‘The Farewell’ director Lulu Wang to receive Sundance Vanguard Award

Bring your Nai-Nai and tissues: “The Farewell” filmmaker Lulu Wang is to receive Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award at The Theatre at Ace Hotel DTLA on June 26.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Sundance Institute will fete “The Farewell” filmmaker Lulu Wang as the recipient of its 2019 Vanguard Award. The honor is slated for June 26 at the Los Angeles premiere of the acclaimed dramedy starring Awkwafina.

The screening and afterparty will be held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel DTLA as Sundance Institute’s summer fundraiser event. Tickets are on sale now with proceeds going to the organization’s programs “that discover, support and amplify risk-taking and exciting independent artists across film, theatre and media.”

Wang wrote and directed “The Farewell,” about a Chinese American woman named Billi (“Crazy Rich Asians” and “Oceans 8” breakout Awkwafina) whose family travels to China to visit her beloved grandmother, affectionately dubbed Nai-Nai, who has been diagnosed with cancer.


The twist: Nai-Nai has been kept in the dark about her own diagnosis. Billi, her parents and their extended relatives gather under the pretense of a wedding to say their goodbyes without revealing the truth to the family matriarch. Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo and a scene-stealing dog named Ellen also star.

A tearful premiere, a Sundance sale and the stranger-than-fiction family drama behind Lulu Wang’s ‘The Farewell’ »

At times emotional and hilarious, “The Farewell” is inspired by Wang’s own experience and made its world premiere in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It screened earlier this month as a special presentation at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Attendees would be well advised to bring tissues for the film, which hits theaters July 12 via distributor A24.

“We’re excited to celebrate the power of Lulu’s artistic vision in writing and directing ‘The Farewell,’” Michelle Satter, founding director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program said in a statement.

Previous recipients of the Vanguard Award include Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñàrritu, Glenn Close, Dee Rees, Marielle Heller, Damien Chazelle, Ryan Coogler and Boots Riley.

Awkwafina, left, and director Lulu Wang join forces on "The Farewell," in theaters July 12.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In previous years the Vanguard Award was given out during Sundance’s Next Fest, a summer festival fusing film and music held in Los Angeles. After going on hiatus last year, Next Fest remains on hold.

Since premiering in January, Wang and her film have captured hearts and garnered early Oscar buzz. Reviewing the film out of Park City, Times critic Justin Chang called it “funny, moving [and] sensitively wrought.” Strangers at Sundance kept coming up to Wang with tears in their eyes, an oft-repeated occurance throughout “The Farewell’s” festival run.

“As a Fellow at our 2017 FilmTwo Initiative for second-time feature filmmakers, we had the honor of supporting Lulu’s journey on this deeply personal film which engaged enthusiastic audiences at the recent Sundance Festival,” Satter said. “We’re thrilled to benchmark her journey with this year’s Vanguard Award, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Twitter: @jenyamato