The latest documentary from the renowned filmmaker of the Thin Blue Line and Fog of War, Errol Morris, comes a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, jet-setting, an aristocratic Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US and incarcerated.
Having recently watched The Trial of the Chicago 7, on Netflix, I cannot say I was surprised to see Timothy Leary jailed for such a long period of time for such a small amount of marijuana possession. The underlying story was the Nixon Administration making an example of another high-profile individual who encouraged others to think and act “outside the box.” All in the name of law and order.
Morris bases his work in My Psychedelic Love Story on a four-tape interview Leary gave with a prison psychologist. In agreeing to be interviewed, Leary makes clear in the tapes he wanted the love of his life, Ms. Johanna Hardourt, to have custody of the tapes. But, according to Harcourt, her life centered on Leary and getting him his release from prison. Leary was undergoing hallucinogenic treatment while incarcerated. First from Harcourt smuggling in acid tabs in her belly button and through postage stamps on her letters sent through the US Postal Office.
Eventually, the government (the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency) threatened Leary with an ultimatum – publicly announce his cooperation to halt the LSD crisis or spend the remainder of his life in a psychiatric ward with a fried brain. His incarceration would soon include his ingestion of stronger and stronger doses of hallucinogens until he lost his mind. Leary agreed to cooperate, was released from prison in the Witness Protection Program, and was living in a small cabin in Idaho with no electricity. One night he and Harcourt had an argument. Leary left in the middle of the night and Harcourt never saw Leary again.
Only within the last few years when some of her belongings were sent to her did Harcourt listen to the interview tapes from 1974. Morris has his interracamera, as well as several other cameras, place at various angles and vantage points as Harcourt delivers a monologue of epic proportions. As Harcourt drifts from topic to topic Morris introduces still photographs, archival footage, and a clip from Alice in Wonderland as Harcourt is a compelling storyteller. During her two-month jet-setting romance with Leary, she recalls her conversations with Keith Richards and how she encouraged him to go to America and make albums with the Rolling Stones. The trips to Switzerland, Norway, France, and back again. Listening to her tell her tale coupled with Morris’ use of image inserts of colorful Tarot cards, I felt captivated and often wondered how could Harcourt have such a vivid recollection of her and Leary’s travels on the run from the law. Nevertheless, My Psychedelic Love Story is quite a tale. Highly recommended!
America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill, directed by Joseph Puleo and based on Rio Vitale’s book, St. Louis’s The Hill, was a walk down memory lane for me as a history buff with family ties to the area around The Hill, an Italian enclave and the last remaining Litlle Italy in the United States. America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill explores the deep historic roots of the iconic St. Louis neighborhood and the Italians who immigrated to The Hill in pursuit of the American Dream of owning a home and starting a family. This is a project I imagine the likes of Martin Scorcese making – only Marty tends to stick to his own neighborhood in New York City (Mean Streets, and The Oratorio). Nevertheless, when he sees this film, I hallucinate he’ll be beaming with Italian Pride. America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill which screened at the recent St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) is Joseph Puleo’s first feature and was the recipient of the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Cinema St. Louis Showcase. Rio Vitale is credited as the film’s Executive Producer.
With a smooth opening black screen coupled with non-diegetic chimes, the film meanders in the darkness before it reveals an interview with Msgr. Salvatore Polizzi. Msgr. Polizzi, a Roman Catholic priest and former associate pastor of The Hill neighborhood’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the late 1960s and early 1970s, begins speaking about the general fear many Americans experienced going into an Italian community, “And we were kind of happy there was a fear also.” The film transitioned as introduction titles rolled and the historical documentary was off and running informing the viewer of the setting with home videos and a still photograph of the most recognizable landmark in St. Louis, Missouri, The Gateway Arch. The editing and soundtrack are seamless and spot-on as both aspects enhanced the film’s narrative.
With America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill Puleo provides an eloquent treatment of the Italian immigrant coming to America and settling into the area and becoming a part of the social fabric. Puleo utilized a plethora of black and white photographs, newspaper articles as well as a multitude of interviews with a wide-ranging assortment of Hill residents and extended family members sharing their experiences, strength, and hope. Fr. Polizzi arrived at St. Ambrose Parish in the late 1960s immediately immersing himself in the community. The early 1970s was a time of great social and cultural upheaval and brought changes to the area – think of Travis Bickle’s opening voice-over monologue in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Fr. Polizzi and the men of The Hill neighborhood took matters into their own hands to ensure the neighborhood was kept intact and the darker elements were kept out. The women did the same (and more), to keep their Italian heritage alive and thriving. The nearby Shaw neighborhood by comparison (a war zone) didn’t fare so well.
For me, growing up in the Metro-East area of St. Louis and being a long-time St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan, my mother had friends on The Hill, notably Eleanor Berra Marfisi, a Berra family member, and author of The Hill: Its History – Its Recipes. Naturally, Mother informed me Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, a brilliant baseball player and manager, was from The Hill. Most baseball fans have heard of Yogi Berra and his Yogiisms as had I (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”). However, I wasn’t aware of his 10 World Series Championships and the three Most Valuable Player Awards he earned while playing baseball for the New York Yankees. I was probably more familiar with The Hill’s Peabody Award-winning, and recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting achievement, Joe Garagiola. Garagiola broke into the MLB with the 1946 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Team. Within a runtime of seventy minutes, Puleo covers all this and much more including how and why The Hill, named for its proximity to the highest point in St. Louis, is America’s last Little Italy today.
Viewing America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill brought back a lot of memories including the above mentioned. Others included learning about St. Ambrose from my dear friend Mike Cucchi (pronounced ˈko͝okē), a standout soccer player and local college soccer coach who made gossip fodder when he “finally moved off The Hill.” Niki Cusamano and Alisa Santangelo remain and are a part of the new generation of Italian-Americans who want to be a part of The Hill’s St. Louis Italian traditions. I can tell you whenever I visit family in St. Louis, I visit The Hill and Cunetto’s House of Pasta. Last visit my oldest brother Jim introduced me to Frank Cunetto, who is featured in the film as one of The Hill’s restaurateurs, and to our server at Cunetto’s, Vicki, a Hill resident of Sicilian heritage.
America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill TV premiere is scheduled for Monday, November 30th, 7 PM, with a second showing on December 6th, 4 PM on Nine Network PBS. DVD’s are also available in limited quantities on the film’s Facebook page. I’ve seen a lot of films this year and America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill sits at the top!
Anticipation is making me wait! For the last several weeks’ Oscar buzz has been swarming all over Mank, the David Fincher biographical drama revolving around the witty and often acerbic, Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter for one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane. The film stars Oscar-winning (Darkest Hour), Gary Oldman, as Mankiewicz, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. Mank is coming on December 4th, 2020, to Netflix. Getting hot and bothered due to my above-average risk of COVID-19, and not being able to attend a theatrical screening, I share this awesome, albeit all-too-brief, interview as it appeared on GoldenGlobes.com. with the always delightful, Amanda Seyfried. Enjoy! And, until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies.
Interview by Scott Orlin
November 23, 2020
Amanda Seyfried on “Mank”: “I have never seen myself dressed up that way.”
Amanda Seyfried was all set to start classes at Fordham University when she got the call. The then 18-year-old had been cast in an upcoming feature, Mean Girls, which required her to postpone her college career to co-star in the Tina Fey penned comedy. Needless to say, the decision proved inspired as the Allentown, Pennsylvania native has never looked back.
Pivotal roles in such TV series as Veronica Mars and Big Love led her to her first lead role in the 1999 musical Momma Mia! co-starring Meryl Streep. The movie, which used Abba songs to convey the character’s emotions, was a worldwide smash and would eventually produce a sequel 10 years later. In between her portrayals of Sophie, Seyfried secured parts in Jennifer’s Body, Sucker Punch, Ted, Letters to Juliet, and most recently, the psychological horror film You Should Have Left. Now the mother of two steps before the camera under the tutelage of acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher in the period drama Mank, that details the creation of the classic film Citizen Kane.
You are stepping into the shoes of actress Marion Davies, though popular in her time many people today don’t really know her. What insights did you gain about her in your research?
Marion Davies, while being a movie star and having some people know who she was, is such a mystery. There actually wasn’t a lot of research. I found one book that was an autobiography published posthumously of interviews she had done about ten years before her death. The way she remembers things, we are not really sure how clear they are. She had done a lot of movies but not many knew her back story. If you happened to have seen Citizen Kane, you could see that Susan Alexander was inspired by Marion. It is tough to figure out who she is. I do feel the screenwriter, Jack Fincher really captured who she really was more accurately. We get to see how she communicated with other people, especially by the letters she had written, and so we were able to capture the best of her.
She was quite confident. She knew who she was and operated through life that way.
She wasn’t a worrier. She was an extrovert and loved to have fun. That is absolutely the opposite of me. I like to have fun (laugh). I live like an introvert. I can socialize well but I would rather hole up on my farm. That is great but we share an essence in that she was very kind and just wanted to make the most of it. She liked to celebrate all the time and entertain people. She was cool and knew who she was. I think that is why she was so confident.
The look of the film was quite cool. These women from the 1940s style films were dressed regally and not a flaw on their face. How did you like capturing that visual?
I have never seen myself dressed up that way. Even looking in the mirror on set, it was awe-inspiring. It was kind of surreal. I do watch my movies but I am able to take myself out of it to a point. This viewing experience really struck me by the fact that it made me look like I was really living in that era. It felt like it at times. Not a lot of actors get that opportunity. It was very special. I don’t think I will ever get over it. I wasn’t CGI’d into something. I was there. It is not a trick. It is all so specific to technical details. It is only something Fincher can do.
Speaking of Fincher, how did he work with you? He is notorious for doing many takes.
He knew my character in and out; through his bones. The way he approached me was with the most amount of knowledge about where she was coming from for a specific scene or what she was thinking. It really helped shape my performance. He gave me such details about one little breath that helped me change the reaction to something. He wasn’t that specific but we were on the same ride. He was really connected to Marion in a way that I needed because there were so many things happening. He set these parameters and just led me down the path. He was extraordinary.
Speaking of extraordinary. Congratulations on your new baby.
New Collaboration with NBCUniversal to Support Underrepresented Filmmakers in Building Sustainable Careers
Los Angeles – Sundance Institute announced today the third class of the Momentum Fellowship, a full-year program of deep, customized creative and professional support for mid-career writers and directors from underrepresented communities who are poised to take the next step in their careers in fiction and documentary filmmaking.
The fellowship includes unrestricted grant funding, industry mentorship, professional coaching offered by Renee Freedman & Company supported by The Harnisch Foundation, writing workshops and industry meetings in Spring 2021, and bespoke year-round support from Sundance Institute staff. Additionally, the FilmTwo Fellowship has merged into the Momentum Fellowship, and NBCUniversal will provide an opportunity to select Momentum fellows working on fiction projects to participate in the Universal Directors Initiative. The two-year at-will initiative provides select participants access to NBCUniversal’s creative executives and producers to build career momentum and exposure to potential directing opportunities across Film, TV, and Streaming.
“We are thrilled to bring back the Momentum Fellowship for a third year, to support these visionary artists at such a critical moment both in their careers and in our culture at large,” said Karim Ahmad , Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute.
The Momentum Fellowship, which launched in 2018, evolved from the Women at Sundance Fellowship, a highly successful model that merited expansion for impact across a broader cohort of underrepresented communities.
Those eligible for this intersectional program include artists identifying as women, non-binary and/or transgender, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color, and artists with disabilities. Past recipients include Andrew Ahn, Linda Yvette Chávez, Christina Choe, Deborah Esquenazi, Rodney Evans, Penny Lane, Avril Z. Speaks, and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.
The Sundance Institute Outreach and Inclusion program is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Emerson Collective, Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, NBCUniversal, Ruderman Family Foundation, Critical Minded, Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee, Netflix, SAGindie, Asante Family Philanthropic Fund, Easterseals Disability Services, Rene Cruz—Esperanza Arts Foundation, Philip Fung—A3 Foundation, and Open Society Foundations.
Women at Sundance is made possible by leadership support from The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, and Adobe. Additional support is provided by Kimberly Steward, Paul, and Katy Drake Bettner, Barbara Bridges, Abigail Disney, and Pierre Hauser—Like a River Fund, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Rhianon Jones, Suzanne Lerner, Cristina Ljungberg, Susan Bay Nimoy, Ann Lovell, Zions Bank, Visionary Women, Gruber Family Foundation, Pat Mitchell and Scott Seydel, Brenda Robinson, and an anonymous donor.
Also announced today: NBCUniversal is partnering with the Institute on the final FilmTwo Fellowship. The recipients of the Sundance Institute | Universal FilmTwo Fellowship are: Ash Mayfair, Marcel Rasquin, and filmmaking team Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann.
The 2021 Momentum Fellows are:
Cristina Costantini is an Emmy award-winning director. Her latest documentary Mucho Mucho Amor, about famed Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released on Netflix in 2020. The film was nominated for a Critics Choice Award and won the Best Latinx Film award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). Her first feature film, Science Fair, told the story of nine high schoolers from around the world who set out to win the International Science and Engineering Fair. The film won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award in 2018 as well as the SXSW Audience Award, a Critics Choice Award for Best First Time Director, and an Emmy award. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, Cristina worked as an investigative journalist, covering immigration, detention centers, sex trafficking, and the opiate epidemic for ABC News, Univision, The Huffington Post, and Fusion. Her investigative work has been recognized with a GLAAD Media Award, National Association of Hispanic Journalists Awards, and an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award. The Wisconsin native is a Yale grad who now lives in California with her husband, Alfie, and their pug dog Harriet. She is a partner at Muck Media, a Los Angeles-based production company.
Natalie Erika James is a Japanese-Australian writer/director based in Melbourne, Australia. Her debut feature, Relic, is a psychological horror starring Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin, produced by Carver Films, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories and executive produced by the Russo Brothers’ Agbo Films. Relic premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was programmed in SXSW, BFI London Film Festival and Sitges Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Mention for Direction. The film was nominated for Best Original Feature Film at the 2019 Australian Writer’s Guild Awards and nominated for Best Direction in a Feature Film at the 2020 Australian Director’s Guild Awards. Natalie is currently developing Drum Wave, a Japanese folk horror with development support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Drum Wave was one of 14 projects selected for the project market at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao, taking home the Best Co-Production prize. Her 2018 proof-of-concept short for Drum Wave was nominated for Best Australian Short Film at the Sydney Film Festival and premiered internationally at Fantastic Fest. Natalie is signed to WME and directs commercials and music videos through Australian production company, Fiction.
Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya’s feature documentary, Coded Bias, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for best science documentary. She directed the season finale episode for the National Geographic television series Breakthrough, a series profiling trailblazing scientists transforming the future, Executive Produced by Ron Howard, broadcast globally in June 2017. Her debut feature film Catching the Sun, about the race for a clean energy future, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Catching the Sun released globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and was nominated for the Environmental Media Association Award for Best Documentary. Kantayya is a TED Fellow, a William J. Fulbright Scholar, and a finalist for the ABC Disney DGA Directing Program. She is an Associate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers on Fox’s On the Lot, a show by Steven Spielberg in search of Hollywood’s next great director.
Loira Limbal is an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is nuanced and revelatory for communities of color. She is the Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media. Firelight is committed to making films about pivotal movements and moments in the U.S. Firelight’s flagship program – the Documentary Lab – is a fellowship that provides mentorship, funding, and industry access to emerging filmmakers of color. Limbal’s current film, Through the Night is a feature documentary about a 24 hour daycare center. Through the Night was part of the 2019 Sundance Edit & Story Lab and was selected for world premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Her first film, Estilo Hip Hop, was a co-production of ITVS and aired on PBS in 2009. Additionally, she co-produces and helms the popular Brooklyn monthly #APartyCalledRosiePerez. Limbal received a B.A. in History from Brown University and is a graduate of the Third World Newsreel’s Film and Video Production Training Program. She is a Sundance Institute Fellow and a former Ford Foundation JustFilms/Rockwood Fellow. She lives in the Bronx with her two children.
Ekwa’s award-winning and critically acclaimed feature film Farewell Amor premiered in competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, garnering 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film won the Sundance Amazon Producer’s Award, and NYWIFT Directing Award amongst other distinctions, and was bought for distribution by IFC Films for North America, MUBI and Netflix for Worldwide. Previous to that, Ekwa has written & directed several shorts, most recently award-winning comedy Soko Sonko (The Market King), and Farewell Meu Amor starring Tony Award nominee Sahr Ngauja, and Nana Mensah. For Farewell Amor Ekwa was awarded the Jerome Foundation Grant, Tribeca All Access Fellowship, Cine Qua Non Lab Fellowship, IFP/No Borders, and Sundance Feature Film Development Fellowship, and is a 2020 BAFTA Breakthrough honoree. Ekwa has also written & directed several drama series for mainstream broadcasters in Kenya and MNET South Africa, including The Agency, MNET’s first-ever original hour-long Kenyan drama series. Ekwa has taught Screenwriting at The New School and Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, and is faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. One of Ekwa’s key goals as an artist is to transform our society’s images and relationships with African cultures, and to empower African filmmakers in telling their stories.
Edson Oda is a Japanese-Brazilian writer/director based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of São Paulo with a Bachelor’s in Advertising and completed his Master of Fine Arts in Film and Production at the University of Southern California. His first feature film Nine Days starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020 (U.S. Dramatic Competition), winning the Walt Salt Screenwriting Award. Oda also wrote, directed and supervised projects for Philips, Telefonica, Movistar, InBev, Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Nokia. He’s a Sundance Screenwriters Lab alumni and Latin Grammy-nominated director for best music video.
Jacqueline Olive is an independent filmmaker and immersive media producer with more than fifteen years of experience in journalism and film. Her debut feature documentary, Always in Season, examines the lingering impact of more than a century of lynching African Americans. Always in Season premiered in competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Moral Urgency. It has received numerous festival jury awards and other honors that include winner of the 2020 SIMA Documentary Jury Prize For Ethos and nominations for Best Writing from IDA Documentary Awards 2019 and the Spotlight Award from Cinema Eye Honors 2019. Always in Season broadcast on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series, Independent Lens, on February 24, 2020, and was the most viewed film of the season. Jackie also co-directed and co-produced the award-winning hour-long thesis film, Black to Our Roots, which broadcast on PBS WORLD in 2009. Jackie has received artist grants and industry funding from Sundance Institute, Ford Foundation, Firelight Media, Tribeca Film Institute, Independent Television Service (ITVS), Chicken & Egg Pictures, International Documentary Association, Kendeda Fund, Catapult Film Fund, Southern Documentary Fund, Alternate ROOTS, and more. She was recently awarded the Emerging Filmmakers of Color Award from International Documentary Association (IDA) and the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation and profiled one of Variety’s “10 Filmmakers To Watch.” A Southerner and Mississippi native, Jackie currently teaches film as Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Social Documentation MFA Program and happily makes films full-time.
Angel Kristi Williams is a filmmaker born and raised in West Baltimore, Maryland. She was 8 years old when her late father gave her a VHS camcorder which sparked her love for the medium. After studying visual art, photography and experimental film, Angel developed a voice that embraces silence and the power of the image to tell a story. Her feature directorial debut Really Love, produced by MACRO, was selected to play in narrative competition at SXSW and won the Special Jury Recognition for Acting for co-stars Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing. The film recently World Premiered as part of AFI Fest’s Special Presentations to much acclaim. Her previous film Charlotte won the short film jury awards at Atlanta and Sarasota Film Festivals. Angel is a 2014 Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow, where she was the recipient of the Sony Pictures Diversity Fellowship. She splits her time between Baltimore and Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA film program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She holds an MFA in Cinema Directing from Columbia College Chicago.
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 17, 2020, Los Angeles, CA — The American Film Institute (AFI) has appointed Syreeta N. Greene, Ed.D. as its new Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Greene holds a Doctor of Education with an emphasis in educational psychology and a Master of Social Work with an emphasis in community organizing, planning, and administration, both from the University of Southern California. Her previous roles include Director of the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center at Midwestern State University and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene will oversee diversity and inclusion for all of AFI’s programs.
“AFI’s community grows with the stellar addition of Syreeta Greene,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “As a person and as a professional, she embodies the culture we have been working toward and will catalyze change for an even stronger AFI.”
“I am excited about this unique opportunity and look forward to collaborating with the entire AFI community to develop a place and space for all who belong to the AFI family,” said Greene.
Greene is a higher education professional with 20 years of experience. She is committed to removing barriers to educational and career opportunities, as well as improving the overall engagement, success, and experiences of underrepresented and historically marginalized student populations. As a diversity, equity, and inclusion educator, she has designed research-based curriculums on a range of diversity, equity, and inclusion topics; produced guides, accompanying audio-visual aids, and participant materials; and developed organization-wide assessment tools to engage stakeholders concerning organizational climate, experience, and observations. Most recently, Greene was Dean, Division of Student Affairs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU). Founded in 1966, CDU is a minority-serving institution and a Historically Black Graduate Institute located in South Los Angeles with a student population of 900. Prior to CDU, Greene served as the Director of MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center (formerly Office of Equity, Inclusion & Multicultural Affairs) at Midwestern State University, Assistant Director for the Transfer and Veteran Student Program at University of Southern California (USC), and Assistant Director at USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. Greene has been a member of the National Association of Diversity Officers of Higher Education (NADOHE) since 2016.
About the American Film Institute (AFI)
Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present, and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media
at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
About the AFI Conservatory
The AFI Conservatory opened its doors in 1969 to an inaugural class that included Terrence Malick, Caleb Deschanel, and Paul Schrader. Today, the Conservatory offers a two-year MFA degree in six filmmaking disciplines: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design, and Screenwriting. In a collaborative production environment, AFI Fellows learn to master the art of storytelling, collectively creating up to 175 films a year. Fellows actively participate in the entire life cycle of a film, from development through production and exhibition.
Alumni of this elite program, ranging from modern masters to bold new voices defining the state of the art form, including Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison, and Wally Pfister, among others.
Blank, ‘19 Vanguard Awardee Lulu Wang in conversation on Sundance Collab on December 2, 2020
Los Angeles, CA — The nonprofit Sundance Institute announced today that Radha Blank will be honored with the 2020 Vanguard Award presented by Acura, given annually to an artist whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence. The award honors the artistic achievement of her feature film directorial debut The Forty-Year-Old Version, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was developed by Blank at the Institute’s Labs. The Institute invites fans and supporters of independent cinema to celebrate Radha with a special event on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, hosted on Sundance Collab, the community platform for creators from around the world. The celebration, free for all, will feature Octavia Spencer, who was an advisor to Blank at the Labs, and a conversation between Blank and 2019 Vanguard Award recipient Lulu Wang (The Farewell).
Radha was honored with the Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic after The Forty-Year-Old Version had its world premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Sundance support for the project included development at the Screenwriters Lab, Directors Lab, Creative Producing Summit, and Catalyst Forum, as part of the Institute’s programs that discover, support, and amplifies risk-taking and exciting independent artists across film, theatre, and media. Radha recently received 2 Gotham Award nominations, the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award and for Best Screenplay, and was also named by Variety as one of the 10 Directors to Watch in 2020.
The Forty-Year-Old Version is a hilariously candid and deeply personal debut from writer/director Radha Blank. Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. But when she foils what seems like her last shot at success, she’s left with no choice but to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime. The Forty-Year-Old Version follows Radha as she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater on a quest to find her true voice. A fresh addition to the New York City slice-of-life canon shot in lush black and white 35mm, Blank’s film is an ode to the unfulfilled, and those whose adversity gives them a one-of-a-kind story to tell. Acquired by Netflix out of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the film is currently available on Netflix.
Radha’s singular vision, unique voice, and comedic tone were immediately captivating,” said Sundance Feature Film Program Founding Director Michelle Satter. “We were proud to offer Rahda the time and space to grow her skills as a writer, director, and actor at our Labs. She developed the script with the support of enthusiastic advisors and her creative process was as gratifying to watch as getting to see the premiere at the most recent Sundance Film Festival. We are very excited to celebrate Radha on December 2, and honor her visionary talent with our 2020 Vanguard Award.”
“It’s a thrill to be acknowledged by my Sundance Institute family, who’ve been behind me from the very beginning of the journey for this film. They provided support of my vision, development of my voice in the screenwriting and directing labs – where I not only received vital mentorship but also cultivated a fellowship with other filmmakers who, just like the wonderful champions at Sundance, will be a cherished part of my life and career from here until forever. Thanks so much, Sundance for seeing me, and lifting me up for my first film. Receiving this award affirms my path as a director, and is one hell of a way to begin my career. Thank you!,” said Radha Blank.
Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award honors artists whose work and vision represent the highest level of breakthrough innovation, originality, and independent spirit, as fostered in the Institute’s Feature Film Program under Satter’s leadership over its 30-year history. Past Vanguard Award recipients include Benh Zeitlin (2012), Ryan Coogler (2013), Damien Chazelle (2014), Marielle Heller (2015), Nate Parker (2016), Dee Rees (2017), Boots Riley (2018), and Lulu Wang (2019). Acura has presented the award since 2015.
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discovering original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s annual documentary celebration in the nation’s capital, has opened submissions and announced the dates for the 2021 edition of the festival. Now in its 19th year, AFI DOCS will be held June 22-27, 2021. The festival program presents the very best of contemporary non-fiction filmmaking from across the globe, including world and international premieres and works by master and emerging filmmakers alike. The AFI Festivals team is committed to achieving the same high standard of programming and engagement that has defined AFI DOCS over the years while planning a virtual and/or hybrid in-person festival experience for 2021. Submissions for 2021 AFI DOCS are now being accepted at DOCS.AFI.com/submit-your-film/.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, AFI DOCS presented a successful virtual event with over 55 films from 11 countries – 61% directed by women – with a lineup that explored social and political issues in the US and across the world. A national audience of 20,000 attended the festival safely from home.
2020 program highlights included Special Presentation of Apple and A24’s award-winning film BOYS STATE, Ron Howard’s REBUILDING PARADISE, and world premieres of 9TO5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT, WHITE NOISE, and MIRACLE FISHING. The virtual experience also included over 50 intimate conversations with subjects from around the world such as Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa, who was convicted by a Manila court days before A THOUSAND CUTS screened at the festival, to a live Q&A of THE FIGHT with the ACLU’s lawyers focused on protecting civil rights and a call from President Carter during the live Q&A for Closing Night film JIMMY CARTER ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT.
Stay tuned for more on the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers, and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government!
ABOUT AFI DOCS
AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival historically held in Washington, DC. Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government. The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson and Frederick Wiseman. Now in its 19th year, the festival will be held June 22-27, 2021. Visit DOCS.AFI.com and connect on Twitter.com/AFIDOCS, Facebook.com/AFIDOCS, YouTube.com/AFI and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
About the American Film Institute (AFI) Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
(Source: Press release provided by AFI DOCS PR, Elizabeth Ward)
Sundance Institute yesterday debuted the 2021 teaser trailer – with a look back at some iconic discoveries from decades of the Festival, including snippets from films that Sundance has premiered over the years and testimony from the likes of Ava DuVernay, Aubrey Plaza, and Eva Longoria about how every year, we come together as a community to explore the boldest new independent work.
While you’re here check out the brand-new, dedicated online home, festival.sundance.org, alongside a countdown clock, a brief note from new Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, and a link to the all-new 2021 Festival Merch Store, we hope that the trailer will lead you — and all lovers of film, creativity, and storytelling — to get excited for the Festival!
Stay tuned for more on the upcoming 2021 Sundance Film Festival!
Los Angeles, CA (November 18, 2020)—Filmocracy, the world’s premier digital screening, distribution, and experience platform, has announced a unique Festival for these challenging times: The First Annual Filmocracy Fest. The juried festival begins on December 3rd and ends on December 6th. For its inaugural festival, Filmocracy presents a robust slate of 44 films from a dozen countries; numerous panels featuring industry professionals; a mentorship program from 25 festival ambassadors; live performances; script readings; cause-related partners; and dozens of virtual conversations with directors and industry talent. The all-digital festival kicks off with a special sneak preview screening of WHEN TODAY ENDS, directed by Michael Leoni, on December 3rd. Filmocracy will present films both as scheduled virtual screenings and as on-demand viewing.
The last nine months have turned the film festival community inside-out. Many festivals postponed or canceled, and others moved clumsily to off-the-shelf online platforms ill-served to their audiences and stakeholders, while the pressure grew to utilize film festivals as de facto distribution platforms.
All this while, technology company Filmocracy has honed the sophistication of its delivery platform, in essence creating virtual, navigable worlds for festivalgoers to experience in a unique, content-rich, entertaining way, coining the motto as they went along: Virtual Festivals Don’t Have to Suck. Festivals and markets including San Diego, Louisville, Paris, and most recently, AFM have adopted Filmocracy’s platform for their festivals. Filmocracy also has a library of titles for streaming that is constantly evolving and rotating with 2600 titles currently available.
When Filmocracy co-founder and CEO Paul Jun met veteran festival programmer, producer, and executive Jon Fitzgerald, they decided to merge their platform with Fitzgerald’s innovative, inclusive, and inspired “four-pillared” programming concept consisting of: Mentorship, Discovery, Networking, and Experience.
Jun says, “After hosting a number of large film events like the San Diego International Film Festival and the American Film Market, we’re extremely excited to use this platform for our homegrown festival. Filmocracy is all about helping filmmakers reach wider audiences through unique gamification and prizes while showcasing the most interesting film festivals in the world. Filmocracy Fest will be the crown jewel of our annual festival lineup.”
Filmocracy Fest represents the merging of a robust, innovative delivery platform that makes the absolute most of a three-dimensional digital experience with carefully curated film programming and interactive conversations with filmmakers, industry leaders, educators, and more. Virtual Q&A’s and conversations with select filmmakers follow each screening, and Filmocracy has assembled a group of 25 ambassadors, including Dan Harlow, Brian Newman, Mark Litwak, Jasper Grey, and Nick Reed to lead presentations.
Highlights of the festival include: five juried narrative and fifteen feature documentary features, including two world premieres and several award winners from other festivals; four special presentations (three of which are sneak previews) comprising two documentaries: ROCK CAMP, by Douglas Blush, and JOSÉ FELICIANO: BEHIND THIS GUITAR, by Frank Licari & Helen Murphy (featuring a live performance by Felciano himself), and two narratives, IZZY LION, THE UNSPUN HERO by Dan Lanigan and WHEN TODAY ENDS, by Michael Leoni; and five themed shorts programs—Futuristic Societies; Broken Pieces; Youth and Consequences; Diversity and Inclusion; and Inner Demons—44 films in all. The full selection of films is here:
Because it’s a three-dimensional digital presentation, a passholder can visit Filmocracy Fest at almost any time and be sure of finding something going on. In addition to scheduled screenings and films on demand, there are daily breakfasts, happy hours in the “saloon” and an “Impact Expo” to experience and explore impact-related filmmaking and their related causes, a subject near to Fitgzerald’s heart. He says, “As the film festival world continues this dramatic shift, we look forward to bringing together an amazing slate of films, a distinctive roster of Ambassadors and unique networking opportunities that will create memorable and productive experiences for all participants. I thank Filmocracy and Paul Jun for providing the platform to put forward an event of this mission and scope.” The festival will announce its full slate of panels, educational programs and other elements shortly.
Tickets go on sale Thursday, November 19th with multiple pass options. The All-Access VIP Pass costs $99.00 and includes entry to all festival screenings, events, panels and mentorship. Other ticketing options include the Industry Pass for $45 and Day Passes at $25 per day.
For Festival Director Jon Fitzgerald, Filmocracy Fest is the latest episode in a professional anthology that includes co-founding Slamdance, directing Santa Barbara, Naples, and AFI Festivals, with director/producer credits THE MILKY WAY, THE HIGHEST PASS and WARRIOR ONE, and authoring Filmmaking for Change.
Fitzgerald concludes, “Filmocracy Fest lives at the intersection of storytelling, committed to connecting creative talent, industry professionals and film fans in a brave new world. Founded on the basis of four key pillars (Discovery, Mentorship, Networking, Experience), the Festival will create opportunities for industry professionals and audiences to discover new voices.
“We will combine online screenings and Q&As with unique digital experiences, script readings, and networking opportunities. As the modern film festival experience is being reinvented, Filmocracy Fest endeavors to create an exciting and productive experience for filmmakers, industry, and audiences alike.”
Filmocracy is a film and festival streaming platform that rewards users for discovering amazing independent films. Users earn virtual popcorn for watching and rating movies, which can be spent in their shop to earn movie tickets, redeem gift cards, or attend virtual film festivals the host from around the world. Bringing a powerful combination of technologies together to enhance the virtual cinema and conference experience for filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences around the world. Filmocracy’s mission is to help all independent filmmakers reach wider audiences and grow their communities through storytelling.
Moderator Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen International
What’s it like engaging with buyers on pre-sales right now?
Kimberly Fox: “I see it as being quite binary. It’s either big, theatrical stuff…or it’s real small distributors trying to do a quick arbitrage…I don’t see the in-between for pre-sales at all.”
Nat McCormick: “The bigger the project, the easier it is when it comes to the pre-sale…though we have had success in sub $10m budget range if it’s the right formula, priced the right way…There is a pre-sale market if there are buyers that are literally just looking to buy content that they’re going to sell to television pain-free and VOD…”
Jeffrey Greenstein: “The biggest challenge is going to be making the film for the right price that the market can bear with consideration for whatever the means of distribution are. And if it’s a major theatrical title, we have to make sure that timing works for theaters to be around.”
How have your pre-sales slates shifted?
Nat McCormick: “We historically have always had about a 50/50 ratio, pre-sales versus finished film pickups. We do a good amount of volume, maybe about 15, sometimes even on the top end, 20 movies a year, and half of those will be pre-sales, and half of those will be finished films or ones we pick up once they’re in post. So, has that changed during the pandemic? Not so much, it’s kind of been the same formula for us.”
Kimberly Fox: “I don’t think it’s changed at all. We do a lot less movies a year, we do about 6, maybe 8 if we’re lucky, and we’re primarily pre-sales driven.”
Big pre-sales at this AFM?
Kimberly Fox: “The Things They Carried is a tremendous package, a really great script, based on the award-winning works of Tim O’Brien…with Tom Hardy, Stephan James, Tye Sheridan, Pete Davidson…it’s well budgeted, it’s sub $20m, and we’ve had a lot of heat on it this week…”
Jeffrey Greenstein: “We’ve introduced the new Has Fallen film…we’re hoping to shoot it end of 2021, which the good news is, for us, that means theatrically, end of 2022 soonest, where we have full confidence in theaters being back in action.”
Nat McCormick: “We do primarily movies in the sub $15m, and actually really the sub $10m space, just because they aren’t so contingent on a wide theatrical release…It can get tricky with these projects if you don’t have the right elements to pre-sell, and you’re going to get a lot of ‘wait-and-see’ feedback, especially if they’re a little bit more specialty…We have been successful in putting together high-end home entertainment titles. So we’ve sold out four Bruce Willis movies…and then we just sold out an Olivia Munn movie that is an action franchise, smaller, but she’s the lead. We have a Pierce Brosnan movie, a Morgan Freeman one…these types of actors, sub $10m budget, you can get the pre-sales that you need, and you vastly sell out the majority of the world to put the budgets together.”
What genres have the best chances in the pre-sale marketplace?
Nat McCormick: “Action is the go-to…because it just works everywhere. Comedy, horror, that’s more localized…or a romcom. I was having a meeting this morning with Mediaset in Spain…what they’re looking for is just Action, A-list, RomCom, A-list female, theatrical, or on a smaller level, they want Action, Adventure, Disaster…that’s kind of from a genre perspective…You have buyers in the specialty category…they want those award-winning, nomination-worthy films. When you’re making a drama, if you don’t get a major film festival and you don’t get the awards, or if you don’t have A-list cast at least, you’re essentially equity financing those movies and selling them when they’re finished.”
Kimberly Fox: [Regarding Drama] “Unless it fits squarely in that Oscar-worthy range, and if a territory doesn’t have that type of distributor, the specialty distributor, you’re not going to get that sale, so it’s a very fine needle to thread when you’re talking about a drama…It is all about the A-list, A-list, A-list.”
Jeffrey Greenstein: “I think action-comedies we found a lot of success in lately, especially amid the pandemic, people want to be distracted.”
How are indie buyers competing? And with streamers?
Jeffrey Greenstein: “Well, we always have a much more partnership-driven approach to everything we do. There’s such an interdependency in the marketplace with our buyers and their ability to have films, make money, and stay relevant. A lot of what we do is try to pair the streamers up with local partners, that way they can get the backing, we can all do the deal together and kind of everybody wins.”
Kimberly Fox: “We’re going to try and support the independents as much as we possibly can, and a lot of that is putting these partners together. When it comes to…‘we just want to buy the world,’ it becomes very difficult for our partners to compete…”
Nat McCormick: “There’s a little bit of a fallacy that you can just go sell your movie to Netflix. It’s hard to sell one of these movies worldwide…”
What are buyer convos like at the moment?
Kimberly Fox: “In this time, I think anybody that says even what’s going to happen tomorrow has no clue. We can’t predict at all what is going to happen…So we can have a date, and we can race towards it, but anything could go wrong, one test could throw us off…Right now, timing isn’t as crucial in my opinion. Usually you don’t want to start pre-selling too far out because people aren’t going to focus on it, but I think right now it doesn’t matter, I think it’s just the project that is the key.”
Any things on the roster?
Nat McCormick: “We start production next week in Venice, Italy on a Liev Schrieber, Josh Hutcherson movie, so that’s happening in Europe…Europe affords some more help and assistance when it comes to the insurance and bond type of situation that everyone’s navigating. We’ve been shooting movies this year, right now, in the States and just not using a bond. Essentially the financier is acting as the bond company in the event something goes wrong, and that’s why COVID protocols are important to have in place.”
How much did budget go up? (Re: Shooting in Bulgaria at Nu Boyana Studios with COVID protocols early on)
Jeffrey Greenstein: “I think it cost us about $400k extra on this budget, so I’d say we’re talking about 5 ½ – 6%. Two COVID tests a week for just about everyone on set was very costly…and obviously time, it takes more time to operate with these new protocols and people getting used to it.”
Nat McCormick: “Even just filming a promo, we had to have COVID protocols and a supervisor on set…even the cost of just the marketing materials we’re preparing has gone up.”
Jeffrey Greenstein: “I think that it comes down to the COVID insurance, right? I actually got COVID coverage on this film right before the pandemic and the shutdown…we found a policy and then the shutdown happened, and fortunately we didn’t need to call it in but we’ve seen quotes on COVID insurance which are incredibly expensive.”
Animation, is that something that you see having legs?
Nat McCormick: “There’s definitely a market for animation. The challenge is that there are some very dominant players, Disney, Pixar, doing animation, so competing against those is hard. We have an animated project that we’re doing right now, it’s called The Inventor, and it’s a stop-motion animation from the creator of Ratatouille and it’s Marion Cotillard and Daisy Ridley, and it’s a great project but it’s not going to be available for over two years from now. So the trick with pre-selling animation is that it’s very far off. There are two types of animation: there’s wide theatrical animation, with which you literally need to include a theatrical release in the US to be able to get to the $10m-$15m international presales, and then there’s the smaller animation market which is literally just cartoons for TV. So there’s a market for that. It’s tricky, it takes a while, but that’s something that certain territories really focus on like Russia, Eastern Europe…”