CAAM is thrilled to announce our 2023 Fellows: Jason Rhee, Andy Sarjahani, and Suja Thomas. They will each be paired with one of our accomplished 2023 Fellowship Mentors: Jason DaSilva, Deann Borshay Liem, and Farihah Zaman.
Launched in 2011, the CAAM Fellowship was revamped in 2019 to continue to nurture next generation Asian American documentary filmmakers — pairing them with a mentor who helps them develop their projects and introducing them to industry professionals from whom they gain invaluable insight on how to sustain and thrive in their careers.
Jason Rhee is a Korean American writer and director with a passion for telling stories centered around his childhood and the AAPI community. Jason was selected as a script intern and writer’s PA for Conan, as well as a writing intern and contributor for The Onion. With a background in screenwriting, comedy, and satire, he’s produced two one-woman shows with stand-up comedian Kellye Howard, which has been featured on ABC and described as “exposing admirable vulnerability and strength.” Jason directed a sold-out run of a third show with Kellye at the Steppenwolf Theater as part of its 2022 LookOut series. After three years as The Onion’s writer assistant, Jason is currently working on personal projects, including a documentary about the “Korean Magic Johnson” that has received support from Kartemquin DVID fellowship, CAAM, CNN/Film Independent, Southern Documentary Fund, and the Catapult Film Fund. He is a proud member of the Asian American Documentary Network and the Writers Guild of America East. Jason will be working with Deann Liem for their CAAM Fellowship.
Project: All American: The E.J. Lee Story
Synopsis: Before Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming, there was Eun Jung Lee. EJ Lee, a Louisiana legend nicknamed the “Korean Magic Johnson of NCAA women’s basketball,” has been overlooked her entire career. But finally, at the age of 60, EJ receives her first opportunity to become a college head coach and lead an underdog team in West Texas.
Andy Sarjahani is an Iranian-American documentary filmmaker and cinematographer raised in a working class community outside the Arkansas Ozarks. He is interested in people, our relationship to place and how that shapes our worldview. His current work focuses on masculinity, nuance within the American South, threats to democracy, and climate change adaptation. He holds an MS in Sustainable Agriculture/Food Systems and left academia in 2012 to tell stories with a camera. He worked on the critically acclaimed documentary Tower (dir Keith Maitland, 2016) and has worked as a documentary cinematographer for VICE, Al Jazeera, Story Syndicate, PBS. His personal work has been supported by The New Yorker, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), ITVS, DOC NYC, New Orleans Film Society, Southern Documentary Fund, Reel South, Arkansas PBS, Arkansas Humanities Council, Asian Doc Network, Video Consortium, and Antenna. His current feature documentary, IRANIAN HILLBILLY was a Southern Documentary Fund 2022 production grant recipient and the winner of New Orleans Film Festival 2022 South Pitch. He is a 2023 CAAM Fellow and 2023 PBS Wyncote Fellow. He regularly watches Thelma and Louise with his devil hound, June. Andy will be working with Mentor Farihah Zaman for their CAAM Fellowship.
Project: Iranian Hillbilly
Growing up in a working class community outside the Arkansas Ozarks, the son of a Muslim Iranian immigrant father and Southern Baptist mother from Alabama examines his identity evolution and attempts to make sense of the divide between his two worlds. Iranian Hillbilly asks “who are we allowed to be?”.
Suja Thomas was a fellow with the Kartemquin Films Diverse Voices in Docs program. With TED, she produced an animated video on the U.S. justice system—which has over 750,000 views. Suja is the narrator in her first feature documentary film about the justice system. Inspired by her experiences as a lawyer, she exposes injustices in the system that insiders accept every day. The film is supported by, among others, the Harnisch Foundation and the Dobkin Family Foundation. Suja is the Peer and Sarah Pedersen Professor of Law at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana and has been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Vanderbilt Law School. Her research on topics related to the documentary has been profiled in the New York Times, Slate, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Wall Street Journal.
She has spoken about these topics on the radio and television, including CNN. Her books on subjects related to the documentary have been published by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Suja will be working with Mentor Jason DaSilva for their CAAM Fellowship.
Lawyer-turned-filmmaker Suja Thomas pulls back the curtain on the U.S. justice system – where innocent people regularly plead guilty and civil rights cases are routinely dismissed. The film follows Suja’s often comedic journey across the country and globe as she uncovers the hypocrisy inherent in the system and listens to people the system has failed to serve.