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2 ASU film school grads debut at Sundance Film Festival

Grand Jury Prize goes to film 'In the Summers' produced by ASU film alum Daniel Tantalean

Still from the movie In the Summers showing a dad laughing with two young daughters

Feature film "In the Summers" — which tells the story of two sisters and their relationship with their loving but volatile father during yearly summer visits in Las Cruces, New Mexico — won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Director Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. ASU film school graduate Daniel Tantalean was one of the film's producers. Movie still courtesy of Lexicon/Bluestone Entertainment/Exile Content Studio

February 26, 2024

The Sidney Poitier New American Film School is celebrating two alums who debuted films at the Sundance Film Festival, one of which won the festival’s coveted Grand Jury Prize.

Daniel Tantalean and Latavia Young were producers on feature film “In the Summers” and short film “Grace,” respectively, both of which debuted in late January in Park City, Utah. Tantalean’s touching family drama about two sisters and their relationship with their loving but volatile father during yearly summer visits in Las Cruces, New Mexico, won the top prize in the festival’s dramatic competition. Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, who wrote and directed the film, took home the festival’s top directing award.

"It is such an honor and a huge surprise to have won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Director Prize,” Tantalean said. “It shows what a true talent Alessandra Lacorazza is and how her vision is unwavering. It also shows the possibilities of what can happen when we invest in stories of our community and approach with sincerity.”

Portrait of Daniel Tantalean
Daniel Tantalean

“The reality is, no one wanted to really finance this movie and we had to dig deep as a community of Latinx American producers to fight and make noise to get this film made,” he said, adding that the film “creates a textured home and emotionally deep characters and shows Latinx Americans as human and helps us get beyond stories of immigrants and cartels.”

“This film is not only a symbol of our culture but our culture’s ability to persevere against all odds and exist in spaces that don’t truly want us,” Tantalean said.

Two additional ASU grads, Jennifer Winterbotham and Mayra Amaya, were part of the “In the Summers” creative team.

“As a student and still now, Daniel is incredibly generous with his time, expertise and commitment to making deep and lasting collaborations,” said Poitier Film School Associate Professor C. A. Griffith. “Then as now, he creates and helps others create films about people and communities that, for too long, have been undervalued and too often pathologized. Then as now, Daniel lifts up others whose voice and vision we need, and are so hungry for, in the film industry.”

Clinical Associate Professor Janaki Cedanna praised Tantalean’s passion for storytelling and filmcraft.

“His work during his time in school was focused around giving voice to the voiceless, and he continues to make personal and meaningful stories,” Cedanna said. “I am very proud to have known Dan during his time at ASU and have continued to stay in touch with him post-graduation. I am a better person through my association with him.”

Young was also fighting for representation at Sundance with short film “Grace,” written and directed by Natalie Jasmine Harris. The film, about a 1950s Southern teen questioning her sexuality on the eve of her baptism, tackles themes of race, sexuality and religion in a rare portrayal of Black girlhood. It screened in competition at Sundance. 

“It’s a really proud moment for me and a reminder that anything is possible if you simply put one foot in front of the other,” said Young.

After graduating in December 2018, Young worked as an intern on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” earned a master’s degree in arts leadership and cultural management from Colorado State University, and now works in film and TV production at Jax Media. 

“My time at ASU really cemented what I wanted from my life: community catalyzed by storytelling,” Young said.

Latavia Young poses for the camera beneath the marquee for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"
Latavia Young

“From the time she arrived at ASU, Latavia proved to be a determined student-leader,” said Associate Professor Jason Davids Scott, who praised Young’s willingness to speak up for herself and her colleagues, her role as president of the ASU Film Association and her win of the Producer of the Year Award.

“It's not at all surprising to see her succeed as a filmmaker who not only has stories to tell and a strong visual sensibility, but also as a collaborator and a ‘mover and shaker’ who can help other artists bring their work to life,” Scott said.

Both Tantalean and Young are proud of the stories they helped to tell in front of such a large audience. 

“It’s important to see films like this being amplified because it represents uncharted stories in so many facets. Most importantly, it represents me and validates feelings I’ve had, and that representation and validation multiplies,” Young said. “I came on to this project because it made me feel seen.

“When ‘In the Summers’ premiered at Sundance, the Latin and queer communities showed up,” Tantalean said. “We could feel the collective emotion and the final exhale of, we see ourselves on the screen. That is the true win."

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