3 Chinese-American Films at This Year’s Sundance Film Festival

Amy Tan, the race for college, and how two nations handled a pandemic

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1:58 PM HKT, Sun January 24, 2021 1 mins read

This year’s Sundance Film Festival is taking on a new, virtual format — the event will screen 71 films, representing 29 countries and 38 first-time feature filmmakers.

Cultural intersectionality is a big theme in this year’s list, which features several Chinese-American stories. Here are three unique films to look out for.

1. Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, has become one of the United States’ most respected and influential literary voices. In the festival’s featured documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, director James Redford speaks to generations of Tan’s family to reveal the heart of her creative practice, and the life that led her to it.

“I am not the subject matter of mothers and daughters or Chinese culture or immigrant experience that most people cite as my domain,” Tan writes in her memoir Where the Past Begins. “I am a writer compelled by a subconscious neediness to know, which is different from a need to know. The latter can be satisfied with information. The former is a perpetual state of uncertainty and a tether to the past.”


Representing San Francisco’s Chinese-American community in a different way is Debbie Lum, director of TRY HARDER!

Born in Virginia and raised in the Midwest, Lum is known for her exploration into cultural stereotypes, having earned praise for My Tiger Mom and the award-winning Seeking Asian Female.

“When stories of our diverse communities don’t get told, often stereotypes fill in for the missing information,” Lum said in an interview with ITVS. “Unlike stereotypes, stories are complicated, nuanced and have layered meanings. Stories influence and are powerful.”

Lum returns in that same vein, this time diving deep into the reality behind the American college application process, and the intersections of class, race, and educational opportunity.

3. In the Same Breath

Nanfu Wang’s In the Same Breath portrays the spread of Covid-19 after first being identified in Wuhan, China. The film joins others — such as the Oscar-qualifying cut-and-paste documentary 76 Days, and China-produced Days and Nights in Wuhan — in tackling the bombshell early moments of last year’s outbreak.

In the Same Breath manages to be both personal and geopolitical in scale, zeroing in not just on the sacrifices of individuals, but also on “President Xi Jinping’s and President Donald Trump’s eerily similar responses to the pandemic.”

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 28 through February 3.



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