Hoyyy! It’s Kuya P back again with an interview covering one of the great films coming out of the Tribeca Film Festival! I recently sat down for a conversation with Director, Dan Chen to discuss his documentary film, Accepted that will make its world premiere at the Festival! Check out our conversation and then head over to the Tribeca Film Festival website to find out how you can view the film from wherever you may be!
Photo Credit: Arielle Zakowski
Dan Chen, Director / Producer / Cinematographer of Accepted
Dan is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker. He grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, and graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, focusing on directing and cinematography. His work has been featured at Tribeca Film Festival and Slamdance Film Festival, and online through Vimeo Staff Picks, Short of the Week, The Verge, and NBC Asian America. He’s interested in stories about outsiders, fallibility, and coming of age.
By Dan Chen
When I heard about T.M. Landry in early 2018, what struck me was how the school flouted expectations. The students were mostly Black, the school was a warehouse in rural Louisiana, and the seniors had just been accepted into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other prestigious universities. The joy in those viral acceptance videos was visceral, real, and communal.
I’m Chinese American. I don’t share the experience of being Black in America. But I know what it feels like to be underestimated by society, to resist the stereotypes put upon you, and to work for an acceptance that’s elusive. If the students and teachers at T.M. Landry had discovered a way to thrive despite the inequity in America’s education system, that would be a story worth sharing. My producers and I embarked on our first trip to the school in March 2018, and after we met the students of the upcoming Class of 2019, we decided to help tell the story of their senior year, as they strived for their own college acceptances.
The year did not go how anyone expected. Instead of coming upon an antidote for inequity, we were confronted with challenging questions. In an unjust society, what is the cost of success? For under resourced communities, what opportunities are available for self-determination? For a young person coming of age, how do you discover and accept yourself?
I wanted to capture the feeling of being a student attending the school, opting to film mostly handheld, as if the camera belonged to one of the students in the Class of 2019. Over the course of the year we followed almost ten students and interviewed dozens of members of the community. I’m thankful for their participation, especially when the situation at the school became fraught and complicated. Everything we learned informed the ethos of the film as it took shape in the editing room, where we focused the story through the perspective of four students, and discovered that all of the nuance and complexity we aimed to express could be found in their lived experiences.
I hope this film helps viewers question the comfortable lies we tell ourselves about our society. And I hope that audiences will find inspiration in a new generation of students that see the world with startling clarity.
Isaac, a senior at T.M. Landry College Prep, wears his Stanford sweater as he prepares for the upcoming ACT exam. Photo Credit: Dan Chen
Four high school seniors in rural Louisiana attend T.M. Landry, an unconventional K-12 school housed in a sparse warehouse made famous for sending its graduates to elite universities like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. The students aim to meet the intense expectations of Mike Landry, the imposing founder of the school who charts a relentless course towards their college dreams. When the New York Times publishes an expose on Landry’s controversial methods, the school buckles under the scrutiny. Each senior is left to contend with uncomfortable truths about their school and the college admissions system, and decide for themselves what they are willing to do to be accepted.
Accepted offers a unique and intriguing look at the world of Ivy League college admissions and the true cost of getting that first foothold into elite American society. In his first documentary feature, director Dan Chen grounds a broader look at the inequities in the American education system with unbelievable access to T.M. Landry and the deeply personal stories of four dynamic students looking to overcome countless obstacles to achieve their dreams.
Alicia, a senior at T.M. Landry College Prep, goes through her book collection. Photo Credit: Daphne Qin Wu
Saturday, June 12th @ 2:00PM ET – Brooklyn Commons at MetroTech
Sunday, June 13th @ 6:00PM ET – Tribeca at Home
Tribeca Website: https://tribecafilm.com/films/accepted-2021
Mike Landry, the founder of T.M. Landry College Prep, surveys his students during the daily morning meeting. Photo Credit: Dan Chen