disrupting existing film events.

At the same time, Taiwan boasts talented young filmmakers with excellent story-telling, production, and execution skills, Lin said, and the festival would provide a stage for them to shine on.

Thirty-one-year-old director An Chu (朱建安), whose works have garnered acclaim at Sundance, serves as a prime example.

Chu first received Best Short Film at the Sundance Film Festival Asia in 2023 for "Tuo Tuo" (陀陀) and later brought home the Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. for his latest work, "The Stag" (公鹿).

According to Liao, there will still be a short film competition exclusive to Taiwanese filmmakers at this year's Sundance event in Taiwan. The winner of the competition will be presented with a trophy and NT$50,000 (US$1,548) of prize money.

In addition, there will be a special program showing American short films selected for the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. in January, said Liao, who oversees the realization of various ideas for the festival in Taiwan proposed by the other two.

Lin signed a deal with the Sundance Institute last year to host the Asian leg of the festival in Taiwan from 2023 to 2025, but his ambitions are not limited to simply hosting film festivals.

Wu said the trio hopes to create a special program screening Taiwanese films at the Sundance Film Festival, which is held every January in the U.S. state of Utah.

It should be a "two-way" exchange in which foreign films are shown in Taiwan and Taiwanese works are shown overseas, she added.

Lin noted that organizing the film event had been "very rewarding" despite the tremendous effort required to secure sponsorships, expressing his eagerness to replicate the festival's success and embark on more projects in Taiwan.

According to Lin, the company, G2Go Entertainment, created by the trio to organize the festival in Taiwan, will be exploring opportunities to bring other overseas brands or events to Taiwan.

"We have access to other events [and] other big brands from outside of Taiwan... we can try to bring them here," he said.

"We want to do more celebrations around Taiwan... when people come here, they can experience more [Taiwanese] culture," he added.

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