By Katie Chambers
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to Kayla Sun! Kayla is a LA-based trilingual Asian filmmaker. She earned her B.A. degree for Studio Art and Economics at Vanderbilt University and subsequently worked in the art world before diving into the film world. She earned her M.F.A. for Film and Television Production at University of Southern California, as a Jeffrey Jones Scholar in writing, and is a recipient of the 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Production Grant for her film The Code of Family (2022). The film also received a NYWIFT Award for Excellence in Short Narrative Directing at last year’s UrbanWorld Film Festival.
Kayla’s short films have screened at award-winning film festivals and in gallery exhibitions. She currently focuses on TV writing, exploring how to write social topics in light-hearted dramedy. Her most recent drama Teleplay Choose Your Parents was a finalist in the 2022 Austin Film Festival.
Kayla spoke to us about her inspirations, love of learning, and why people of all ages should be encouraged to embrace technology.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
Hi! My name is Kayla and I am a trilingual Asian filmmaker (English, Chinese, Japanese). I love storytelling and I write a lot, focusing on female centered stories with unique perspectives.
Congratulations on winning the NYWIFT Award for Excellence in Short Narrative Directing at the 2022 UrbanWorld Film Festival! What did inclusion in UrbanWorld mean to you?
Thank you! I believe inclusion means that no one is judged based on their appearances and everyone has an equal opportunity. I am very happy to see the film world becoming more and more inclusive.
What inspired you to make your award-winning film, The Code of Family?
Growing up in China, I’ve witnessed multiple families pressuring and dissuading the elderly from using new technology. I had to fight my own parents in 2014 to convince them to buy a smartphone for my grandma. Flip phones, or “old people phones” as we call them, are the only thing recommended for them. Thus, many never used smartphones or computers. But I feel very strongly that we are depriving the elder generation of a major resource that could be improving their lives as much as it has improved ours.
I was inspired by the story of Masako Wakamiya, a renowned 84-year-old app designer who had never touched a computer until she was 60. As an Asian filmmaker myself, the story formed in my head instantaneously. I needed to show this journey of how an Asian grandma could become a computer scientist. I want to show the emotions behind everything she represents: how the elderly feel left out as the rest of the population moves on.
In 20 years, everyone alive will be those who have known technology all their lives. The people who grew old without such tools, who have been discriminated against when they tried to learn, will have passed on, and the issue will die out with them. As a filmmaker, the least I can do is to tell their perspective now.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing the film?
I want audiences to know that age doesn’t stand in the way of learning. And hopefully everyone can spend a little more time with their parents or grandparents and help the elderly with modern technology.
What kind of projects excite you as a creative?
I am attracted to unique characters and unique situations. It might be true that “every story has already been told,” but there is always a new perspective to the same story. Female centered or Asian centered stories also excite me more.
I also saw your visual art on your website – wow! Tell us about your tiny sculptures!
Thank you! I studied studio art, so I can draw, paint, and make sculptures. It was my thesis project in undergrad at Vanderbilt. I made 300 little women soldiers in traditional Chinese clothing. I started making similar things when I was around 10 and kept doing different kinds of mini sculptures. I don’t really know why. I just love them.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Never stop learning!
And what is next for you?
I am developing a feature, an Asian love story.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE