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SFFILM Appoints Sundance Institute Veteran Anne Lai as New Executive Director

Lai will succeed Noah Cowan in leading the Bay Area-based film nonprofit.

Anne Lai

Anne Lai


SFFILM has finally found its new Executive Director in Anne Lai, who joins the Bay Area-based nonprofit after 12 years of leadership at Sundance Institute. Lai will succeed Noah Cowan, who stepped down from his post back in April 2019. At Sundance, Lai currently serves as Director of Creative Producing and Artist Support, and will continue in her role at the Institute until officially joining SFFILM this March.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be joining SFFILM, an organization I have long admired for its world class programs and curation,” said Lai. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to build upon a strong legacy and amplify not only the voices of its supported films and artists, but deepen the organization’s commitment to community and beyond through the festival, artist, and education programs.”

At Sundance Institute, Lai focused on discovering and nurturing emerging voices — typically indie producers, screenwriters, and directors on their first or second features. She launched the Institute’s first lab dedicated to producers, convened filmmakers at the annual Creative Producing Summit, and tailored support for storytellers coming out of Sundance’s year-round labs for directors, writers, and producers. She oversaw the Institute’s first Asian American Fellowship for screenwriters, and most recently set up the Talent Forum at the Sundance Film Festival, a three-day program that provides Institute-supported projects with access to industry, advocacy, and community.

It’s that vision for supporting new talent that will extend well to SFFILM’s own initiatives for bolstering emerging voices and projects, which include year-round exhibition, filmmaking grants, and artists’ residencies. Artists supported by Anne Lai throughout her career include “The Farewell” director Lulu Wang and “Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller, both of whom were honored in December at SFFILM’s awards gala fundraiser; as well as Boots Riley with “Sorry to Bother You,” Joe Talbot with “Last Black Man in San Francisco,” Eliza Hittman with “Beach Rats,” Ryan Coogler with “Fruitvale Station,” and Benh Zeitlin with “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Lai will join SFFILM as the organization prepares for the 63rd San Francisco International Film Festival, which launches April 8. SFFILM’s documentary showcase, Doc Stories, enters its sixth year this coming November, providing an expansive showcase for nonfiction filmmakers in the Bay Area.

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