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.
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.
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!
Ten Emerging Artists Selected from Short Film Submissions on
Winning Short Films To Be Screened As Part of
Celebration of Sundance Film Festival: London
Los Angeles, CA – Sundance Institute and Adobe announced the class of 2020 Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows today, chosen from a global pool of more than 1,600 applicants. Hailing from a broad geography, from Nashville to Hong Kong, and rooted in a diverse array of creative disciplines from documentary filmmaking to narrative shorts, these 10 emerging artists selected will engage with a year of mentorship and support from Sundance Institute and Sundance Ignite founding partner Adobe.
Fellows were selected from a one-to-fifteen minute short film submitted to the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Short Film Challenge, hosted for the first time on Sundance Co//ab, the Institute’s digital community platform. The ten Fellows were selected for their originality of voice, creativity in storytelling, and rigor of their craft.
The Fellowship is artist centric, with a goal of advancing each fellow to their next step in their filmmaking journey, both artistically and professionally. The Fellows will kick off their fellowship year with the Sundance Ignite Digital Filmmakers Lab, which began on Monday, July 13 on Sundance Co//ab and continues through the end of the week. The week-long lab will include sessions to prepare Fellows for the year ahead, from presenting your artistic self, pitching your project to case studies and goal setting.
Later this summer, nine of the Fellows’ winning short films will be screened as part of Celebration of Sundance Film Festival: London, made available to all Festival passholders digitally on demand throughout the UK. Adobe is the Presenting Partner of Celebration of Sundance Film Festival: London, which runs August 7–9; more details are available at london.sundance.org.
In addition to receiving a complimentary year-long membership to Co//ab and a two-year Adobe Creative Cloud membership, each fellow will be paired with a Sundance Institute alumni mentor. This year’s mentors are Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), Patricia Cordoso (Real Women Have Curves, Queen Sugar), Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral), Lacey Schwartz (Little White Lie), Hannah Pearl Utt (Before You Know It), Malik Vitthal (Imperial Dreams, Body Cam) and Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated, The Innocence Files).
“We’re proud to support these ten emerging artists, who are creating bold new work that brings their stories, voice, and passion to life,” said Meredith Lavitt, Director, Sundance Ignite. “Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows aren’t tomorrow’s filmmakers, they’re today’s filmmakers – and we’re thrilled to welcome them into the Sundance family.”
“At Adobe, our mission is to enable creativity for all. We believe that everyone has a story to tell and that those stories deserve to be heard. When we elevate a broader and more diverse set of voices we can create change within ourselves, our communities and the world,” said John Travis, VP Brand Marketing, Adobe. “We are so proud to partner with Sundance in the Sundance Ignite program and look forward to working with this year’s fellows to help bring their stories, creativity, and perspectives to the world.”
Sundance Ignite is supported by Adobe; Arison Arts Foundation; The Birth of a Nation Fellowship, founded by the creative and producing teams of the film; Southwest Airlines; East West Bank; and Jason Michael Berman.
The 2020 Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows are:
Jacob Anderson is a Kentucky-based writer, director, and cinematographer. He attended Western Kentucky University and graduated with a degree in Filmmaking. Post-graduation, Jacob has become a working cinematographer based in the Nashville, Tennessee area. He has begun writing and directing his own projects that will explore the boundaries of genre within the American South. Recently, Jacob has begun writing his first feature film and next short that will explore intimate stories about people against a backdrop of the American South. Once established, his goal is to bring film opportunities to other budding southern filmmakers in the future.
Sasha Argirov is a Canadian writer/director based in Vancouver. His short film, Personals, is soon to begin its festival tour. He is developing his debut feature about an anxious college student who lures his girlfriend as a vessel for his mother’s ghost. He likes making films about lonely people in unusual situations.
Giselle Bonilla is a mediocre bartender desperately pursuing a back-up career as a filmmaker. She graduated with Honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film & Television Production. Her thesis film received the Horizon Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and went on to compete in various festivals across the country. She is currently developing her first feature, and aims to shoot her proof of concept under the guidance of the Ignite Fellowship. Giselle is currently based in Los Angeles.
Aurora Brachman is a documentary filmmaker and MFA student in Documentary Film at Stanford University. She is also the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship in Filmmaking to the pacific island nation of Kiribati where she directed the docuseries Between the Tides. She is currently working on a documentary about Club Quarantine, a virtual queer dance party where hundreds of people from around the world gather each night during the Covid-19 lockdowns. She primarily makes work about the experiences of various marginalized communities and is committed to collaborative and ethical storytelling.
Natalie A. Chao is a filmmaker and visual artist who completed her B.A degree in Film Production at USC in Los Angeles, with a focus in cinematography. Born, raised and currently based in Hong Kong, she is interested in bridging the gap between realism and poetry in order to tell stories through a more engaged and intentional gaze, one that can map out our memories, not draw lines between camera and subject, identity and politics.
In the context of Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis, she questions whether a collective gaze is possible, and is engaging with what it means to create a living documentary, one that seeks to do more than reducing ourselves to numbers on a statistic, politicised events on a historical timeline. Why do we want to remember? Who is the archive for? These are the questions that shape the experience of filming her first feature-length documentary.
Mariales Diaz is a queer, gender expansive Dominican immigrant raised in Brooklyn. They create documentaries and narratives focused on exploring human relationships, the conceptualization of the “American Dream,” and intersectionalities within identity. Their storytellings center Black and brown trans and gender expansive folxs. Mariales is a graduate of the SUNY Purchase Film Conservatory, a Fall 2019 Creative Culture Valentine and Clark Emerging Artist Fellow at the Jacob Burns Film Center, and a 2019 NeXtDoc Fellow. They are currently working on a second short film with Creative Culture, exploring the story of two enamored teenage girls seeking revenge on one of their assaulters.
Kourtney Jackson is a Toronto-based writer and filmmaker. She won the 2018 Emerging Director’s Spotlight Award at the Regent Park Film Festival for her experimental documentary pitch for Wash Day, which later premiered at TIFF Next Wave and recently screened at Breakthroughs Film Festival. Ever contemplative of the cosmos, Kourtney aims to tell unexpected stories grounded in Afrofuturism, absurdism, and joy. These days, you can find her in her room shamelessly eating out of a carton of Chapman’s vanilla ice-cream, as well as writing a short film about loving friendship, sinister betrayal, and the poisonous but delicious fruit that is ackee.
JoeBill Muñoz is a Mexican-American filmmaker. His directorial debut, Follow the Sun, chronicles the lives of migrants making their way across Mexico. It screened in festivals across the country and was nominated for a student award by the IDA. He is currently an associate producer on a feature about global food, water, and land issues at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and the producer-writer on an independent feature about the California prison hunger strikes against indefinite solitary confinement. He has worked for Frontline, the Investigative Reporting Program, and The Associated Press.
Zenzele Ojore Zenzele Ojore is a filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist from Houston, Texas based in New York City. Her award-winning short films have played at festivals including Sundance (Horizon Award) and SXSW. She received her undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2018, and is presently a dean fellow in the graduate film program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Zenzele is currently writing the feature length version of her short The South is My Sister’s Skin, as well as developing an upcoming short film that she intends to shoot next summer in Louisiana.
Sean Wang is a filmmaker from Fremont, CA, a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and a Google Creative Lab 5 alum. His work has been viewed millions of times online and has aired on primetime television. Most recently, Sean contributed sequences for the feature film, Summertime, which premiered in the NEXT category at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and his short film, Still Here (還在), was featured by the American Film Institute, Short of the Week, and Vimeo Staff Picks.
He is currently working on two short films: one about a young couple’s last night together in New York City and another about growing up told through the pages of a middle school yearbook. He is also developing his first feature film: a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 2008.
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, 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, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. 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.
Los Angeles, CA — Five Indigenous filmmakers have been chosen to participate in the 2020 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab, reimagined and expressed digitally this year on Sundance Co//ab. The Lab is at the core of the Institute’s commitment to supporting Indigenous storytellers since its founding.
At the Native Filmmakers Lab (June 29–July 10), Fellows will workshop scripts of their short films under the expert creative mentorship of Indigenous Program alumni and other established filmmaking professionals serving as Advisors along with the Sundance Indigenous Program staff, led by Indigenous Program Director N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache). The Lab encourages Fellows to hone their storytelling and craft skills in a hands-on and supportive environment. Following the Lab, Fellows will receive a year-long continuum of support.
“We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting our annual Native Filmmakers Lab in an exciting digital format on our Co//ab platform that allows for virtual participation by our Lab Fellows from where they are socially distancing,” said Runningwater. “Given this extremely challenging time as we struggle with the impact of Covid-19 in our homelands, it is important to organize a safe space for Indigenous storytellers to come together to develop and share their work.”
“The Indigenous Program will continue the tradition of providing mentorship and support to our Native Lab Fellows as they carry on with their work,” said Runningwater. “As Indigenous peoples our connection to each other and our communities is strong. Drawing upon our ancestral strengths of adaptation and resilience we plan to make this year’s Lab a great success and provide the inspiration and support that our Lab Fellows need to bring their films to fruition and to audiences around the world.”
The filmmakers serving as Creative Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include: Kerry Warkia (Papua New Guinean) (Vai, Waru, The Legend of Baron To’a), Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road, Premature), Elegance Bratton (Walk for Me, Pier Kids), Cherien Dabis (Amreeka, May in the Summer), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sámi) (Bihttoš, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) and Joan Tewkesbury (Thieves Like Us, Nashville). Peer Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné Nations) (I am Thy Weapon, Raven), and Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga/Wynadotte Nations) (Little Chief).
Artists and projects selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:
Rob Fatal (Mestiza/o/x, Ute, Rarámuri, Pueblo) / Can Digital Genizaros Remember the Taste of Churros?: In near future Oakland, California a new invention allows people to upload their consciousness to the Internet as a way to achieve immortality and pay off debt. In the societal panic that follows, 2, Two Spirit best friends debate whether or not to follow thousands of people into the digital unknown in this philosophical, sci-fi dramedy. Rob Fatal [they/them] is a Two Spirit Mestiza/o/x filmmaker, new media artist and storyteller exploring decolonial aesthetics. Working in multiple analog and digital mediums allows Fatal to reimagine their own multi-lineage indigenous storytelling tradition for our current time which Fatal refers to as the “indigenous post-apocalypse”. Fatal is often drawn to mediums like filmmaking and performance which bring together community and people to achieve a desired vision or work. Fatal finds community and culture to be their greatest artistic inspiration. To create with the collective minds of unique individuals is a practice that brings to them a great spiritual catharsis; a feeling of joy and power tied to the realization of what people working together can accomplish when in harmony: a home, a shared reality, justice, and healing. Fatal’s work has been screened internationally at the British Film Institute Flare Festival, Fringe! Queer Film & Art Festival in London, Vancouver Antimatter Media Arts Festival, Frameline SF LGBTQ Film Festival, Outsider Fest Austin, Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and the Broad Museum. Fatal’s films are distributed by Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center.
Keanu Jones (Navajo) / Ownership: An oppressed silversmith enters the ruthless business world to unveil the bitter reality of the Native American jewelry markets in the surrounding border-towns.
Keanu Jones is Mexican Clan born for Big Water Clan and is from Grand Falls, Arizona. He is a member of the Navajo Nation. Surrounded by family and the way of living on the Navajo Nation, his artistic identity has been greatly informed by his upbringing. This will continue to be reflected in the narratives he wants to explore.
In 2015, he was recognized with 15 other young filmmakers at the Student White House Film Festival. Then in 2018, he was recognized for his short film at the Navajo Film Festival. Keanu graduated from Navajo Technical University with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and New Media.
Amanda Strong (Métis/Michif) / Wheetago War: In a world turned to ice, the People have survived the Wheetago for two lifetimes. Wheetago War is the story of Dove, a young gender shifter, who regains medicinal knowledge to defeat the Wheetago.
Amanda Strong is a Michif (Métis, Cree, Chippewa, Assiniboine, European and Polish Ancestry) interdisciplinary artist with a focus on filmmaking, stop motion animations and media art. She is currently living and working on unceded Coast Salish territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Strong received a BAA in Interpretative Illustration and a Diploma in Applied Photography from the Sheridan Institute. With a cross-discipline focus, common themes of her work are reclamation of Indigenous stories, lineage, language and culture. Strong is the Owner/Director/Producer of Spotted Fawn Productions Inc. (SFP). Under her direction, SFP utilizes a multi-layered approach and unconventional methods that are centered in collaboration on all aspects of their work.
Strong’s work is fiercely process-driven and takes form in various mediums such as: stop-motion, 2D/3D animation, Virtual Reality, gallery/museum installations, published books and community-activated projects.
She was selected by renowned filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin to win the Clyde Gilmour Technicolour Award. In 2017 she won the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Mid Career Artists award, the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Emerging Film and Media Artist in 2016 and, in 2013, Amanda was the recipient of K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Film and Video. Her films have screened across the globe.
Fellowship for Indigenous Canadian film artist made possible with support from the Indigenous Screen Office.
Artists-in-Residence selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:
Cole Forrest (Nipissing First Nation) is an Ojibwe artist based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Nipissing First Nation, he strives for compassion and acceptance within the arts. Cole trained and honed his craft at the “Big Medicine Studio” while working with the group Aanmitaagzi – and has written, directed, and acted in various student/independent short films, theatre pieces, and a musical. Cole’s films have been screened at various film festivals including ImagineNATIVE and Toronto Queer Film Festival, and he is a recipient of the Ken and Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship and of the James Bartleman Indigenous Youth Creative Writing Award. Cole is the 2019 recipient of the ImagineNATIVE + LIFT Film Mentorship, and a graduate of the Video Design and Production program at George Brown College – and is currently a Grants Assistant at the Toronto Arts Council. He is grateful to represent his community in all of his artistic pursuits.
Petyr Xyst (Laguna Pueblo) is an Emmy-nominated American human from Albuquerque, NM whose work focuses on themes of class, institutional failures and the people who cope with them, and the strangeness of coming of age in the 21st century. His work spans genres and formats, exploring comedy, drama, and experimental forms in short film, music video, and new media. He’s been featured at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, NATAS NW, AAHSFF, on PBS, and others. In his quarantine time, he likes to read non-fiction and stare at the wall for an indefinite period. He’s also a Sundance Institute Full Circle alum and a third-year student at the University of New Mexico.
Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program
The Indigenous Program champions Indigenous independent storytelling artists through residency Labs, Fellowships, public programming, and a year-round continuum of creative, financial, and tactical support. The Program conducts outreach and education to identify a new generation of Indigenous voices, connecting them with opportunities to develop their storytelling projects, and bringing them and their work back to Indigenous lands. At its core, the Program seeks to inspire self-determination among Indigenous filmmakers and communities by centering Indigenous people in telling their own stories.
The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Oneida Indian Nation, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Nia Tero Foundation, SAGindie, Indigenous Screen Office, New Zealand Film Commission, Jenifer and Jeffrey Westphal, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, and an anonymous donor.
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. 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 The Farewell, Late Night, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter’s Bone, Dear White People, Little Miss Sunshine, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, State of the Union, Indecent, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Sylvie’s Love, directed by Eugene Ash, starring Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, and featuring Eva Longoria, screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The Douglas Sirk-like melodramatic film opens with luscious non-diegetic jazz music as the audience is quickly introduced to the soulful sounds of Nancy Wilson. In a non-linear narrative technique, the audience is taken back with a text title five years prior to Harlem in the summer of 1957 at Mr. Jay’s Records. Here the audience is introduced to Sylvie, portrayed by Tessa Thompson, working at her father’s record store.
In walks Robert, portrayed by former All-Pro, National Football League defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha, looking for a supplemental income to his musical residency at the Blue Morrocan Lounge and the sparks fly as the two engage in playful banter over the latest Thelonious Monk album. Imagine Marissa Tomei I her Academy Award-winning role as Mona Lisa Vito talking shop in My Cousin Vinny because Sylvie has an expansive knowledge of jazz and some repressed feelings.
Robert, a saxophonist, entices Sylvie to come and see him perform with the Dickie Brewster Quartet. And, what a performance it is! Sylvie is smitten and due to emotions beyond her control engages with Robert in a summerlong romance along with her cousin Mona, portrayed by Aja Naomi King, and Dickie, portrayed by Tone Bell. Sylvie is waiting for her beau, a member of one of New York’s finest families, to return home from his service in the war.
Naturally, Sylvie’s mother disapproves of Sylvie and Robert together as she has spent her child-rearing days preparing her daughter for New York society through the Eunice Johnson School of Etiquette. Suddenly, the band lands an overseas touring engagement beginning in Paris. Yet, Sylvie’s life has been cast. Nevertheless, her heart yearns for love as Robert has evoked unknown and unexperienced feelings deep inside.
In addition, with exquisite costuming from Phoenix Mellow and a timeless soundtrack from Fabrice Lecomte, the film emanates a very progressive vibe especially when the opportunity presents itself for Sylvie to be a part of a television production team. Consequentially, Sylvie begins taking charge of her career when her lifelong dream is challenged when the remnants of an offputting comment, “Can you imagine a colored girl making TV shows!” rears its ugly head again.
Writer/director Eugene Ashe covers a lot of ground culturally in Sylvie’s Love. The sexual revolution impresses itself upon society. Motown becomes the musical epicenter. and, Sylvie settled into the unfulfilled role of the happy homemaker with her semi-pre-arranged marriage. Interestingly, in a fashion similar to Guillermo Del Toro with Shape Of Water, Ashe slips in telling props as cultural artifacts. For example, in one scene Sylvie is shown reading The Feminine Mystique similar to the scene where Michael Shannon’s character in Shape of Water is reading Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power Of Positive Thinking. And, like Del Toro, Ashe weaves romance, jazz, and career choices into a sweet and enduring love story transcending time and place.
Moreover, Tessa Thompson turns in a brilliant performance as the unapologetic, self-confident Sylvie breaking down barriers as the woman who takes control of her life in unexpected but welcomed ways. For me, it doesn’t get any better than watching beautifully talented actors given strong writing performing in sophisticated, cinematic production designs. Add to that winning combination a top-notch, jazz-infused soundtrack and I’m off to the moon and back wanting more. Highly recommended film.
The quirkiest film I watched at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival was Kajillionaire, written and directed by Miranda July whose body of work has drawn international acclaim for its profound insights into human connection and encompasses performance, fiction, filmmaking, public art, and an app. Kajillionaire, stars Evan Rachel Wood (Frozen 2, Westworld) as Old Dolio Dyne, Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) as the deft and light-hearted outsider Melanie, and Academy Award-nominated actors, Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger as the narcissistic parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Theresa Dyne. Kajillionaire follows the Dynes on a madcap race as they comb the streets of Los Angeles plying their minor grifts to keep a roof over their heads.
July had this to say about the family, “The Dynes are proud outsiders, self-righteous, and frowning on everybody else. In this sense, they are an extreme version of a lot of families, each of which has a unique way of setting itself apart from other families. Apart and above.” One of the great telling lines and one that got a rise from the Sundance audience came from Robert commenting on “all the nitwits who drive by all the treasures that are there for the taking…Amazon packages, coupons, coins.” Nobody in Kajillionaire has any money, but money propels the narrative as the family searches the city for money on foot.
The film opens with the family waiting at a bus stop when the film’s lead character, the androgynous-looking Old Dolio (Wood), suddenly goes into a well-choreographed semi-acrobatic routine in what turns out to be a surreptitious way to avoid the surveillance camera outside a United States Postal Office location in Los Angeles, Calif. The gig is for Old Dolio to reach through an accessible post office box and grab whatever is available in the neighboring boxes. Dutiful and with a stoic manner, Old Dolio performs her familial breadwinner role while splitting the proceeds equally with her family members.
But the fun doesn’t stop there as the family adopts the adventure-seeking Melanie (Rodriguez). Melanie takes the family business to another level as the unit finds itself sending an isolated elderly man off to eternal paradise with an all too real yet somehow unimaginable warm, heartfelt dynamic – despite the overt fraud and embezzlement trying to unfold inside the dying man’s home. Moreover, cracks in the family dynamic surface and cannot be contained.
July makes full use of various camera setups, lighting techniques, soundtrack, and production design. Production design (Sam Lisenco) is well-placed in the City of Angels (Los Angeles) and the film’s mise-en-scene lends itself well to the film’s thematic qualities. In addition, the actors emanate an improvisational quality as the “family” journeys through significant ups and downs with some in and outs as they face powerful earthquake tremors, death, and a psychological and emotionally revealing birthday. And, in the end, the Hollywood narrative wins out with redemption and salvation.
Kajillionaire is a fun film with a not-so-subtle social commentary and made its world premiere at Sundance 2020. Very warmly recommended!
Bryan Fogel, the Academy Award-winning director of Icarus premiered The Dissident, a bone-chilling documentary film, at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In The Dissident Fogel explores the events leading up to the 2018 brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the events in the aftermath of the killing. Fogel follows Khashoggi’s friend and colleague, Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi exile in Canada risking his life for the freedom of speech and Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, arguing for justice in front of the United Nations. In addition, with 2018 footage of Khashoggi in and out of briefings, Fogel lays the impressive groundwork of a counter-revolutionary movement underway in Egypt and Jordan and provides critical insight into the progressive, reformist leaning Vision 2030, the Saudi Arabian King Salmond’s Crown Prince son, Mohammad Bin Salmond’s (MBS) blueprint for Saudi society.
Furthermore, Fogel discusses a top-level purchase of highly sophisticated cyber-espionage technology, known as Pegasus, enabling MBS to hack into dissident social media accounts across the country and beyond. MBS employed an army to control social media content by infecting untold accounts with Pegasus. Interesting to note, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ smartphone was hacked and downloaded for months by Pegasus after MBS sent Bezos a mysterious video attachment on WhatsApp. The social media space, manipulated so effectively by Russia in the US elections, had now become an international warzone not just in the US and Suadi Arabia but in many countries around the world. Not surprisingly, US President Donald Trump went to the country of Saudi Arabia on his first stop of his first official visit abroad, refused to acknowledge Khashoggi’s murder despite every intelligence agency concurring, and proceeded to announce to the American people a massive $500 billion dollar arms sale. “The Saudis buy a lot of weapons from us,” opined the President in defense of himself.
But, Jamaal Kashoggi was widely respected both in Saudi Arabia and globally as a very astute scholar well-versed in the ways of diplomacy. Seemingly, his outspoken journalism aginst the destabilizing “reforms” of MBS, published in the Washington Post, led to his murder in the Istanbul Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018. The Turkish government investigated Koshoggi’s murder compiling a formidable case. United Nations Special Reporter Agnes Callamard started her own investigation and concluded an international crime had been committed in Khashoggi’s death with no less than six violations of international law igniting protests and strengthening the country’s demand for freedom of speech under the banner – Justice for Jamal. His murder also undid MBS’s Vision 2030. In reality, Vision 2030 was an ambitious power grab under the guise of an anti-corruption probe where MBS rounded up and imprisoned the country’s most powerful people while seizing hundreds of billions of dollars.
With a covert expose’ touch, Fogel adeptly uncovers and reveals the truth in this highly controversial and well-researched, socio-political-economic arena unfolding in the global news cycle with an abundant supply of footage of all the key players and some very informative graphics. Make no mistake, The Dissident is a powerful and startling look at the cost of freedom of speech, the murder of a journalist for exercising his freedom of speech, and the ramifications of the interference of a government in social media. Don’t miss this one. Highly recommended.
Max Richter’s Sleep, a documentary film from Award-winning filmmaker Natalie Johns screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival as a Special Event. Sundance Special Events are one-of-a-kind moments highlighting new independent works that enhance the festival experience. Johns’s first global feature documentary, I Am Thalente, won an Audience Award at the LA Film Festival. Johns also received an Emmy nomination in 2015 for Outstanding Directing and has collaborated with some of the world’s leading musical talent, including John Legend Annie Lennox, Sam Smith, Childish Gambino, Solange, and Gil Scott Heron. In 2015, to critical acclaim, Richter released an eight-hour Sleep lullaby with a meditative quality combining piano and strings with subtle electronic touches and vocals to mimic brain waves in a state of sleep – an unimaginable effort connecting musical consciousness to the world.
Max Richter’s Sleep follows the process of mounting the most ambitious live performance of Sleep to date: an open-air concert in downtown Los Angeles’s Grand Park, across from the Los Angeles Music Center, where over 500 people experienced the composer’s work in unison. But, instead of chairs, the audience members were given beds to sleep in! Johns includes a myriad of aerial shots of the downtown Los Angeles area that are interwoven in the film while a narrative voice-over informs the audience of longing for human connection and the desire to create a space for community and connectivity. A montage of close-ups depicting musical instruments and mathematical equations delineating the intricate mathematical formulae Richter utilizes to create his dream state composition.
Intentionally designed to keep listeners in a state of sleep, Richter unlocks patterns and rhythmically represents brain waves with accompanying repetitious musical notes. Performing Sleep required unprecedented endurance from its musicians. Once the concert is well underway, footage of Richter walking through the sleeping audience is captured and reveals the majestic undertaking coming to fruition – rejuvenation by reengaging the arts back into society. As morning breaks, an acoustic sunrise slowly brings an emotional, refreshed awakening with a feeling of hope and a new beginning.
Johns also includes a look into Richter’s home life as he and his wife balance creative pursuits and paying the bills. Richter confesses his creative pursuits are his passion but his film compositions allow him the freedom to balance his art and his household needs. The result was a striking visual portrait that immerses us within the life of Richter and his creative partner, Yulia Mahr. Interestingly, Richter has performed his Sleep in venues around the world including cathedrals and parks. The first performance from midnight to 8:00 AM, September 27th, 2015, in London, England, at the Wellcome Collection Reading Room as part of the BBC’s “Science and Music” set a Guinness Book of World Records for the longest live broadcast The composition was also performed at the Philharmonie de Paris from midnight to 8:00 AM on November 18th, 2017.
The Los Angeles concerts on July 27-28th and July 28-29th, 2018, from approximately 10:30 PM until dawn, were the first outdoor performances of Sleep. Richter played piano, keyboards, and electronics. The American Contemporary Music Ensemble accompanied Richter along with cellist Claire Jensen, soprano Grace Davidson, violinist Andrew Tholl, cellist Emily Brausa, Isabelle Hagen (viola), and Ben Russell. I viewed the ninety-nine-minute film in the evening with a group of Sundance Film Festival volunteers and several members of the press. I left the theatre feeling very connected and very grounded and I imagine you will too. Highly recommended – an ultimate chill film!
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival started off most curiously….again. Last year in a highly dramatic moment, the face of the festival Robert Redford made an entrance with a deafening silence to announce, “I think it’s time for me to be going.” I sat in a semi-state of bodily paralysis as my mind searched for an answer to his opening words. Whew! Thank heavens I didn’t have to wait long for an answer as Redford continued speaking explaining he wanted to spend more time with the films and the filmmakers. This year, his letter (1_SFF 2020 Robert Redford Letter-1) says much of what he communicated intentionally last year on that fateful day.
This year I was ready for anything….except a virtual press conference with a content-rich digital Day One Press Kit, including video remarks from executive leadership as well as details about the Festival and the Institute’s global year-round work. Watch Keri Putnam, John Cooper, and Kim Yutani explain the importance of freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, the metaphysical principle of change, and the driving force behind programming and curating a film festival from more than 15,000 submissions. You’ll be glad you did!
That evening, Sundance Institute’s annual fundraising event An Artist at the Table Presented by IMDb Pro began with the premiere of Crip Camp, winner of the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura and was followed by a celebratory dinner during which the Institute honored Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, with the Vanguard Award for Philanthropy. Proceeds from the evening went to advancing Sundance Institute’s mission and programs that discover, support and amplify risk-taking and exciting independent film, media and theatre artists. And, as luck would have it, I quickly ran into several of my cohorts from the Telluride Film Festival. One of which, I would have the distinct pleasure of conducting a sit-down interview. Sam Doerge, the Telluride Art Director, was handling duties at the New Frontiers Center Festival Installation Coordinator. More on that later!
The film I was most excited to see – Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, a documentary directed by Lana Wilson was making its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the late slot. Admittedly, in tears after seeing Swift perform “Better Man,” in Brian Loschiavo’s extraordinary documentary, Bluebird, at the 50th Anniversary of the Nashville Film Festival, I was not disappointed! No tears. Just an overwhelming sense of awe-inspiring respect.
Friday morning brought a wonderful opportunity to catch The Climb, winner of the Coup de Coeur prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, at a Press & Industry screening at the Holiday Village Theatre. Traversing the ups and downs of life, the film “utilizes ingeniously self-aware dialogue” to capture the chaos of fractured friendships and its accompanying family life. Highly recommended!
Friday, January 24th, ushered in the opening of numerous venues on Old Town Main Street. The 2020 SundanceASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a professional membership organization of songwriters, composers and music publishers) Music Café launched with a special introduction by Peter Golub, Director of the Sundance Film Music Program. The Music Café was standing room only throughout the weekend.
On Saturday, Easterseals Disability Services hosted a panel on the influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood in increasing the visibility of/opportunities for talent with disabilities in the entertainment industry. An underreported phenomenon is seemingly occurring in the film and television industries. Included below is the taped panel in its entirety. It’s inspiring and insightful!
Standing behind Nick Novicki (front), ESSC board member and founder of the Easterseals Film Challenge, are L-R: Angela Williams, CEO, National Easterseals; Franklin Leonard, Founder and CEO, The Black List; Mark Whitley, CEO, ESSC; panel moderator Britt Stephens, Celebrity & Entertainment Editor, Pop Sugar; Shoshannah Stern, Creator, Executive Producer, Writer and Star of Sundance TV’s This Close; Shanique Bonelli-Moore, Executive Director of Inclusion, United Talent Agency; John Travis, VP of Brand Marketing, Adobe; and Nancy Weintraub, Chief Development Officer, ESSC. (Photo courtesy of Vicki Greenleaf)
On Saturday, Easterseals Disability Services hosted a panel on the influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood in increasing the visibility of/opportunities for talent with disabilities in the entertainment industry. An underreported phenomenon is seemingly occurring in the film and television industries. Included below is the taped panel in its entirety. It’s inspiring and insightful!
Has Recent Industry Emphasis on Diversity & Inclusion Influenced the Way We Tell Stories?
In addition, Brand Storytelling at Sundance Film Festival wrapped it’s fifth annual “festival within a festival.” Over 250 attendees were present at the invite-only, sold-out event for keynote chats, panel presentations, film premiers, and screenings, live musical performances while bringing in major brands, media and production companies, talent, advertising, and PR agencies.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Presented Feature Film Prize to Tesla. Michael Almereyda’s Tesla was formally presented with a $20,000 check for winning the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize. The awards were presented at an afternoon cocktail reception at High West Distillery. These activities are part of the Sundance Institute Science-In-Film Initiative, which is made possible by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The World Premiere of Horse Girl from writer/director Jeff Baena took audiences by surprise with a sizzling performance from Alison Brie. An official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Horse Girl was executively produced by the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark. Stay tuned for a full, unadulterated review
Talent Forum convened for three days, January 28-30th during the festival bringing together a robust slate of artists with projects across all platforms and at varied and pivotal stages from development through completion.
“We’re thrilled to [have} welcome(d) an extraordinary collection of artists from 22 countries who bring remarkable voices and work to connect with industry, advocates, and each other as they move their work and careers forward,” noted Anne Lai, Sundance Institute’s Director of Creative Producing & Artist Support.
The Movie That Blew My Mind kicked off the 2020 TalentForum panel at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. An Offscreen event the panel featured hosts John Cooper (Director, Sundance Film Festival) and Tabitha Jackson (Director, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program) with Tessa Thompson, Tom McCarthy, and other special guests, each of whom selected a cinema moment that was inspiring or formative (in their life or in shaping their creative sensibility).
An unexpected treat happened with the French episodic Laetitia. Acting on a suggestion from Antoine Maron, an Art Director in the French film industry, I squeezed into the Academy Award-winning Jean-Xavier de Lestrade screening and stayed for the Q & A with de Lestrade. His extraordinary attention to detail propels a powerful story based on an historically documented criminal case. This 2002 Academy-award winner for Best Documentary is worth listening to and has a captivating presence. Please see the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s Meet the Artist video and stay tuned for a capsule review of the evening.
Without further adieu, the Festival wrapped up with the Awards Night Ceremony & Party on February 1, 2020, and with previously announced jurors awarding prizes to films in the U.S. Dramatic, U.S. Documentary, World Cinema Dramatic, World Cinema Documentary, and NEXT categories. 2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS
Until next year, I’ll see you at the movies!
*Featured photo: A still from Breathe by Diego Galafassi, an official selection of the New Frontier Exhibitions program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.