January 17, 2023

The highly-anticipated Sundance Film Festival will be live and in-person in Park City, Utah, this year for the first time since 2020. The festival, which will run from January 19 – 29, 2023, is organized by the nonprofit foundation Sundance Film Institute and will showcase feature films, documentaries, and short films in various languages.

This year, two New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni will screen their widely popular and acclaimed film, Shirampari: Legacies of the River, in competition as part of the Sundance Film Festival Documentary Short Films program. More than ten thousand short films were submitted to the festival. The final selection counted at only sixty-four, with Shirampari among the few chosen.

NYFA Alumni to Screen Documentary Short Shirampari

The Sundance Institute, founded by legendary actor Robert Redford, was created in 1981 to foster new voices in American storytelling. NYFA alum Lucia (Chía) Flórez, director and screenwriter for Shirampari, and NYFA alum José Miguel (Chémi) Pérez, who produced the film, are perfect examples of what the Sundance Institute represents. Shirampari includes themes surrounding legacy and familial pride and takes place in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest in Peru.

The protagonist Ricky is an eleven-year-old boy and a member of the Ashéninka tribe. To enter manhood, he must overcome his fear of catching a giant catfish using only a single hook.

Film Poster for Shirampari: Legacies of the River

According to the director and writer, Flórez, “Making this film was transformational. Working in such a remote and pristine location was both a privilege and a responsibility. It is necessary to tell these stories since ecosystems and cultures like this one are under constant threat.”

The short documentary was filmed in a verité style in the native tongue of Ashéninka and shot in Yurua, a well-preserved and remote part of the Amazon rainforest. Production took place in the Native Community of Dulce Gloria in one of the biggest and best-preserved blocks in Peru, commonly known as “Alto Purús.” Unfortunately, due to the high demands of construction, the area faces the threat of deforestation.

The film’s producer, Pérez, declared, “With this film, we want to give voice to the Ashéninka people of Yurúa. Their land is about to be changed forever due to the construction of a highway connecting the region with Brazil. Their cultural and environmental heritage has a clear expiration date. This short is not only a way to introduce the Ashéninka values and legacies to the world but also a call to action.”

Finding Success in the Film Festival Circuit as Emerging Filmmakers

In 2022, Shirampari found success on the festival circuit screening at Murcia Festival International de Cine IBAFF in Spain, Shorts Mexico, DOKLeipzig in Germany, Suncine in Spain and Mexico City, Spektrum Film Festival in Poland, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, DOC NYC, Lima Alterna in Perú (awarded ‘best film’), and Amazonia (Fi) Doc in Brazil (awarded ‘best film’).

Both alumni received a Matthew Modine Masters Scholarship (MMMS), which provides financial assistance to outstanding candidates of NYFA’s Master of Fine Arts programs in select disciplines. Golden Globe-winning actor and filmmaker Matthew Modine, who is a member of the New York Film Academy’s Board of Directors as well as the sponsor of the scholarship, stated, “Chía and Chémi were among the first recipients of the MMMS Scholarship. It’s thrilling to see how the scholarship has benefited their art and ambition. Chía and Chémi have delivered on the promise of their artistic potential with Shirampari. Their documentary exhibits stunning visuals while also exploring its characters with great thought and care, opening our eyes to a distinct culture and tradition as well as calling attention to our shared humanity and the environmental issues that are shared today by all humanity.”

MFA Alumni Lucia (Chía) Flórez and José Miguel (Chémi) Pérez during filming in the Yurua region of the Amazon

Modine continued his praise for the short documentary, “I know you’ll love the beauty and innocence of this film. It magnifies the work of – while quite different from – Coppola’s beautifully produced Koyaanisqatsi. Rather than flying past and above its subjects – with Philip Glass’ soaring score – Shirampari is filmed at ground level, lovingly observing its subjects and scored by the sounds of nature, birds, and water, and the laughter of children and the gentle voices of the indigenous people. As I watched, I held my breath – feeling what must inevitably be coming – the encroachment of industrialized man. There’s so much love packed into this short film. It wasn’t surprising that Sundance put it in their prestigious lineup.”

Among their long list of accomplishments, Flórez and Pérez are Fulbright Scholars, and Pérez is an alum of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gold Program, a highly sought-after opportunity for emerging filmmakers to network and learn their craft. The pair received funding from the 10 ARTS Foundation and National Geographic Society to produce Shirampari (read about the National Geographic Explorer grant here). The 10 ARTS Foundation–a recently launched U.S.-based nonprofit–funds, educates, and nurtures visual and performing artists from under-resourced communities.

Production still from Shirampari: Legacies of the River

Tony Harris, Chair of the 10 ARTS Board of Trustees, exclaimed, “Shirampari is a story that touches on the criticality of environmental protection, human rights, conserving threatened cultures, and the deep love of a father and son. For the 10 ARTS Foundation to have added our support along with the National Geographic Society, The Fulbright Program, and New York Film Academy’s Matthew Modine Masters Scholarship has been an honor. We are committed to focusing our efforts on talented storytellers worldwide. Together we hope to make a positive impact through the enablement of a more diversified point of view.”

Crickett Rumley, Senior Director of NYFA’s Film Festival Department, who consulted on the film’s festival strategy, said, “For emerging filmmakers, screening at Sundance is the absolute pinnacle. I’m so proud of Lucia and Chemi for making it to the top with this treasure of a short film, building on an impressive collection of laurels and awards from festivals in the US, Europe, and Latin America.”

Watch the Sundance ‘Meet the Artist 2023’ segment featuring Lucia (Chía) Flórez:

Additional NYFA Alum at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

We also want to call out alum Eve Hewson and producing alum Muhammad Zaidy Amiruddin will also show films at this year’s Sundance. Hewson will star alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the feature film Flora and Son, and Zaidy produced Evacuation of Mama Emola, which will compete in the Short Film program.

New York Film Academy is incredibly proud of its alumni for their well-deserved recognition at Sundance this year, their success across the film circuit, and anticipated future successes!

Be sure to purchase your Sundance ticket here!