About this project
From the director - Why this story? Why Pine Ridge?
I wasn't always a filmmaker. I studied Political Science in college and focused on American Politics. I have always been aware of the political history of Pine Ridge, but it was the growing news of teen suicide on both Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservation that brought me there.
Teen suicide is a very personal topic for me. I was born in Beijing, China, and was a teenage girl at a strange time when the Communist country first opened its door to the world in the 90s. New information poured in and everything I was told about my identity turned out to be lies. Out of confusion and frustration, teen suicide became a big problem. It is extremely dangerous to take away one’s culture and identity and try to replace it with something completely foreign. The Lakota teens today are experiencing a similar phenomenon that adds to the confusion they already experience while transitioning into adulthood. Our protagonist, Lee, is one of these teens. Although Lee’s journey isn’t easy, he realizes the solution isn’t to run away, but rather find acceptance so that he can live each coming day with hope.
I want this film to capture the grand and breathtaking quality of Pine Ridge and its landscape. I also want to create an intimate and subjective portrait of the people by working with a cast made majority of non-actors who have lived their entire lives on Pine Ridge. Since I first visited Pine Ridge three years ago, I have developed close relationships with many Lakota teens. Their personal stories inspired me to write this film. And now some of them will be acting in this film and will soon see themselves on the big screen. To let them tell their story has been a very personal and passionate journey for me. The screenplay has constantly been updated and rewritten because the whole process never stops being inspired and guided by the stories I've learned and the people I've met everyday on Pine Ridge. By placing intimate moments of a teenager’s growing pains in the middle of the stillness, spirituality and solitude of the land that made him who he is, I want to put the audience inside of Lee so they see, hear, and feel everything he does. I believe Lee’s journey can demystify how the world perceives life on Pine Ridge, and hopefully convey an empowering message to all teens that live Lee’s story every day.
Community Involvement - How we work?
For the past three years, we have been so humbled by the support from the Pine Ridge community. From high school proms to Thanksgiving dinners, from protests against White Clay to Crazy Horse rides, we have been warmly welcomed to the homes and lives of the Lakota people on Pine Ridge.
We have been given the opportunity to teach storytelling at local high schools and to conduct open calls and rehearsals through out the reservation. For our open calls we invited everyone to come. No acting experiences required and anyone can come in and tell us a little bit about themselves. The stories that were shared with us, the friendships and trust that were given to us really fueled our passion to make this film.
Chloé has been living on and off Pine Ridge since 2010 and she is determined to meet and to spend time with EVERYONE. After a while she earned the nickname, “Lakota girl with some Chinese last name”.
From the very first visit, she realized that telling their story would mean shaping the script to accurately portray the real lives of the teenagers and Lakota cast members. She takes in their insights and suggestions on dialogue, scenes, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, the slang they use. Chloé believes that details like these will help show the world a side of Pine Ridge that hasn't been seen before. To achieve that authenticity means a world to her and her team.
The production of our film will mobilize the Pine Ridge community. We will conduct acting workshops for anyone who came to audition and hold creative writing workshops for the local youth during pre-production.
We'll also provide production assistant and internship opportunities for teenagers interested in working in any area of production. All the extras in our film will be from Pine Ridge only.
After production, we'll provide a free screening to the residents at Pine Ridge’s own Nunpa theater.
We're also in discussions with Pine Ridge’s Oglala Lakota College and high schools about starting a summer film camp or workshop, beginning this summer. It turns out there is a lot of interest in acting and filmmaking, but no programs in place. In anticipation, Chloé has already begun pulling together a curriculum inspired by her studies at NYU's graduate film program — with the help of her professors, filmmaker friends, and donated equipment. She hopes to set up a permanent summer film program for Pine Ridge's youth with an on-going support from friends in the independent film industry.
Lee is a seventeen-year-old Lakota boy who idly spends his days in young love with his kind and ambitious girlfriend Aurelia, his nights carousing with his loyal and wayward best friend Evan, and avoiding anything to do with his broken home life. When his sister unexpectedly dies and his home is taken away from him, Lee is driven to keep his family together at all costs, but his risky actions have consequences that forever alter his most cherished relationships. Filled with vitality and unexpected humor, LEE is the story of one young man’s winding path to self-discovery.
Chloé Zhao - Writer/Director
Chloé Zhao is a New York based award-winning writer/director. She was raised in Beijing and England, received her BA in Political Science from Mt Holyoke College in Massachusetts and is currently a MFA thesis candidate at NYUʼs graduate film program. Her short film Daughters premiered at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and won Best Student Live Action Short at the Palm Springs International ShortFest. Chloé was selected to participate at the 2012 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab and the 2011 Film Independent Screenwriters Lab with her first feature, Lee. She was a recipient of the Ang Lee Scholarship for Filmmaking and the Time Warner Storytelling Fellowship.
Robbie Ryan - Director of Photography
Robbie Ryan was born in Ireland and is a member of the British Society of Cinematographers. His films including Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (Cannes Jury Prize/BAFTA Outstanding British Film), “Red Road” (Cannes Jury Prize), “Wuthering Heights”, “Wasp” (Academy Award), Ken Loach’s “Angels’ Share” (Cannes Jury Prize), Sarah Gavron’s “Brick Lane”, Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa”, and most recently Stephen Frears’ “Philomea”. Robbie won the "Golden Osella Award" at Venice Film Festival, "Bronze Frog Award" at Camerimage, Valladolid IFF 'Best Director of Photography' and London Film Museum Award for cinematography for 'Wuthering Heights'. He has also shot numerous commercials and has worked on music videos for a huge range of artists including Leona Lewis, Amy Winehouse, Kelis, James Blunt, Massive Attack, The Streets and Jarvis Cocker.
Fish Tank – Andrea Arnald
Wuthering Heights – Andrea Arnald
Ginger and Rosa – Sally Potter
Millionarie - Kelis feat. Andre 3000
You are beautiful - James Blunt
Angela C. Lee - Producer
Angela C. Lee is a Los Angeles based independent film producer. Angela is a Film Independent Fellow (2011 Producers Lab; 2011 & 2012 Fast Track Program), a recipient of the inaugural Center for Asian American Media Fellowship, and was recently selected to attend the 2012 Sundance Creative Producing Summit. Previously, Angela served as Director of Creative Affairs at Vox3 Films. She is currently in pre-production on her first feature film, Lee. Prior to her career in film, Angela was an Associate at Goldman Sachs. A native Chicagoan, Angela graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Economics.
Mollye Asher - Producer
Mollye Asher is a NYC based independent producer. Her projects have been awarded the Wasserman/King Award, Warner Brothers Grant, Columbus/Vague Award and the Fotokem Grant. Her feature debut Faith, Love and Whiskey, premiered at the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival where it won Best Cinematography. Recently, it was awarded Best Narrative at the 2012 Dallas International Film festival. Mollye is currently in production on the film, She’s Lost Control; Executive Produced by Academy Award nominee, Oren Moverman. And she is co-producer on Student Academy Award winner, Kim Spurlock’s debut feature, Whispering Giant. Mollye is a Film Independent Fast Track fellow and an alumni of NYU’s Graduate Film program.
Rene Haynes - Casting Director
Rene Haynes, is a two-time Emmy Nominee for the mini-series Into the West and the HBO feature Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, for which she also received the Artios Award for excellence in casting. During her career she has moved back and forth between large studio projects with industry icons such as Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick, to casting low budget first features for emerging filmmakers. Rene joined the casting team to find the Wolf Pack for the pop culture phenomenon Twilight Saga. She is currently casting the independent features LEE and Full Ride and is in prep to begin Sins of Our Father and the teen historic epic Deerslayer later this year.
Eléonore Hendricks - Street Casting Director
Eléonore is a noted actress and photographer who has also developed a well-regarded reputation “street” casting. Her casting work can be seen in the Safdie brothers‘ Pleasure of Being Robbed, Daddy Longlegs, and The Black Balloon as well as Sam Fleischner‘s feature film Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, premiering at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and for Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot. She cast subjects for the photographers Richard Kern, Joseph Szabo, Alec Soth and Bruce Weber and was the the acting coach for Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.
How will the money we raise be spent?
Camera package and lenses
Steadicam equipment and operator
Grip and electric package
Sound package and sound mixer
Equipment truck, car rentals and gas
Cast and crew travel and lodging
Risks and challenges
In making LEE, we will experience the inevitable challenges of the filmmaking process. On every film set, there are many elements that aren't entirely predictable. Equipment could malfunction or weather conditions could force us to adjust our shooting schedule. One of the biggest challenges in shooting a feature film on such a modest budget -- we can't go "over budget". We won't be able to add countless shooting days to our schedule, and we won't be able to re-shoot a scene unless it's absolutely necessary. However, all of our talented crew members are enthusiastic problem-solvers and have a lot of experience working on film sets of this size. And shooting with a small crew will allow us to move quickly. Our fantastic team is 100% committed to meeting all the challenges that may arise and producing a quality film.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter