When the short film “Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó” debuts on February 9 on Disney+, viewers are in for a treat. The story of two grandmothers who are in-laws living together is at once charming and hopeful. This film is a personal love letter from first generation Taiwanese-American director Sean Wang, who has been making films for 10 years, to his grandmothers. He turns a camera on his grandmas (his “Nǎi Nai” and “Wài Pó”), who are inseparable best friends and roommates in their 80s and 90s.
The dialogue is in Mandarin with English subtitles, and directed by Sean Wang, who is also a producer, along with Sam Davis (Academy Award®-winning short “Period. End of Sentence.”) and Emmy®-nominated Malcolm Pullinger. Joanna Natasegara serves as an Executive Producer (Academy Award®-winning short “White Helmets”).
Meeting Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó is a treat. They play the piano, read the newspaper, exercise in bed before they get up, We learn that one of them gets pleasure from looking through her phone book at her friend’s phone number, though most of her friends have passed away. They are on guard against falls and work hard to maintain their strength by gardening, watering, dancing and walking. They cook together and use a dish washer to clean the dishes and they watch TV.
The women are playful and joyful. They explain that when they were young, their lives were very difficult but now they are happy. They choose to make their days joyful. They are not afraid of death. They enjoy having their grandson visit and they are sad to see him leave, but hope he will return soon.
There is so much in this short film. As people age the issue of how to manage is not always clear. Is there money for a retirement community. If one ages in place, one needs companionship. What a beautiful solution these women have created.
After making its world premiere at SXSW — taking home the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award — the film went on to make the IDA shortlist and win Grand Jury Awards at AFI Fest and SIFF 2023, along with the Audience Award at The Wrap 2023 Shortlist Film Festival and Special Jury Recognition at LAAPFF 2023.
DÌDI, Sean’s feature film was an official selection at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival where it had its world premiere last month and won both the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast, and has been acquired by Focus Features. Additionally, Wang was selected to be part of the Project Advancement and Completion Fund, a collaboration between the Sundance Institute and The Walt Disney Company. This initiative provides resources and support to nine directors to advance their projects.
Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó is the first installment of the “People & Places” relaunch, Walt Disney’s Academy Award-winning documentary short film series from the 1950s and 1960s. The collection of short documentary films will feature a mix of up-and-coming and established filmmakers telling the real-life stories of extraordinary people and places from around the globe that embody the Disney ethos.
Sean Wang who enjoys spending time with his grandmothers realized how special their relationship and their situation is and wanted to capture that for himself and his family but also for others. The film is not your usual documentary and is likely to be cherished by those who see it.
Photos are courtesy of Even/Odd