Written by Patrick Hao
Movies are hard to make with the high barrier of entry often being the biggest hurdle to making a career of it. That is why it is always heartening to see a film festival like Tribeca partner with other organizations to create fellowships and initiatives for young filmmakers, especially those who are in minority communities that are less featured in the mainstream. The 2022 Tribeca Film Festival marks the first year of screened films by participants of the Future Gold Film Fellowship, supported by Tribeca Studios, Netflix, and Gold House. This fellowship’s mission is to provide full funding to three Asian and Pacific Islander filmmakers to create short films which debut yearly at the Tribeca Film Festival. The filmmakers also receive feedback and mentorship during both the production and post-production process.
Lloyd Lee Choi, Erin Lau, and Derek Nguyen were chosen to be the inaugural class of the fellowship through targeted outreach by Tribeca Studios and Gold House. Headed by a selection committee of industry professionals such as Alice Wu, Daniel Dae Kim, and Albert Cheng. These three filmmakers were an interesting selection for the inaugural class. The fellowship through the non-profit organization Gold House is trying to establish a network of AAPI media professionals looking for experienced filmmakers who have not had a chance for a broader reach. As part of its qualifications, eligible applicants must have principal credit on at least two short films that have premiered at a film festival or received distribution.
These three filmmakers have various levels of experience but none are brand new to the industry. Derek Nguyen already had a feature film, “The Housemaid,” distributed by IFC Films in 2018, and has been a producer on other notable independent films like “Lovesong” and “Buster’s Mal Heart.” Lloyd Lee Choi has been an established commercial filmmaker for years, making well-known campaigns for Google and Walmart. He even had a short film premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year, “Same Old.” Erin Lau has had similar commercial work to Choi developing content for brands like Google and Netflix.
It seems strange that a fellowship with the mission to shine a spotlight on up-and-coming filmmakers will seek recipients that have already gained a measure of success in the industry. They have had films at major festivals, been involved in major ad campaigns, and even worked with Oscar winners such as Rami Malek. These are not people new to the industry seeking their foot in the door. They are already entrenched.
Sure, one can understand the mindset that because this is the first year of the fellowship and with the organizers such as Gold House announcing their intention to target applicants as opposed to opening it to the general public, they were searching to make a bigger splash with more established people rather than going the “Project Greenlight” route of someone relatively new without the ability to handle a budget. But, then what is the purpose of this fellowship? The Gold House strives to open doors for AAPI creatives to gain access to a network of others in the industry. It appears that they must have had a network to even be considered for the fellowship. Because the filmmakers have had experience, the films they produced for the fellowship are solid.
Lloyd Lee Choi’s “Closing Dynasty” might have been the most narratively unsatisfying of the three. The short follows a seven-year-old girl named Queenie who on a school day is roaming around the downtown streets of New York hustling. She steals a bouquet and begins selling it. She asks strangers for money. Some of the passerby’s ask why she is out alone, but most let her be. The short is made with a quiet humanist approach, similar to that of Sean Baker’s films. It is easy to see the parallels between Queenie and Moonee from “The Florida Project.” By virtue of being short, however, just when Choi begins to reveal some of his hand as to the reason behind Queenie’s mindset, the film ends. It does leave one wanting more.
“Inheritance” might be the most personal film of the three. Directed by native Hawaiian Erin Lau, it is impressive how much Lau is able to pack into one short. The film follows a photographer, Kelsey, who takes photos of the Kalapana lava fields for tourists. However, Kelsey is longing for a change, to move away from Hawaii. While at a family dinner, Kelsey’s father notices his discomfort and chooses to tell him the story of their family coming to Hawaii.
Lau’s direction is taut and beautiful, packed full of feeling. In a short twenty-minute span, she is able to touch on issues of native Hawaiians and immigrants’ struggles with the exploitation of the island as well as everyone’s favorite topic, intergenerational trauma. But, what makes Lau’s short rise above the rest is her ability to fill empty spaces with raw emotion. Not a lot is spoken in the film. Rather, it is what is unsaid that speaks volumes. That raw power and heat without explosion are much like the lava fields photographed.
The final feature is Derek Nguyen’s “The Resemblance.” This short sci-fi-ish film stars Francis Chau and Sumalee Montano who employ a rental family agency that uses an actor to role-play as their dead son. With a premise like that, you know it will be more than they bargained for. At first, the couple is happy to see their son but realizes that the memory it evokes is overwhelming. It does not help that this boy seemingly knows things that they did not expect him to know. The short is well made but never lives up to the emotionality of its premise. While the unspoken was a strength of “Inheritance,” for “The Resemblance,” keeping things from the audience seems to be more of a narrative crutch than a benefit.
The three filmmakers of the fellowship can develop into exciting voices in features. They certainly have already made their mark in various ways through the visual medium. But, what I truly hope is that the Tribeca Future Gold Film Fellowship becomes more true to its mission and finds a way to support AAPI filmmakers with even less access to the industry. The barrier of entry to media is difficult and there is no sense in giving that access to those with a firm foot in the door.
To learn more about the Tribeca Film Festival please visit: https://www.tribecafilm.com/