Meet the Winner of SFFILM’s 2019 New American Fellowship

Dec 18, 2018 · 4 min read
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One of SFFILM Makers’ newest and most exciting support programs has chosen a winner, in what was an extremely tight race among an amazingly strong group of finalists. Filmmaker Siyi Chen, who splits her time between the US and her native China, has been selected to receive the $25,000 grant and FilmHouse residency in support of her current documentary work, including My Grandma’s a Dancer (in development) and People’s Hospital (in post-production).

The first of its kind in the US film industry, the New American Fellowship is made possible thanks to SFFILM’s collaboration with the Flora Family Foundation and is open to independent directors or producers who have recently moved to the United States. Designed to amplify the voices of international filmmakers and to champion their work in the US, the New American Fellowship seeks to support films by new American artists, ultimately providing meaningful and challenging experiences to public audiences.

The panelists who reviewed the applicants’ submissions are Serge Bakalian, Founding Executive Director at Arab Film and Media Institute; Claudia Escobar, filmmaker and KQED contributor; Lauren Kushner, SFFILM Senior Manager of Artist Development; Abhi Singh, Member, Board of Directors at Flora Family Foundation; and Jenny Slattery, SFFILM Associate Director of Foundations and Artist Development.

The review panel said in a statement: “We were deeply impressed by the strength and originality of the submissions we received in the second year of this fellowship, which reflected a fascinating array of voices from a wide range of countries around the world. We are thrilled to have selected Siyi Chen as the 2019 New American Filmmaker Fellow — her delightful sense of humor, strong storytelling instincts, and deep empathy for her subjects have made us thrilled to support her work on this project and to watch her career unfold in the many years to come.”

“Living across cultures can be confusing,” said Chen. “I still can’t figure out why I’m always dying for a Chinese soap opera on a rainy winter day in New York or why I’d only crave for Five Guys in my in-the-middle-of-nowhere hometown. But being an in-betweener also made me realize that people are more similar than different across borders. I am grateful to receive a fellowship that embraces people who might be a little bit of a lot of things. With the help of this fellowship, I’m excited to tell more stories in which no one is ‘the Other’ and everyone is ‘one of us.’”

Applications for the 2020 SFFILM New American Fellowship will open in August 2019. Visit for more information.

Siyi Chen is a documentary filmmaker from China. Born and raised in Zhejiang and educated in New York, she currently splits her time between these two places. Chen received a B.A. in World History and Chinese Literature (dual degree) from Peking University (Beijing) and a M.A. in News and Documentary from NYU. She has produced, shot, and edited dozens of short web docs that have appeared on Quartz, CNN and PBS. Among her works, Chen documented a pioneering artificial intelligence experiment in a Chinese nursing home, covered the thriving new industry of paid cuddling in the US, and profiled an amateur roboticist from Hong Kong who spent $50,000 and three years building a extremely life-like robotic “Scarlett Johansson.”

About My Grandma’s a Dancer
Granny Ma never expected to retire in a foreign country, spending the rest of her life raising a grandkid that doesn’t speak her language. But life leaves her few choices, as her government forced her to have a child who then decided to leave China to pursue a better life in the US. Hundreds of families like the Ma’s must decide what to sacrifice to keep their families together…

About People’s Hospital
People’s Hospital tells the story of a female doctor from a small-town Chinese hospital, who, after devoting 27 years to saving lives, is secretly contemplating quitting. That doctor is the filmmaker’s mother, and that hospital is, as she affectionately calls it, the “daycare center” where she grew up. Armed with a camera, director Siyi Chen returns to the hospital to make sense of her mother’s career crisis — not expecting to encounter a fractured healthcare system and her own family’s battle with cancer.

This is the second year of the SFFILM New American Fellowship, whose inaugural recipient was Carlo Velayo, in support of his film Lingua Franca.

Siyi Chen was selected from a group of 10 finalists in this application round for the New American Fellowship. It’s an awe-inspiring group from all over the world, all of whom are filmmakers to watch in the months and years ahead:

Juan Avella, Venezuela/Italy
Zoe Sua Cho, Korea/New Zealand
Feras Fayyad, Syria
Andrés Gallegos, Chile
Sam Hamilton, New Zealand
Antoneta Kastrati, Kosovo
Igor Myakotin, Russia
Jiayan Jenny Shi, China
Débora Souza Silva, Brazil

As always, for more information about SFFILM’s artist development programs, visit

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