Anita Gou found out she had two films going to Sundance this year via WeChat, while she was out on a road trip in Taiwan. It was a fitting way to find out for someone with such strong international connections. One was Lulu Wang’s Mandarin-language comedy The Farewell, which was snapped up by A24 in a splashy $6 million deal, and the other was Shia LaBeouf-starrer Honey Boy, which ended up being part of Amazon’s remarkable buying spree. But Gou wasn’t fazed; though she was only 28, it wasn’t her first rodeo—she had already taken two films to the festival: Netflix acquisition To the Bone in 2017 and Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation in 2018. That meant that all of her first four narrative features would debut in Park City—and that’s quite a start.
“I can’t say it was intentional,” Gou laughs. “Though I guess it was semi-intentional because Sundance is such an amazing platform for the filmmakers I gravitate towards. [Sundance director of programming] Kim Yutani was a great advocate of the movies this year, especially The Farewell.”
They showed the movies back-to-back, creating a flurry of buyer activity. “It was very exciting,” she recalls. “I was running between meetings on both movies, just trying to keep my head above water.”
She now splits her time between LA, Taiwan and China, but she was born in Singapore, and grew up between Taiwan, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Beijing, before going to film school in New York.
Gou’s late father and his two brothers are leading tech entrepreneurs in Taiwan. Her uncle Terry Gou, a billionaire tycoon, is founder and chairman of Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics and uncle Tai-Chiang Gou acquired a majority stake in Taiwan’s oldest film studio, the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC) in 2006. Terry Gou’s son, Jeff Gou, was first to dabble in the U.S. film industry, co-founding Cherry Sky Films in Los Angeles in 2001 (and Serenity Entertainment International in Taipei in 2005).
“Film was a personal thing between my father and I growing up,” she says. “One of our shared passions was going to the movies together when he had time out of his extremely busy work schedule. That planted the seed as a young kid.”
Given the nature of the family business, Gou didn’t stay in the same place for long. “I grew up in different countries and in international schools because of my father’s business expansion. It was a kind of United Nations upbringing; I was connected to a lot of different stories.”
Gou returned to Taiwan after film school when she learned that Martin Scorsese’s 2016 big-budget epic Silence would base itself at her family’s studio. “I became the main liaison for the production at the studio,” she recalls. The experience was rewarding but also sobering. “It was certainly a crash course for me in every aspect of the physical production process behind big-budget independent filmmaking.”
Alongside producing U.S. movies, Gou is charged with heading up international production growth for CMPC. “In the 1960s and ’70s, the studio was a media hub in the region,” she says. “It fostered leading directors such as Ang Lee and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Then competition grew from Hong Kong and China. But we still have a vast library and good infrastructure. We housed Silence, and Ang Lee returned to the studio to shoot parts of Life of Pi. I’m excited to be looking at how we can leverage our resources on projects that could play internationally as well as locally. We have some classic titles as well as some old Wuxia kung fu films. I’m looking at potential contemporary updates of these movies.”
In the U.S., Gou is onto her second label. She started out under the Foxtail banner but now produces under the Kindred Spirit moniker. She is working on a slate of film, TV and VR projects as well as securing a Chinese deal for The Farewell. Gou is a creative producer—she writes as well—but also invests her own capital into her projects.
How much would she be prepared to invest in a project? “I don’t set parameters. I could invest multiple millions. I haven’t done that yet but I will soon. There will also come a point when I want to bring on help in the company, but I want to stay nimble for now. I love being the master of my own ship.”
Her upcoming projects will, in part, reflect her own diversity, she says. There are projects with women directors and directors of color, and there are projects in different languages. “As a young, female, Asian producer there are a lot of times I feel like a unicorn. I often walk into a room and don’t see anyone like me. But I’ve embraced it. I try to look at it as a way to distinguish myself.
“Intersectionality is important to me. We’re identified today as an intersection of things—not only one thing. You should see other people in that way too. My background and identity are part of a trickle-down effect that helps directors to make different types of projects. Of course, I’m lucky to have had the support and resources to greenlight projects that are in step with my taste. I want projects that can travel beyond borders.”
Awkwafina-starrer The Farewell was a case in point. Lulu Wang’s well-reviewed feature is about a Chinese family that discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live, so they decide to keep her in the dark and schedule a wedding before she passes. “It was an experiment for me,” says Gou, “in terms of looking at the way cultural conversations can evolve and whether an American indie film can work in a foreign language. A movie like this, which is very culturally specific but also a universal story, proved that it can.”
There have been lessons along the way, however—Assassination Nation garnered major buzz at Sundance but that didn’t translate to the box office. That too is part of the learning process for Gou. “All of my films are personal,” she insists. “I’m learning about how you harness the best part of your film to continue a cultural conversation outside of the festival space. I’m trying to tackle that.”
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