Category Archives: #Sundance

FILM REVIEW: Bryan Fogel’s The Dissident Speaks Volumes

Posted by Larry Gleeson

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.

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Dominic Cooke’s IronBark starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another quality performance as UK businessman, Greville Wynne, turned Cold War secret agent in the political thriller Ironbark from Director Dominic Cooke. Wynne leads a relatively comfortable life with a warm and proper wife, Sheila, portrayed by the sugary Jessie Buckley. The chemistry between the two is natural and realistic as their relationship bends to its breaking point as Greville cannot intimately share his newly enacted double life try as he may.

The film, a period piece, opens with a harsh speech being delivered by the former Soviet Union premier, Nikita Kruschev, menacingly threatening to wipe the United States from the face of the earth. The clip appears to be an archival newsreel and provides an eery authenticity to what Ironbark undertakes. A decorated Russian Army Officer, portrayed by Merab Ninidze in a tour-de-force performance, has seen enough and reaches out to the West to stop the madman Kruschev from destroying civilization as it existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

The “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Rachel Brosnahan, turns in a surprisingly adept performance as CIA official Emily Donovan, while Angus Wright convincingly portrays British intelligence agent Dickie Franks. The two intelligence officers recruit Greville Wynne to be a courier of secret documents out of Russia. What would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis is exposed as Wynne couriers roughly 500 documents during the top-secret intel operation. Unfortunately, all does not go as planned when the stakes are raised. Yet, what is revealed catapults the narrative into an unflinchingly suspenseful political drama.

At its best, Ironbark delivers an insightful truth in matters of the heart during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, formally known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with grace and efficiency from start to finish. In the Q & A following the film’s screening at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Director Cooke confessed to the amount of thought and visualization exercised before executing the film’s scene takes – no more than 2-3 takes.

From a directorial standpoint, a well-designed shot list is only a part of executing a highly polished take. The starring cast of Cumberbatch, Brosnahan, Buckley, Ninidze, Wright as well as Kirill Pirogov (Oleg Gribanov) was magnificent. The cinematography from the Director of Photography, Sean Bobbitt was exquisite. And the production design, costuming and sound had a considerable artistic flair. Filming locations in both London and Prague rounded out a highly believable and quite authentic period piece. Granted a few moments seem to stagnate. Yet, the contrived pauses allowed for moments of comedic relief (primarily in the idiosyncrasies of the film’s protagonist Wynne. Ultimately these moments served contrast in juxtaposition to the Gulag scenes. In my opinion, this speaks highly of Cooke’s mastering the medium for the digestive machinations of a pro-Western audience.

Not surprisingly, as numerous deals are inked during Sundance, Ironbark was snatched up by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, officially on January 27th, 2020, three days after its premiere. Originally scheduled for a March-April release, Ironbark is now in a TBA (To Be Announced) status for release. Stay tuned as this was one of the best audience films of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival! Highly recommended.

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Ironbark Director Dominic Cooke responds to the audience following the premiere of his film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on January 24th, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Sundance.org)
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Left to right; Merab Ninidze, Dominic Cooke and Rachel Brosnahan display their Ironbark premiere tickets, January 24th, 2020, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Sundance.org)

 

 

Sundance 2020 Wrap-up: So many films, so little time

Posted by Larry Gleeson

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Robert Redford, Former President of the Sundance Institue, announced he was stepping down as the face of the festival in 2019 so he could spend more time with filmmakers and their films at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Press Conference. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

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!

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New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator, Sam Doerge. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

Taylor Swift

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.

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The Climb

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 Sundance ASCAP (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.

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Matt Berninger and his band with a view of the room – Photo by Fred Hayes
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Ron Artis II and band on the Café stage – Photo by Fred Hayes
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The Easterseals Disability Services hosted a panel on the influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, February 25, 2020. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

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!

ESSC Diversity Panel - Sundance 2020 #2

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 SugarShoshannah 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)

 

Panel moderator, Britt Stephens, Celebrity & Entertainment Editor, Pop Sugar, participates in the Easterseals Disability Services panel on the influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, February 25, 2020. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)
John Travis, VP of Brand Marketing, Adobe, participates in the Easterseals Disability Services panel on the influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, February 25, 2020. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

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.

Ariel Tweto, star of _Into America's Wild_
Ariel Tweto, star of Into America’s Wild, speaks at Brand Storytelling at Sundancer Film Festival (Photo courtesy of Prana PR)

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.

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize Reception
Actor Ethan Hawke, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize Winner Michael Almereyda and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Vice President and Program Director Doron Weber attend the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize Reception at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Jovelle Tamayo.

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

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Actor Alison Brie attends the World Premiere of Horse Girl by Jeff Baena, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Lauren Wester.

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.

Anne Lai
Anne Lai

“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.

SFF20 Talent Forum Projects & Fellows

The Movie That Blew My Mind kicked off the 2020 Talent Forum 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).

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Actor Tessa Thompson at The Movie That Blew My Mind, a festival panel at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Maya Dehlin.
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Tabitha Jackson (Director, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program) at The Movie That Blew My Mind, a festival panel at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Maya Dehlin.

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.

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Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival following a screening of his Indie Episodic, Laetitia, in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, January 28, 2019. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)
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Academy Award-winning French filmmaker, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival following a screening of his episodic, Laetitia, in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, January 28, 2019. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)
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Academy Award-winning French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival following a screening of his Indie Episodic, Laetitia, in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, January 28, 2019. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

Other favorites were Okavango: River of Dreams, Kajillionaire. Max Richter’s Sleep, Dissident, Softie, Glorias, Horse Girl, Be Water, Ironbark, On the Record, The Father, Sylvie’s Love, and Mucho, Mucho, Amor. Check back regularly as these films, all of which are worthy of review, will soon be making their way up the “films to be reviewed” list and hopefully be available for viewing.

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.

2020 Sundance Spotlight: Sam Doerge

Posted by Larry Gleeson

First-year New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator, Sam Doerge, is making the most out of her 2020 Sundance Film Festival experience.

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New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator, Sam Doerge. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

First-year New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator, Sam Doerge, is making the most out of her 2020 Sundance Film Festival experience. Doerge has a background in art having majored in Visual and Critical Research with a minor in Sculpture at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition, Doerge is the Programming Coordinator for Denver Film and is the Art Director for the Telluride Film Festival.

While working as the Telluride Art Director, Doerge came in contact with Spheres, a three-part virtual reality series written and directed by Eliza McNitt, produced by Jess Engle, and executively produced by Darren Aronofsky. Spheres made a huge splash at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as it sold for a seven-figure sum. Producer Jess Engle is attending this year’s festival as a producer for the augmented reality installation, Breathe.

Having dreamt about Immersive Storytelling and voraciously reading about installation management, Doerge seemed to be in the right place at the right time to explore the exponentially growing field of virtual reality/augmented reality. Always an admirer of the New Frontier at Sundance from afar, Doerge seized the opportunity to apply for an opening this year as the Interim Manager of the New Frontiers Lab. Due to her Telluride Art Director commitment, however, Doerge could not accept the Interim Manager position and was consequently offered the New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator contract.

With the enormously talented artists, including Diego Galafassi (Breathe), and their assistants, Doerge coordinated a process whereby the Sundance personnel could augment and amplify the immersive virtual/augmented reality experience. Working closely with her manager Boji Wong, a mother of three who singly managed the New Frontiers Center last year, the duo trained staff, volunteers, and docents to facilitate a smoothly operating, cutting-edge installation for the artists and patrons alike. Doerge believes the 12 hour working days (the new Frontiers Center’s first day wound up being longer, 7:30AM – 2:30AM, concluding at the end of the artists’ Opening Night party) have offered a wonderful opportunity to learn from highly professional and highly respective peers.

What also is working for Doerge as the New Frontiers Center Festival Coordinator at Sundance is the overall working environment, the strong sense of community inside New Frontiers, and the opportunity to learn. And, as anyone who has ever been in the fray of a battle knows – planning helps! Nevertheless, “being in the moment making decisions that balance and manage expectations of all parties involved have been the keys to a smoothly operating New Frontiers Center,” according to Doerge. And, as the environment is in a constant state of change, each day and, in reality, each moment, has its unique characteristics requiring a moment-to-moment response.

With several fully-realized sculpture creations to her credit, Doerge understands how to bring a vision to fruition and had sincere appreciation watching the New Frontiers Center come to life. Moreover, Doerge’s New Frontier Center experience has brought her into contact with seasoned professionals possessing high skill sets such as Jamie McMurry, New Frontiers Production Designer, and Shari Frilot, Chief Curator. “Shari Frilot has impeccable taste. The best I’ve ever seen,” said Doerge.

The New Frontiers Center is in its second year of operation. Thus far this year, the women docents have provided unswerving support in ensuring the artist’s needs are being met with VIP’s, industry professionals, and festivalgoers all clamoring for a chance to experience the exhilarating displays. Furthermore, the installation seems to be operating smoothly as two previews on Saturday for the publicists and the press and industry professionals were conducted successfully.

With the three weeks of coordinating Immersive Experience under her belt, Doerge plans to return to her Denver Film post and Telluride Art Director position with a fresh perspective and looks forward to the challenges ahead – including the 2021 Sundance Film Festival with run dates from Thursday, January 21st, through Sunday, January 31st, 2021.

Until then, 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.

 

Festival Favorite Award From 2020 Sundance Film Festival Announced

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Giving Voice Wins Audience Vote

Giving Voice
A still from Giving Voice by James D. Stern and Fernando Villena, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jonathon Narducci.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                             February 4, 2020

Park City, UTSundance Institute announced Giving Voice as the winner of the Festival Favorite Award, selected by audience votes from the 128 features screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, which took place in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Sundance, Utah, from January 23–February 2, 2020.

The Festival Favorite Award is the 29th and final recognition bestowed on this year’s features, including juried prizes and category-specific Audience Awards; others were announced at a ceremony in Park City on February 1, and a full list is available here. Runners-up and close contenders for the Festival Favorite Award – besides the Audience Awards per category given out on Saturday, titles that also ranked high with festivalgoers include Boys State, On The Record, Binti, Crip Camp, The Fight, The Reason I Jump, Softie, Uncle Frank, and Welcome to Chechnya.

Giving Voice, directed by James D. Stern and Fernando Villena, follows the lives of six students as they compete against fellow high schoolers from around the country in the riveting, high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York City. As they hone their individual performances, Wilson’s singular talent and artistry empower them to find their own voice and persevere in an increasingly complicated world. The film was produced by James D. Stern, Karen Bove, Fernando Villena, Schoen Smith, and Craig Piligian.

 

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John Cooper

“This film is a compelling and inspiring portrait of six remarkable young people as they discover their power,” said John Cooper, Director, Sundance Film Festival. “We’re thrilled that it resonated with audiences at this particularly exciting moment in our culture, where we see the next generation of leaders, artists, and change-makers stepping out, speaking up, and finding their voice.”

Runners up for the Festival Favorite, as ballots were counted, include:

Boys State / U.S.A. (Directors: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine, Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss) — In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.

On The Record / U.S.A. (Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Screenwriters: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Sara Newens, Producers: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Amy Herdy, Jamie Rogers) — A brilliant former hip hop executive grapples with whether to go public about her rape by one of the most powerful men in the music industry. A gripping and profound examination of race, gender, intersectionality, and the toll sexual abuse takes on survivors and on society at large.

Other close contenders for the Festival Favorite were:

Binti / Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Frederike Migom, Producer: Katleen Goossens) — Twelve-year-old Binti dreams of becoming a famous vlogger like her idol Tatyana. But when the police raid her home, and try to deport her and her dad, they are forced to flee. Together with her friend Elias she now plots the perfect plan to stay in the country. Cast: Bebel Tshiani Baloji, Mo Bakker, Joke Devynck, Baloji.

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Crip Camp photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Directors: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht, Producers: Sara Bolder, Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham) — Down the road from Woodstock in the early 1970s, a revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers, transforming their young lives and igniting a landmark movement.

The Fight / U.S.A. (Directors: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Producers: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Maya Seidler, Peggy Drexler, Kerry Washington) — Inside the ACLU, a team of scrappy lawyers battle Trump’s historic assault on civil liberties. As the president separates families, blocks abortion access, expels transgender soldiers, and rolls back voting rights, these gutsy attorneys struggle to stop an unpredictable adversary with unlimited resources.

The Reason I Jump / United Kingdom (Director: Jerry Rothwell, Producers: Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee, Al Morrow)  — Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world.

Softie / Kenya (Director and screenwriter: Sam Soko, Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko) — Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious, and recognized as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family?

Uncle Frank / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Alan Ball, Producers: Alan Ball, Peter Macdissi, Michael Costigan, Jay Van Hoy, Bill Block, Stephanie Meurer) — In 1973, when 18-year-old Beth and her uncle Frank take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover Walid. A story about family, forgiveness, and our inherent power to choose who we want to be. Cast: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale.

Welcome to Chechnya / U.S.A. (Director: David France, Producers: Alice Henty, David France, Askold Kurov, Joy A. Tomchin) — This searing investigative work shadows a group of activists risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Unfettered access and a remarkable approach to protecting anonymity expose this under-reported atrocity–and an extraordinary group of people confronting evil.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival will run from Thursday, January 21–Sunday, January 31, 2021.

The Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2020 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, AT&T; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Southwest Airlines®, Stella Artois®, WarnerMedia; Sustaining Sponsors – Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, Fire TV, GEICO, High West Distillery, Hulu, IMDbPro, Lyft, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Variety, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival. sundance.org/festival

Sundance Institute

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, discovering 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.

Sundance 2020

(Source: Sundance media press release)

 

 

2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS ANNOUNCED

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Top Prizes Go To Minari, Boys State, Epicentro, and Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness 

Minari, Crip Camp, The Reason I Jump, and Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) Win Audience Awards

 

(FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE) Park City, UT — After 10 days and 128 feature films, the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s Awards Ceremony took place tonight, with jurors presenting 28 prizes for feature filmmaking. Honorees, named in total below, represent new achievements in global independent storytelling. Bold, intimate, and humanizing stories prevailed across categories, with Grand Jury Prizes awarded to Minari (U.S. Dramatic), Boys State (U.S. Documentary), Epicentro (World Cinema Documentary) and Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness (World Cinema Dramatic)..

 

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Kerry Putnam

“At Sundance, we believe art can break through noise and polarization. In volatile times like these, democracy and storytelling aren’t separate – they’re inextricably linked,” said Keri Putnam, Sundance Institute’s Executive Director. “Congratulations to each and every one of tonight’s winners, and to all the extraordinary artists who joined us at the Festival.

 

“As my final Festival as director comes to a close, it has been the honor of a lifetime to stand with these artists, and to see their work meet audiences for the first time,” said John Cooper, Sundance Film Festival Director.

Putnam also announced Tabitha Jackson as the incoming Director during the ceremony; that news release is available here.

The awards ceremony marked the culmination of the 2020 Festival, where 128 feature-length and 74 short films — selected from more than 15,100 submissions — were showcased in Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance, Utah, alongside work in the Indie Episodic category, panels, music, and New Frontier.

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts, technical craft and visionary storytelling, deliberated extensively before presenting awards from the stage; this year’s jurors were Rodrigo Garcia, Ethan Hawke, Dee Rees, Isabella Rossellini, Wash Westmoreland, Kimberly Reed, Rachel Rosen, Courtney Sexton, E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Noland Walker, Haifaa Al Mansour, Wagner Moura, Alba Rohrwacher, Eric Hynes, Rima Mismar, and Nanfu Wang. Gregg Araki was the sole NEXT juror.

Feature film award winners in previous years include: Clemency, One Child Nation, Honeyland, The Souvenir, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore., Weiner, Whiplash, Fruitvale Station, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugarman, The Square, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Cartel Land, The Wolf Pack, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, Dear White People, The Cove and Man on Wire.

Of the 28 prizes awarded tonight to 25 films – comprising the work of 29 filmmakers – 12 (48%) were directed by one or more women; 10 (40%) were directed by one or more people of color; and 2 (8%) were directed by a person who identifies as LGBTQ+.

2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE FILM AWARDS

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, for Boys State / U.S.A. (Directors: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine, Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss) — In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Lee Isaac Chung, for Minari / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lee Isaac Chung, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh) — David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, gets his life turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s, in this charming and unexpected take on the American Dream. Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Yeri, Youn Yuh Jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Hubert Sauper, for Epicentro / Austria, France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Hubert Sauper, Producers: Martin Marquet, Daniel Marquet, Gabriele Kranzelbinder, Paolo Calamita) — Cuba is well known as a so-called time capsule. The place where the New World was discovered has become both a romantic vision and a warning. With ongoing global cultural and financial upheavals, large parts of the world could face a similar kind of existence.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Massoud Bakhshi, for Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness / Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg (Director and screenwriter: Massoud Bakhshi, Producers: Jacques Bidou, Marianne Dumoulin) — Maryam accidentally killed her husband Nasser and is sentenced to death. The only person who can save her is Mona, Nasser’s daughter. All Mona has to do is appear on a TV show and forgive Maryam. But forgiveness proves difficult when they are forced to relive the past. Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Babak Karimi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Forough Ghajebeglou, Fereshteh Hosseini.

Screen Shot 2020-01-26 at 1.29.47 PM
Crip Camp received the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura, at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s Awards Ceremony, February 1st, 2019. (photo courtesy of Sundance Press)

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented to: Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, for Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Directors: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht, Producers: Sara Bolder, Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham) — Down the road from Woodstock in the early 1970s, a revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers, transforming their young lives and igniting a landmark movement.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented to: Lee Isaac Chung, for Minari / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lee Isaac Chung, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh) — David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, gets his life turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s, in this charming and unexpected take on the American Dream. Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Yeri, Youn Yuh Jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Jerry Rothwell, for The Reason I Jump / United Kingdom (Director: Jerry Rothwell, Producers: Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee, Al Morrow)  — Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Fernanda Valadez, for Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) / Mexico, Spain (Director: Fernanda Valadez, Screenwriters: Fernanda Valadez, Astrid Rondero, Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Jack Zagha, Yossy Zagha)  ― Magdalena makes a journey to find her son, gone missing on his way to the Mexican border with the US. Her odyssey takes her to meet Miguel, a man recently deported from the U.S. They travel together, Magdalena looking for her son, and Miguel hoping to see his mother again. Cast: Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, Ana Laura Rodríguez, Laura Elena Ibarra, Xicoténcatl Ulloa.

The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented to: Heidi Ewing, for I Carry You With Me / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Heidi Ewing, Screenwriters: Heidi Ewing, Alan Page Arriaga, Producers: Mynette Louie, Heidi Ewing) — An epic love story spanning decades is sparked by a chance encounter between two men in provincial Mexico. Based on a true story, ambition and societal pressure propel an aspiring chef to leave his soulmate and make the treacherous journey to New York, where life will never be the same. Cast: Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Arcelia Ramírez, Michelle González.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: Garrett Bradley, for Time / U.S.A. (Director: Garrett Bradley, Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn, Garrett Bradley) Fox Rich, indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist, strives to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. An intimate, epic, and unconventional love story, filmed over two decades.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Radha Blank, for The 40-Year-Old Version / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Radha Blank, Producers: Lena Waithe, Jordan Fudge, Radha Blank, Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jennifer Semler, Rishi Rajani) — A down-on-her-luck New York playwright decides to reinvent herself and salvage her artistic voice the only way she knows how: by becoming a rapper at age 40. Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney, Imani Lewis, TJ Atoms.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Iryna Tsilyk, for The Earth Is Blue as an Orange / Ukraine, Lithuania (Director: Iryna Tsilyk, Producers: Anna Kapustina, Giedrė Žickytė) — To cope with the daily trauma of living in a war zone, Anna and her children make a film together about their life among surreal surroundings.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Maïmouna Doucouré, for Cuties / France (Director and screenwriter: Maïmouna Doucouré, Producer: Zangro) — Amy, 11 years old, meets a group of dancers called “Cuties.” Fascinated, she initiates herself to a sensual dance, hoping to join their band and escape family dysfunction…Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Myriam Hamma, Maïmouna Gueye.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Edson Oda, for Nine Days / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Edson Oda, Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette Marie Kongsved, Matthew Lindner, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner) — In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege that he once had: to be born. Cast: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl. Dolby Institute Fellowship

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast was presented to: the cast of Charm City Kings, for Charm City Kings / U.S.A. (Director: Angel Manuel Soto, Screenwriters: Sherman Payne, Chris Boyd & Kirk Sullivan, Barry Jenkins, Producers: Caleeb Pinkett, Clarence Hammond, Marc Bienstock) — Mouse desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, the infamous Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax, takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence. Cast: Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett, Teyonah Parris, Donielle Tremaine Hansley, Kezii Curtis.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Auteur Filmmaking was presented to: Josephine Decker, for Shirley / U.S.A. (Director: Josephine Decker, Screenwriter: Sarah Gubbins, Producers: Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Sue Naegle, Sarah Gubbins, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — A young couple moves in with the famed author, Shirley Jackson, and her Bennington College professor husband, Stanley Hyman, in the hope of starting a new life but instead find themselves fodder for a psycho-drama that inspires Shirley’s next novel. Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Neo-Realism was presented to: Eliza Hittman, for Never Rarely Sometimes Always / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman, Producers: Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy) — An intimate portrayal of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin Skylar embark on a brave, fraught journey across state lines to New York City. Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented to: Tyler H. Walk, for Welcome to Chechnya / U.S.A. (Director: David France, Producers: Alice Henty, David France, Askold Kurov, Joy A. Tomchin) — This searing investigative work shadows a group of activists risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Unfettered access and a remarkable approach to protecting anonymity expose this under-reported atrocity–and an extraordinary group of people confronting evil.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling was presented to: Kirsten Johnson, for Dick Johnson Is Dead / U.S.A. (Director: Kirsten Johnson, Screenwriters: Nels Bangerter, Kirsten Johnson, Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness) — With this inventive portrait, a cameraperson seeks a way to keep her 86-year-old father alive forever. Utilizing moviemaking magic and her family’s dark humor, she celebrates Dr. Dick Johnson’s last years by staging fantasies of death and beyond. Together, dad and daughter confront the great inevitability awaiting us all.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker was presented to: Arthur Jones, for Feels Good Man / U.S.A. (Director: Arthur Jones, Producers: Giorgio Angelini, Caryn Capotosto, Aaron Wickenden)  — When indie comic character Pepe the Frog becomes an unwitting icon of hate, his creator, artist Matt Furie, fights to bring Pepe back from the darkness and navigate America’s cultural divide.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking was presented to: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres, for The Fight / U.S.A. (Directors: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Producers: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres, Maya Seidler, Peggy Drexler, Kerry Washington) — Inside the ACLU, a team of scrappy lawyers battles Trump’s historic assault on civil liberties. As the president separates families, blocks abortion access, expels transgender soldiers, and rolls back voting rights, these gutsy attorneys struggle to stop an unpredictable adversary with unlimited resources.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to: Ben Whishaw, for Surge / United Kingdom (Director: Aneil Karia, Screenwriters: Rupert Jones, Rita Kalnejais, Producers: Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers) ― A man goes on a bold and reckless journey of self-liberation through London. After he robs a bank he releases a wilder version of himself, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Jasmine Jobson.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking was presented to: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, for This Is Not A Burial, It’s A Resurrection / Lesotho, South Africa, Italy (Director and screenwriter: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Producers: Cait Pansegrouw, Elias Ribeiro) — When her village is threatened with forced resettlement due to reservoir construction, an 80-year-old widow finds a new will to live and ignites the spirit of resilience within her community. In the final dramatic moments of her life, Mantoa’s legend is forged and made eternal. Cast: Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makheta, Makhoala Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, Siphiwe Nzima.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Screenplay was presented to: Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero, for Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) / Mexico, Spain (Director: Fernanda Valadez, Screenwriters: Fernanda Valadez, Astrid Rondero, Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Jack Zagha, Yossy Zagha)  ― Magdalena makes a journey to find her son, gone missing on his way to the Mexican border with the US. Her odyssey takes her to meet Miguel, a man recently deported from the U.S. They travel together, Magdalena looking for her son, and Miguel hoping to see his mother again. Cast: Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, Ana Laura Rodríguez, Laura Elena Ibarra, Xicoténcatl Ulloa.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling was presented to: Benjamin Ree, for The Painter and the Thief / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — An artist befriends the drug addict and thief who stole her paintings. She becomes his closest ally when he is severely hurt in a car crash and needs full-time care, even if her paintings are not found. But then the tables turn.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented to: Mircea Topoleanu and Radu Ciorniciuc, for Acasa, My Home / Romania, Germany, Finland (Director: Radu Ciorniciuc, Screenwriters: Lina Vdovii, Radu Ciorniciuc, Producer: Monica Lazurean-Gorgan) — In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, nine children and their parents lived in perfect harmony with nature for 20 years–until they are chased out and forced to adapt to life in the big city.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented to: Mila Aung-Thwin, Sam Soko, and Ryan Mullins, for Softie / Kenya (Director and screenwriter: Sam Soko, Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko) — Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious and recognized as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family?

The NEXT Innovator Prize was presented to: Heidi Ewing, for I Carry You With Me / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Heidi Ewing, Screenwriters: Heidi Ewing, Alan Page Arriaga, Producers: Mynette Louie, Heidi Ewing) — An epic love story spanning decades is sparked by a chance encounter between two men in provincial Mexico. Based on a true story, ambition and societal pressure propel an aspiring chef to leave his soulmate and make the treacherous journey to New York, where life will never be the same. Cast: Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Arcelia Ramírez, Michelle González.

The following awards were presented at separate ceremonies at the Festival:

SHORT FILM AWARDS Presented by Southwest Airlines®
Jury prizes in short filmmaking were awarded at an earlier ceremony in Park City on January 28. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to So What If The Goats Die / France, Morocco (Director and screenwriter: Sofia Alaoui). The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was awarded to -Ship: A Visual Poem / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Terrance Daye). The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was awarded to The Devil’s Harmony / United Kingdom (Director: Dylan Holmes Williams, Screenwriters: Dylan Holmes Williams, Jess O’Kane). The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was awarded to John Was Trying to Contact Aliens / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Killip). The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to Daughter / Czech Republic (Director and screenwriter: Daria Kashcheeva). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to Exam / Iran (Director: Sonia K. Hadad, Screenwriters: Sonia K. Hadad, Farnoosh Samadi). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing was presented to Valerio’s Day Out / Colombia, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Arcos).

SUNDANCE INSTITUTE | ALFRED P. SLOAN FEATURE FILM PRIZE
The 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to Tesla. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Documentary Features went to Diane Becker and Melanie Miller of Fishbowl Films, for Whirlybird.

The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Features went to Huriyyah Muhammad for Farewell Amor.

The Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Documentary went to Carla Gutierez and the Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Narrative went to Affonso Gonçalves.

The Sundance Institute | NHK Award went to Kirsten Tan, from Singapore, for her film Higher.

The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs, and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2020 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, AT&T; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Southwest Airlines®, Stella Artois®, WarnerMedia; Sustaining Sponsors – Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, Fire TV, GEICO, High West Distillery, Hulu, IMDbPro, Lyft, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Variety, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival. sundance.org/festival

Sundance Institute
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, discovering 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.

(Source: Press release provided by Sundance Institute Media Relations)

 

Shorts Awards Announced at 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

So What If The Goats Die Wins Grand Jury Prize

For Immediate Release (Park City, Utah) — Winners of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival jury prizes in short filmmaking were announced tonight by Sundance Institute at a ceremony in Park City, Utah. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize, awarded to one film in the program of 74 shorts selected from a record high 10,397 submissions, went to So What If The Goats Die, directed and written by Sofia Alaoui. The Short Film program is presented by Southwest Airlines®.

This year’s Short Film jurors are Sian Clifford, Marcus Hu and Cindy Sherman.

Short Film awards winners in previous years include Aziza by Soudade Kaadan, Matria by Álvaro Gago, And so we put goldfish in the pool. by Makato Nagahisa, Thunder Road by Jim Cummings, World of Tomorrow by Don Hertzfeldt, SMILF by Frankie Shaw, Of God and Dogs by Abounaddara Collective, Gregory Go Boom by Janicza Bravo, The Whistle by Grzegorz Zariczny, Whiplash by Damien Chazelle, FISHING WITHOUT NETS by Cutter Hodierne, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom by Lucy Walker and The Arm by Brie Larson, Sarah Ramos and Jessie Ennis.

The short film program at the Festival is the centerpiece of Sundance Institute’s year-round efforts to support short filmmaking. Select Festival short films are presented as a traveling program in over 75 cities in the U.S., Canada and Europe each year, and short films and filmmakers taking part in regional Master Classes geared towards supporting emerging shorts-makers in several cities.

Of the seven short films selected for awards this year, three projects (43% percent) were directed by women, two (29%) were directed by people who identify as LGBTQ, and three (43%) were directed by people of color.

2020 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Awards:

The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to: Sofia Alaoui, for So What If The Goats Die / France, Morocco (Director and screenwriter: Sofia Alaoui) — Abdellah, a young shepherd living in the mountains, is forced to brave the snow blocking him in order to get food and save this cattle. Once he gets to the village, he faces a supernatural phenomenon.

The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was presented to: Terrance Daye, for
-Ship: A Visual Poem / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Terrance Daye) — A black boy learns contradicting lessons of manhood and masculinity on the day of his cousin’s funeral.

The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was presented to: Dylan Holmes Williams, for The Devil’s Harmony / United Kingdom (Director: Dylan Holmes Williams, Screenwriters: Dylan Holmes Williams, Jess O’Kane) — A bullied teenage girl leads an a cappella club on a trail of destruction against her high school enemies. 

The Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction was presented to: Matthew Killip, for John Was Trying to Contact Aliens / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Killip) — John Shepherd spent 30 years trying to contact extraterrestrials by broadcasting music millions of miles into space. After giving up the search he makes a different connection here on earth.

The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to: Daria Kashcheeva, for Daughter / Czech Republic (Director and screenwriter: Daria Kashcheeva) — Should you hide your pain, close yourself inside your inner world, and long for your father’s love? Or should you understand and forgive before it’s too late?

A Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to: Sadaf Asgari, for Exam / Iran (Director: Sonia K. Hadad, Screenwriters: Sonia K. Hadad, Farnoosh Samadi) — A teenage girl gets involved in the process of delivering a pack of cocaine to its client, and gets stuck in a weird cycle of occurrences.

A Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing was presented to: Michael Arcos, for Valerio’s Day Out / Colombia, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Arcos) — A young jaguar goes on a killing spree when he escapes from his enclosure at a zoo. After he’s captured, sedated and relocated, he makes a video diary for his significant other, Lula.

The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2020 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, AT&T; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Southwest Airlines®, Stella Artois®, WarnerMedia; Sustaining Sponsors – Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, Fire TV, GEICO, High West Distillery, Hulu, IMDbPro, Lyft, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Variety, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival. sundance.org/festival

Sundance Institute
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.

Media Contact:
Emily Andrews
310.360.1981
emily_andrews@sundance.org

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(Source: Pres release provided by SUndace ress Office

 

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Presents Feature Film Prize to Tesla, Announces New Grants to Artists at 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Winners of Commissioning Grant, Episodic Storytelling Grant and Lab Fellowship Revealed 

Director-Screenwriter Michael Almereyda Honored

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (January 28, 2020) Park City, Utah. — At a reception at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival today, the beneficiaries of $70,000 in grants from Sundance Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation were revealed. Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation presented the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize to Tesla and announced the new winners: Tim Delaney for The Plutonians (Sundance Institute | Sloan Commissioning Grant); Kiran Deol for Tidal Disruption (Sundance Institute | Sloan Development Fellowship); and Courtney Smith for Higher (Sundance Institute | Sloan Episodic Fellowship). Michael Almereyda’s Tesla was formally presented with a $20,000 check for winning the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize, as previously announced.

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.

putnam-1
Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute

“Science is key in bridging the gap between the real and the potential, and seeing stories of science told boldly, independently, and with creative vision can spark our own imaginations,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute. “With the aid of the Sloan Foundation, works that tell these stories can enlighten us on the progress we’ve made and help to inspire us to take on the challenges of the future.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Sundance Institute for our 18th year in a row and to honor Michael Almereyda’s Tesla with Ethan Hawke in the title role as our juried feature film prize winner,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Nicola Tesla was a technological pioneer far ahead of his time and this highly original film for the first time in movie history does both technological and poetic justice to this enduringly fascinating and enigmatic figure. We are equally thrilled to develop with Sundance an exciting pipeline of new screenplays and teleplays including The Plutonians, Tidal Disruption and Higher, encompassing a brilliant satire about astronomy and truth, a psychological drama about sexual harassment in science and a social and historical epic about the construction of the Empire State Building. These three new winning scripts along with many previous Sundance winners still in development—and dozens of more projects with our five other film partners across the country—comprise one of the best lists in the film industry and show yet again the science makes for great storytelling and great characters.”
The eighteen-year partnership between the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Sundance Institute forms part of the Sloan Foundation’s nationwide Film Program, which includes support for six of the nation’s leading film schools and seven screenwriting development partners and has resulted in over 25 completed feature films. In addition to Hidden Figures, originally supported by a Sloan book grant, the film program has long championed stories about women in science from Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story to stories about Louise Pearce, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, and Jane Goodall. The program has also supported many works about the role of technology in daily life, including the impact of machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Sloan has supported feature narrative films such as Adventures of a Mathematician, One Man Dies a Million Times, The Sound of Silence, To Dust, The Catcher Was a Spy, The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Imitation Game, Experimenter and Operator, along with documentaries, such as the 2020 Sundance Film Festival selection Coded Bias and several new projects, including episodic television, in development. The program has also given early recognition to stand-out films such as The Aeronauts, First Man, Searching, The Martian and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, last year’s recipient of the Feature Film Prize.

Tesla: Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize

Tesla has been awarded the 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and received a $20,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at today’s reception. The Prize is selected by a jury of film and science professionals and presented to an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character, and will be included in the 2020 Sundance Film Festival closing Awards Night.

The 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize Jury was named on January 14, 2020, and includes Dr. Ruth Angus, associate professor in astrophysics at Columbia University; actress Emily Mortimer; multimedia artist Jessica Oreck; materials scientist and science communicator Ainissa Ramirez; and director and screenwriter Michael Tyburski.

The jury stated, “For its bold and original approach to cinematic storytelling, and for its beautifully shot portrayal of a technological pioneer and visionary futurist who foresaw our age 100 years ago, the 2020 Alfred. P. Sloan Feature Film Prize goes to Michael Almereyda’s Tesla.”

Tesla / United States (Director and screenwriter: Michael Almereyda, Producers: Avi Lerner, Jeffery Greenstein, Uri Singer, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Isen Robbins) — Highlighting the Promethean struggles of Nikola Tesla, as he attempts to transcend entrenched technology–including his own previous work–by pioneering a system of wireless energy that will change the world. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle Maclachlan, Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan, Hannah Gross, Josh Hamilton

Michael Almereyda’s films include features, documentaries, and shorts. Marjorie Prime premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Experimenter premiered at the 2015 Festival. Almereyda’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline premiered at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival.

Sundance Institute / Sloan Commissioning Grant

Tim Delaney will receive a $25,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for The Plutonians. Previous winners include Alex Rivera’s La Vida Robot and Robert Edwards’s American Prometheus.

The Plutonians (U.S.A.) / Tim Delaney (Director, Screenwriter) — When the redefinition of planethood threatens to exclude Pluto, a motley coalition of astronomers and outsiders conspires to defend it by any means necessary, challenging what it means to be special in an indifferent universe.

Tim Delaney is a writer and director from Bronxville, NY. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded Best Undergraduate Screenplay, and currently resides in New York where he attends NYU’s Graduate Filmmaking Program as both a thesis student and an adjunct professor.

Sundance Institute / Sloan Development  Fellowship
Kiran Deol will receive a $15,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for Tidal Disruption. Previous winners include Logan Kibens’s Operator, Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler’s Bell and Rob Meyer’s A Birder’s Guide to Everything.

Tidal Disruption (U.S.A.) / Kiran Deol (Director, Screenwriter) — A starry-eyed graduate student desperately struggles to maneuver between her passion for astronomy and her charismatic mentor’s advances in this claustrophobic psychological thriller.

Kiran Deol is a filmmaker, comedian, and actor based in Los Angeles. Her first film, Woman Rebel, a documentary about women rebel soldiers, was nominated for an Emmy, shortlisted for an Oscar and distributed by HBO. She currently stars in as ‘Mallory’ in the new NBC/Hulu series Sunnyside from Mike Schur and Kal Penn, tours nationally as a standup comedian and can be heard on the Crooked Media’s Hysteria podcast. Tidal Disruption is her first feature film.

Sundance Institute / Sloan Episodic Fellowship
Courtney Smith will receive a $10,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for Higher.

Higher (U.S.A.) / Courtney Smith (Screenwriter) — The Empire State Building, a symbol of American can-do, is a dream that nearly was not. Sparked by the Roaring Twenties and fueled by New York’s “Race to the Sky,” the building was birthed right into the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This upstairs/downstairs drama will explore the lives of those brave men and women — immigrants, investors, and industrialists — who risked it all to raise the rafters on the world’s tallest building while the world around them fell apart.

Courtney A. Smith, an NYU/ Tisch grad, is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She was a Second Round Finalist at the Austin Film Festival (2015) and her feature film Archangel (co-written by Patrick Massett) received offers from Blumhouse, Sony International and IM Global. She is currently working on Swagger for Apple TV+ and has worked in writer’s departments on shows including Friday Night Lights, The Get Down and The Blacklist.

The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs, and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2020 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire; AT&T; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Southwest Airlines®, Stella Artois®, WarnerMedia; Sustaining Sponsors – Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, Fire TV, GEICO, High West Distillery, Hulu, IMDbPro, Lyft, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Variety, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival. sundance.org/festival

Sundance Institute
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, discovering 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.

About the Sloan Foundation
The New York-based Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, is a non-profit philanthropy that makes grants for original research and education in science, technology, and economic performance. Sloan’s program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theater and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities.

Sloan’s Film Program encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past two decades, Sloan has partnered with some of the top film schools in the country – including AFI, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, and USC – and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production, along with an annual best-of-the-best Student Grand Jury Prize administered by the Tribeca Film Institute. The Foundation also supports screenplay development programs with the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, SFFILM, the Black List, and Film Independent, the Aretha Film Festival and the North Fork TV Festival and has helped develop such film projects as Thor Klein’s Adventures of a Mathematician, Jessica Orek’s One Man Dies a Million Times, Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence which premiered this year at Sundance, Shawn Snyder’s To Dust, Ben Lewin’s The Catcher Was a Spy, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Matthew Brown’s The Man Who Knew Infinity, and Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter. The Foundation has also supported theatrical documentaries such as Coded Bias, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, The Bit Player, BOMBSHELL: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Particle Fever, and Jacques Perrin’s Oceans.

The Foundation has an active theater program and commissions about twenty science plays each year from the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the National Theatre, as well as supporting select productions across the country and abroad. Recent grants have supported Bess Wohl’s Continuity, Charly Evon Simpson’s Behind the Sheet, Chiara Atik’s BUMP, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, Nick Payne’s Constellations, Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye, and Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51. The Foundation’s book program includes early support for Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, the highest-grossing Oscar-nominated film of 2017 and the recipient of the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize at the San Francisco Film Society in December 2016.

For more information on the Sloan Foundation, visit Sloan.org or follow the Foundation on Twitter and Facebook at @SloanPublic.

Media Contact:
Jason Berger
435.658.3456
jason_berger@sundance.org

For the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation:
Nick Seaver
301.280.5727
nseaver@burness.com

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(Source: Press release From Sundance Press Office)

 

 

 

SUNDANCE FILM REVIEW: Taylor Swift Miss Americana

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, directed by Lana Wilson, made its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on Opening Night. 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 intrigued. Utilizing present-day narrative voice-over from Swift, archival footage, still photos and current interviews from those closest to the megastar and cultural icon, a portrait of who Taylor Swift is, was, and will be is painted with both smooth and coarse strokes. Others appearing in Miss Americana are Swift’s mother, best friend, publicist, producer and a plethora of others inside the star’s orbit. Using at times both documentary recording techniques of direct cinema and cinema verite, Jenny Roh, reveals as much and probably more than the spoken words. Admittedly, after seeing Swift perform in Brian Loschiavo’s documentary, Bluebird, at the 50th Anniversary of the Nashville Film Festival, I was intrigued.

Wilson begins with Taylor’s first song-writing attempts captured on home videos providing a glimpse into the driving force behind Swift’s rapid ascent into stardom. At the age of 9, Taylor, seated on a performer’s chair looks directly into the camera and shares with her audience she’s going to sing a song she wrote yesterday. Without missing a beat a cut returns to Taylor, again in a chair looking into the camera sharing with the audience she about to sing a song she wrote five minutes ago. These moments set the tone for the journey Miss Americana takes the audience. At once serious. At other times playful and introspective.

A few pivotal moments occur when Ms. Swift wins album of the year at age 16 – an unheard-of achievement – the youngest person to ever write, record and perform a number one hit and her rise to stardom is just beginning. What could have been a massive train derailment occurred at the VMA Awards. Swift was honored with the Video of the Year award. Mid-way through her speech a fellow performer under the influence jaunted out on stage, droopy drawers and all, high-jacked a microphone and began belligerently crying foul. Later this artist dubbed “a jackass” by the then President of the United States, Barack Obama, would lay claim to Swift’s success by his sheer stupidity, ignorance, mean-spiritedness and jealous nature.

The young woman’s biggest career moment, normally a monumentally happy occasion, turned nightmarish as the young starlet appeared bewildered and somewhat dumbfounded by the chaotic moment. Loud boos and barbs were hurled from the audience as Swift left stage head-down, shoulder slumped. In present-day time Shift shares what was going through her mind. What transpired over the next few years is unparalleled in the history of the music industry. Swift pumped out four number one albums back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Each album remained at the number one slot on the charts for at least six weeks. No other group or performer, including the Fab Four (The Beatles) has accomplished such a feat.

Alone at the top without a life partner despite a close and loving mother-daughter relationship, Taylor realizes she wants an intimate partner to share the ups and downs of life. The only caveat is both parties decide it needs to be a private relationship. An exquisite camera shot of the couple walking focuses on the shadows cast on willowing grass. A maturing woman, Wilson reveals Swift’s understanding of life and actions to ensure she and other women have an equal opportunity to enjoy success and live their lives to the fullest without regrets and without needing approval from an audience.

All I can say is stay tuned for more on this iconic performer as Swift will continue to reveal (seemingly at times reinventing) who she is in what is truly an art form. Her recent performances and videos continue to receive critical acclaim and her stadium and arena concerts are the hottest tickets in town. And, if that’s not enough, Swift has entered the political ring with an endorsement for the 2018 U.S. Senatorial race in her home state of Tennessee.

If you don’t know who Taylor Swift is Miss Americana is the doc for you. And, if you think you know Taylor Swift, check out Miss Americana for a look into what makes Taylor tick. Highly recommended.

SUNDANCE FILM REVIEW: The Climb

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Climb, featured in the Spotlight section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival is directed by New York actor and filmmaker, Michael Angelo Covino. Covino most recently received the Special Jury Prize at SXSW for Hunter Gatherer. In 2016, he was named to Moviemaker Magazine’s “25 screenwriters to watch” list. In The Climb, from Sony Pictures Classic, Covino tells the story of two best friends navigating adulthood and what it means to be a best friend. The film opens with the two main characters, Kyle, portrayed by Kyle Marvin, and Mike, portrayed by Covino himself, biking up a long incline in France.

CLIMB-1
Best friends, Kyle, left, portrayed by Kyle Marvin, and Mike, portrayed by Michael Angelo Covino, star in the Sony Pictures Classics, The Climb. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic)

 

Both riders are climbing vigorously when the fun begins. Kyle reveals to his best friend and soon-to-be best man at Kyle’s upcoming wedding his anxiety about the thoughts of married life. Without missing a beat Mike drops a silent but deadly bombshell – he slept with Kyle’s fiance’, Suzi, portrayed by Talia Balsam, multiple times. But before Kyle and Suzi began dating. Mike a standout high school football player swears it meant nothing and they broke it off long ago.

Adding to the raucous opening, a small Italian car arrives blaring its obnoxious horn. Mike comes undone swearing for the driver to go by and then he proceeds to chase the car profusely. When Kyle finally catches up, the driver is pummelling a prostrate Mike culminating in a few well-placed stomps that land Mike in the hospital. Suzi arrives to check on Kyle’s well-being and discovers Mike in an examining station. Both swear they have no feelings for each other before engaging in a no-holds-barred passionate kiss. Kyle walks in and the wedding is off while the story is just beginning.

Covino delivers brilliance with a sharply written script he and Morgan co-wrote. Adding into the mix some nicely placed diegetic musical performances and The Climb is quickly elevated into art cinema. A strong musical score from Jon Natchez and Martin Mabz heightens the film’s revealing truths. Cinematographer Zach Cupperstein executes several French New Wave shots that speak volumes in the film’s cinematic language. Sara Shaw provides seamless editing and complementary pacing consistent with the narrative. Callan Stokes handled costuming augmenting the setting while enhancing an eye-pleasing mise-en-scene. A strong supporting cast includes veteran actor, George Wendt, Judith Godreche, and Gayle Rankin in well-executed roles.

The Climb is a treasure-trove of filmmaking techniques with strong screenwriting, well-executed cinematography, and compelling performances. It’s is a fun ride and a highly recommended viewing.

Additional screenings at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival are Sunday, January 26th, 6:30 PM, at the Ray Theatre, and Saturday, February 1st, 6PM, at the Park City Library.

Until then, I’ll see you at the movies!

Larry 2020 Sundance