Startup Embassy

This captivating verité documentary follows three high-tech entrepreneurs who, like thousands of others worldwide, are pouring into Silicon Valley with visions of the triumphs of icons like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Their chances of success are minuscule and each of them suffers painful disappointments, gambles with financial ruin, and endures extended separations from family. This moving story is about the human cost of pursuing your dreams.

These visionaries often show up without any contacts or any ideas about what to do once they land. Many end up at one of the Valley’s hundreds of hacker houses, where each resident pays fifty dollars per night to share a bunk bed–outfitted room with seven other people in a suburban house. The film follows three such risk-takers: Carlos de la Lama-Noriega (Madrid), who founded Startup Embassy, a very special hacker house that offers an affordable, welcoming community to hopeful residents like Habibe Turfan (Istanbul) and Lucas Gozálvez (Seville).

  • Kenji Yamamoto
    Director
    Prod/Editor-Rebels With A Cause, Trust, Downside UP
  • Kenji Yamamoto
    Writer
    Editor-Rebels With A Cause, Trust, Downside UP
  • Nancy Kelly
    Writer
    Producer/Writer-Rebels With A Cause, Trust, Downside UP
  • Kenji Yamamoto
    Producer
    Co-Producer-Rebels With A Cause, Trust
  • Nancy Kelly
    Producer
    Producer/Writer-Rebels With A Cause, Trust, Downside UP
  • Carlos de la Lama-Noriega
    Key Cast
    "Himself"
  • Habibe Turfan
    Key Cast
    "Herself"
  • Lucas Gozálvez
    Key Cast
    "Himself"
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Technology, Business, Migrant, Entrepreneur
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 20 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    December 31, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    283,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Spain, Turkey, United States
  • Language:
    English, Spanish, Turkish
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital 2K
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
Director Biography - Kenji Yamamoto

Kenji Yamamoto (Director/Producer/DP/Editor) is a two-time Sundance Fellow. He co-founded Kelly+Yamamoto Productions with Nancy Kelly. He produced and edited the acclaimed documentary “Rebels with a Cause,” a humorous, inspirational celebration of wild places narrated by Academy Award winner Frances McDormand. Winner of the Audience Favorite Award at Mill Valley Film Festival, “Rebels with a Cause” aired on American Public Television. He produced and edited a trilogy about the transformative power of art: “Downside UP,” which aired domestically on “Independent Lens” and internationally on the ITVS series “True Stories: Life in the U.S.A.,” “Smitten,” which aired as a PBS Primetime Special and “Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives,” which aired on PBS “America ReFramed.” He edited and produced a narrative feature film, “Thousand Pieces of Gold,” starring Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper. After participating in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, “Gold” premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, then screened in film festivals worldwide, including the Deauville Festival of American Cinema and the Moscow International Film Festival. After a theatrical release in the top-twenty U.S. markets, “Gold” aired on PBS’s American Playhouse series, Film Four and around the world.

Independently of his production company, he edited Rebecca Parrish’s “Radical Grace.” After premiering at the Hot Docs Film Festival (Audience Favorite Award), “Grace” screened at the AFI Film Festival (Best of Fest). He edited Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s “New Muslim Cool,” which participated in the prestigious Sundance Documentary Edit and Story Lab. After premiering at the San Francisco International Film Festival, “Cool” screened at the Al Jazeera International Film Festival (Freedom Award), at IDFA, and aired on P.O.V.

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Director Statement

While editing and producing many independent documentaries, I have supported myself as a freelance editor for companies like Apple, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Oracle. In spring 2015, while editing videos for the launch of the Apple Watch, I found the 120-mile commute from my home to Apple headquarters in Silicon Valley unbearable, and through Airbnb, found a cheap place to stay in the heart of the valley – Carlos’ Startup Embassy. To my surprise, Startup Embassy is a high-tech United Nations, 85% of its residents are from other countries. I embedded myself there, sleeping in a bunk bed with the camera on my pillow so I wouldn’t miss anything. With this intimate access, I got a rare glimpse of this unique culture and filmed verité moments when each character felt uplifted and hopeful. And when their dreams collapsed, I filmed them trying again – saying with a rueful smile, “This is the entrepreneurial life.”

Since 2015 when I started filming at Startup Embassy, the world’s view of high-tech has changed. People once looked at the high-tech industry as a wonderful, magical advance into the future, an adventure into new realities, maybe the most significant change we will see in our lifetimes. It promised we would all be connected and that we would better understand the world. But the innovations that should have made the world a utopia may in fact be creating a much worse society in terms of surveillance, invasion of privacy, tech addiction and corruption of elections. Smart phones were wonderful, but now they are tracking everything we do. They are combined with artificial intelligence, which collects vast quantities of personal, private data that, while it cannot all be monitored at once, can be saved for unforeseen future uses – things that were once unimaginable.

In the context of this momentous reckoning, STARTUP EMBASSY unveils an unexpected and extraordinary story of entrepreneurs whose idealism is resolute.