From Tandon’s Integrated Design & Media program all the way to the Sundance Film Festival
Alum Samantha Renshi Skinner (‘21) wins one of the festival’s top prizes
Founded in 1978 by Robert Redford, the Sundance Film Festival is now widely acknowledged as an epicenter for talented young filmmakers and compelling new screen projects. Each year, according to festival administrators, they receive some 4,000 feature film submissions and 11,000 shorts. The chances of being chosen are less than one percent; the chances of being chosen and then winning an award are exponentially slimmer.
Samantha Renshi Skinner, who earned her master’s degree from the Integrated Design & Media program at NYU Tandon in 2021, defied those odds to take home the Short Film Grand Jury Prize for the 13-minute work When You Left Me On That Boulevard, which she helped to produce.
Written and directed by Kayla Abuda Galang, When You Left Me On That Boulevard takes place on Thanksgiving Day, 2006, as a large and loving Filipino family gathers at the home of an “auntie” in southeast San Diego to eat, sing karaoke, and celebrate; the short focuses on Ly, a quiet teenager who goes out for a drive with her cousins and gets high before the meal.
“Often, when diaspora stories are told, the focus is on tragedy and trauma,” Skinner, a second-generation Korean American, says. “We wanted to emphasize the joy instead.” The Sundance jury agreed that they had succeeded. “From the first moment, we were fully on board for this rowdy ride,” the award citation read. “An uproarious take on extended family, irreverence and tradition with incredible attunement to details and frame. This directorial feat of freshness is our enthusiastic choice.”
It was a dream to even submit to Sundance and unbelievable to be accepted into the festival. Winning was almost indescribable, but it was definitely one of the best days of my life.”
— Alum Samantha Renshi Skinner
She was not alone in her joy: Even though attending Sundance can be an expensive proposition because of the price of transportation, accommodations, and other necessities, Skinner and Galang — who originally met as students at the University of Texas at Austin and launched a production company called Fembeat — were determined that everyone involved in the making of the short should have the chance for what could well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “The crew came along, and even some of our parents joined in,” she says. “There were about 30 of us in all, and as the citation was read, and it became evident that When You Left Me On That Boulevard was the winner, we just erupted in cheers, tears, and screams.”
The win, she predicts, will be a milestone in all their careers. “I compare Sundance to a college, and we’re the freshmen who are lucky enough to be welcomed by the cool seniors,” she says. “We got to meet so many people in the industry and did some valuable networking, but just as important, we met fellow filmmakers and artists who are now friends.”
Skinner is particularly proud that When You Left Me On That Boulevard, which had been totally crowd-funded (mainly with small donations), stood strong alongside well-funded films. “People really believed in our mission to represent the Asian-American experience in a warm, realistic way,” she says. “We heard from many young women that they relate to Ly’s character and have never seen themselves like that on the screen before.”
They may soon have the chance to follow Ly’s adventures even further, however; a full-length film featuring the character is currently in development.
Despite those successes, Skinner has no immediate plans to abandon Brooklyn in favor of Hollywood. In fact, she is currently working within the IDM program as the Manager of Technical Operations. “That means I research and install the technology, and manage facilities like our motion-capture studio,” she explains. “Back in Austin, I had been almost solely focused on audio, and now it’s a pleasure to contribute to the program that allowed me to study so many different forms of media, expanded my career, and provided me with the resources to explore themes that are important to me like autonomy, mental health, and the Asian American community.”