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2 filmmakers with Bay Area ties will compete head-to-head at the Oscars

Two men at events: one in a gray suit and patterned shirt, the other in a casual outfit with a beanie, speaking into a microphone.
Leo Chiang and Sean Wang, both Taiwanese American filmmakers with Bay Area ties, are nominated for best documentary short category at the Academy Awards. | Source: Elyse Jankowski via Getty Images/Vivien Killilea via Getty Images for Acura

This year’s Academy Awards may have some Taiwanese moments, building on last year’s big win for the Asian American community as Everything Everywhere All at Once received multiple major awards.

Two Taiwanese American film directors, Leo Chiang and Sean Wang, both with strong ties to the San Francisco Bay Area, are nominated for the best documentary short category at this year's Academy Awards.

Chiang, who lived in San Francisco for over a decade before moving back to Taipei in 2017, directed the 19-minute "Island in Between." Co-published with the New York Times, the film focuses on Kinmen Island, which is under Taiwan's control but is geographically closer to mainland China.

A man holding a camera with a microphone attached, aiming it forward in a room with bookshelves.
Filmmaker Leo Chiang moved back to Taiwan in 2017 after living in San Francisco for over a decade. | Source: Courtesy Larsen Associates

Wang's 17-minute "Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (奶奶跟外婆)," a Chinese-language Disney+ film, offers an intimate look at the sisterhood between his paternal and maternal grandmothers, who live in the South Bay, where Wang was born and raised. Both grandmas speak Mandarin.

"It's incredible, and it makes me happy to have two Taiwanese films nominated," Chiang told The Standard in Mandarin. "The Oscars haven't had Taiwan stories for a long time."

The two films are drastically different. Chiang wanted to tell a Taiwan story to international audiences and decided to touch on one of the most sensitive geopolitical topics in Asia.

Wang's film is about family. At a San Francisco screening event in mid-February, Wang, a young and rising star in the film industry, said his documentary pays respect to the elders in his family, especially amid a surge of anti-Asian violence. He also emphasized that the story, told through a highly personal lens, can still resonate with many others.

Two elderly Asian women are smiling together, text "Nai Nai & Wai Po" with Chinese characters above.
Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (奶奶跟外婆) offers an intimate look at the sisterhood between director Sean Wang's paternal and maternal grandmothers. | Source: Courtesy Larsen Associates

"It's been a very surreal journey," Wang told the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily. "But at the end of the day, this movie starts at home, in the Bay Area, so it feels good to be back."

Chiang, Wang and Wang’s grandmas are expected to attend the award ceremony in March, though neither of the film directors imagined their works would be nominated, let alone win,  an Oscar.

Last year, the Asian American-focused Everything Everywhere All at Once made history by receiving multiple major awards, including Michelle Yeoh’s best actress win. Chiang’s work is also considered the first Taiwanese film to be nominated for the best documentary short.

"It’s already an honor that I can come this far," Chiang said. "I hope the public can see the diversity of Taiwanese and Chinese stories."