China’s Biggest Film Company Pairs with Pasadena Foundation, Premieres Hollywood-Judged Short Films Starring Local Nonprofits

Published : Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | 6:36 AM

Big Heart

Local up-and-coming filmmakers are set to premiere Hollywood-judged films about select Pasadena nonprofits this Thursday at the “Big Heart Small Film” short film competition sponsored by Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation.

In January 2017, Alibaba Pictures and Pasadena Community Foundation announced a partnership to support nine local nonprofits by matching aspiring filmmakers to create short films featuring the vital, touching work of these organizations and to raise awareness of the vibrant philanthropic efforts which characterize the Pasadena community.

A team of A-list movie industry veterans, such as directors Steven Spielberg and John Lee Hancock, judged the films that tell the stories of Pasadena’s dedicated nonprofits. The winning finalists and their films will be announced and honored at the event.

“We are very pleased to showcase these powerful stories of ‘doing good’ in Pasadena,” explains Jennifer DeVoll, CEO of Pasadena Community Foundation. “At PCF, we’re a proud steward of charitable funds that support good work in this community. Our collaboration with Alibaba Pictures highlights the importance of supporting what you love, where you live. We look forward to celebrating the creativity of aspiring filmmakers and the incredible stories of Pasadena organizations.”

China-based Alibaba Pictures, whose U.S. headquarters are in Pasadena, is part of the Alibaba Group, one of the top 10 most valuable and biggest companies in the world. The Pictures Group itself is China’s largest film company, estimated to be worth over $10 billion.

The “Big Heart Small Film” short film competition is unique pairing that gives promising young filmmakers the opportunity to tell the stories of real issues, for real people in Pasadena and beyond.

“Alibaba believes in a culture of giving back to society and our local communities,” said Wei Zhang, President of Alibaba Pictures Group Limited. “Alibaba has launched or participated in many charitable projects, covering education, environment, health, anti-poverty, among others. When we named Pasadena as Alibaba Pictures’ North American headquarters, we wanted to give back to the community where we live and work. Our hope is that Big Heart Small Film inspires other individuals to find causes they are passionate about and to make an impact.”

Wei and her team at Alibaba Pictures recruited promising filmmakers who were either attending or recently graduated from some of the region’s top film schools such as the New York Film Academy, the American Film Institute, Art Center and more.

Over 50 filmmakers applied and only nine made it to the final round, according to Wei.

“It was really to kind of push the boundaries of how non-profits might think about how to tell their stories in the future and really bring this kind of huge influx of creativity of these young, capable filmmakers to create a new perspective,” explained DeVoll, whose organization manages over $70 million in charitable assets and works with individuals, families and organizations to establish philanthropic funds, invests and builds endowment funds and provides grants to local non-profits.

The participating Pasadena nonprofits include Arroyo’s & Foothills Conservancy, Five Acres, Pasadena Playhouse, AbilityFirst, Flintridge Center, Huntington Senior Care Network, Pasadena Police Activities League (PAL), Professional Child Development Associates, and Union Station Homeless Services.

“There was a very intentional goal of broad representation of all the types of work that are being done even though we couldn’t obviously service all the organizations,” said DeVoll.

Chinese filmmaker Xueru Tang brought her talents as a graduate of the famed New York Film Academy to the table as a producer for a short film that tells the story of Pasadena’s Five Acres, a 129 year-old adoption agency.

“We want to show that an adopted family is also like a normal family. So the parents, the kids they also have a normal life like everybody else. There’s no difference between an adoptive family and normal family. So we decide to go to the happy side,” explained Tang.

Tang’s short film titled “20,000 by 2020” tells a story that reflects Five Acres’ vision to provide 20,000 children in the greater Los Angeles area with a permanent family solution by 2020.

“The film sort of reflects what would someone’s life be like or what does a family really look like when it’s been created through the foster care, through the adoption process,” said Five Acres spokesperson Emily Peters.

“It really does capture the beauty of the fact that a family doesn’t have to be created through blood alone. And what would our community look like when we all jumped on board with the 20,000 by 2020 mission,” said Peters.

According to Peters, Five Acres worked closely with Tang and her film crew to create something that is unlike your typical advertisement seen on television.

“We don’t want it to seem like a commercial, we want to be able to find a way where we can dramatize it and convey that message and land on those emotional notes but also have a call to action,” said Peters.

“Opportunities to participate in events like the big heart, small film event competition, it really puts a spotlight on causes that might otherwise go unnoticed,” said Peters.

The competition was judged by a group of prominent entertainment industry leaders including directors, Steven Spielberg (“Jaws,” “Jurassic Park”); John Lee Hancock (“Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Founder”); and D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia,” “Eagle Eye”); producer, Don Hahn (“Beauty & the Beast”); actor and entrepreneur, Billy Zane (“Titanic”); President, Alibaba Pictures Group Limited, Wei Zhang; Head of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program, Denise Mann; Chairman and CEO of East West Bank, Dominic Ng.

“Pasadena has these walls of creative talents right here in town. So our goal is to also create an opportunity where they can come together to also do something related to their skills, but at the same time, give the students, the filmmakers, an opportunity to really showcase their work,” explained Wei about the panel of judges.

The filmmakers will not only be able to contribute to the missions of Pasadena’s nonprofits, but they also have a chance to have their films seen on a larger scale.

“One of the things we told the filmmakers is that if you participate in this, not only you’re using your skills to do something good to give back to the community, but at the same time this is a great way for you to showcase your creative talents to a group of very premium group of people in Hollywood and in the industry,” said Wei.

Alibaba Pictures has invested in the production of movies such as Ferry Man, Three Lives Three Worlds Ten Miles of Peach Blossom and Ao Jiao Yu Pian Jian. It has also invested in international film projects such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, and REAL starring popular Korean actor Kim Soo Hyun.

Alibaba Pictures has also partnered with Skydance Media to finance and produce the WWII-themed feature film Flying Tigers, for which renowned Hollywood screenwriter Randall Wallace is on board write the script. Meanwhile, it has an upcoming TV series and movie Swords of Legends 2.

“It’s kind of like a dream. I just don’t feel like it’s real,” said Tang.

Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation today will co-host Thursday, November 16 at the Huntington Library’s Rothenberg Hall located at 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino.

Tickets are $250 and can be purchased online at pasadenacf.org/big-heart-small-film-patron.

For more information about the Big Hearts Small Film event and competition, go to https://www.bigheartsmallfilm.org.