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Sundance picks projects for filmmaker and New Frontier Labs

Published May 12, 2017 11:03 am
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Thirteen independent film projects have been picked for the 2017 Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Labs, representing not only U.S. filmmakers but works from Cuba, Chile, Kenya and the United Kingdom.

The labs — running May 29 to June 22 at Robert Redford's Sundance resort in Provo Canyon — give filmmakers a chance to workshop their scripts, shooting and editing scenes with real film crews and professional actors, and receiving advice from industry veterans.

The line-up of advisors for this year's labs is led by Redford, and includes actors Joan Darling, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer, and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Karyn Kusama ("The Invitation"), Keith Gordon ("Mother Night"), Rick Famuyiwa ("Dope"), Ira Sachs ("Love Is Strange") and many others. Overseeing the labs are Michelle Satter, founding director of Sundance's Feature Film Program, and labs director Ilyse McKimmie.

Eight projects have been chosen for the Directors Lab, which runs the full three weeks, and five more will come in for the Screenwriters Lab in the final week.

Sundance also recently announced the six projects that will take part in the institute's New Frontier Story Lab, running May 17-22 at the Sundance resort.

Here are the projects, with synopses provided by Sundance. (All projects are U.S.-based, unless otherwise noted):


Directors Lab projects

• "The 40-Year-Old Version" • "'The 40-Year Old Version' tells the story of a down-on-her-luck New York playwright who decides that the only way to salvage her artistic voice is to become a rapper...at age 40." Writer-director Radha Blank has written for the TV series "The Get Down" and "Empire," and performs hip-hop comedy as emcee RadhaMUSprime.

• "After Love" (U.K.) • "When Mary is suddenly widowed after decades of marriage to her Pakistani husband, she discovers he has a secret family living just across the English Channel in Calais. As she sets out to meet her husband's mistress, Mary navigates her new reality and the Muslim faith she embraced for her husband many years ago." Writer-director Aleem Khan, who lives in London and is of English-Pakistani heritage, has won awards for his short films "Diana" and "Three Brothers."

• "The Cow That Sang a Song About the Future" (Chile) • "In rural Chile, a herd of cattle suddenly and mysteriously falls dead, a deceased woman inexplicably returns home, and an estranged family reunites with its oppressive patriarch to face up to their own complicated history together." Writer-director Francisca Alegria's "And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow's Eye" was named Best International Fiction Short at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

• "Monsters and Men" • "After capturing an illegal act of police violence on his cellphone, a Brooklyn street hustler sets off a series of events that inexorably alters the lives of a local police officer and a star high-school athlete." Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green is a New York native, whose short "Stone Cars" premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival; his short "Stop" premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

• "Selah and the Spades" • "Once upon a time, a girl named Selah ruled Pontomic High School's most merciless gang: The Spades. Captivated by the pleasures and dangers of power, Selah is both charming and callous when deciding who to keep close and who to ruin." Writer-director Tayarisha Poe, a filmmaker and photographer from West Philadelphia who received Sundance's Knight Fellowship in 2016, is adapting this screenplay from a multi-media project she created in 2014.

• "Social Justice Warrior" • "A privileged white college sophomore clashes with her history professor and throws her university into chaos when she attempts to turn the entire campus into a safe space free from offensive language." Co-writer and director Brett Weiner is co-creator of the web series "Honest Trailers," has made short films for the New York Times digital series "Verbatim," and produced and directed projects for ABC Digital, including the sketch-comedy show "Paper Dolls" and the "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." companion piece "Declassified." Co-writer Emma Fletcher has written for "Parks and Recreation" and Amazon's "Red Oaks."

• "Stupid Happy" • "New York City, 1993: Dysfunctional, codependent sisters Rachel and Jackie believe they are orphans after the death of their father, only to find out the mother they thought died when they were young is not just alive, but the star of their favorite soap." Co-writer and director Hannah Pearl Utt and co-writer Jen Tullock created the digital series "Disengaged," and co-wrote the short "Partners," which premiered at Sundance in 2016.

• "The Wall at the End of the Road" • "At the height of the Superbug Era in near-future South Carolina, a young disinfectant technician must put his dreams on hold after a mysterious outbreak coincides with the return of his estranged father. When the situation escalates and his town is quarantined, he must negotiate the emotional and political fallout in a fight for his family's survival." Writer-director Grainger David's short film "The Chair" won the jury prize at SXSW, and screened in competition at Cannes.


Screenwriters Lab projects:

• "City on Fire" • "'City on Fire' tells the incendiary true story of an escalating conflict between the city of Philadelphia and the radical group MOVE, which led to an armed siege in a residential neighborhood and one of the most shocking decisions ever made by a city against its citizens." Writer Cory Miller wrote a modern telling of "Macbeth," "Line of Duty," which landed on the 2013 Black List of highly touted unproduced scripts. Director Colman Domingo is a theater director and playwright, and is an actor whose credits include "Lincoln," "Selma," "The Birth of a Nation" and "Fear the Walking Dead."

• "Hawa Hawaii" (Kenya) • "Hamedi, a Muslim drag queen, returns home to be with his dying mother. Back in Mombasa for the first time in decades, yet still facing his mother's longstanding disapproval of his lifestyle, he decides that Taarab, the fading art of Swahili orchestral singing, may be the only way to mend their deeply fractured relationship." Writer-director Amirah Tajdin is a Kenyan-born artist and filmmaker whose recent short "Marea de Tierra" played at Cannes in 2015 and Sundance in 2016.

• "Layne" • "Layne is stuck—in grief over her recently deceased mother, in a dead-end affair with her married boss, in compulsive behavior that only serves to isolate her. But when she meets Christine, a young car thief looking for a way to penetrate her own numbness, their galvanizing and dangerous connection changes them in ways they could not predict." Writer-director Clea DuVall is an actor who has appeared on TV in "Veep," "The Newsroom," "American Horror Story" and "Heroes," and in such movies as "Argo" and "21 Grams." Her feature debut, the relationship comedy "The Intervention," premiered at Sundance in 2016.

• "Shock Labor" (Cuba) • "Cuba, 1988. Wilma struggles to maintain a small farm in the Cuban countryside while caring for her disabled husband, but her fortunes change when she is discovered to be a talented skeet shooter who can represent her country. As Wilma rises to stardom, a tornado sweeps her away to a vast luxury resort. Though she finds herself lauded by her country's ruling class, Wilma realizes that there is no place like home and knows she must find her way back to her farm." Writer-director Marcos Díaz Sosa is a Cuban filmmaker and playwright who made his first film, the 2006 documentary "Fractal," at the age of 17.

• "Wild Indian" • "Two Anishinaabe men are inextricably bound together after covering up a senseless crime committed as adolescents. After years of separation following wildly divergent paths, they must finally confront how their traumatic secret has irrevocably shaped their lives." Writer-director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. debuted his short film "Shinaab" at this year's Sundance Film Festival.


New Frontier Lab projects:

• "Belle of the Ball" • "'Belle of the Ball' is an interactive VR experience, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction. Collaboratively created with queer and trans houseless youth in New York City, take the journey they face every day as they turn to the streets for resources, survival, and friendship. As day turns into night, you fall into the arms of your chosen family at an underground drag ball. 3D glitter never looked so good." Co-creator Rosie Haber made the digital documentary series "New Deep South," and is writing a film adaptation of the the transgender novel "Stone Butch Blues." Co-creator Silas Howard has directed episodes of "Transparent," "This Is Us" and "The Fosters," and his feature documentary "More Than T," about trans and gender-nonconforming activists, will debut on Showtime in June.

• "The Incident VR Series (Dinner Party, Episode 1)" • "'The Incident' is a VR anthology series that immersively dramatizes true-life unexplained mysteries. Inspired by Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone,' each 10-15 minute episode provides a thrill ride into the supernatural; a gripping emotional story; and an exploration of the often unacknowledged social, psychological, or political tensions that inform the Incident's central mystery. Episode One, 'Dinner Party,' is based on the true story of Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple who reported America's first nationally known UFO abduction incident in 1961." Co-creator Charlotte Stoudt is a writer-producer now working on Showtime's "Homeland." Co-creator Laura Wexler is a writer and editor who wrote the nonfiction book "Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America," and is developing "Pandora's Box" for Amazon Studios.

• "T3511" • "'T3511' is a post-genomic true love story of a biohacker's growing relationship to an anonymous donor. Told through an immersive living sculptural installation, 'T3511' draws the viewer into an emerging world of ubiquitous genomic sequencing, biobanking, and commodification of human biological materials." Co-creator Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and an assistant professor of Art and Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Co-creator Toshiaki Ozawa was one of the cinematographers on Laurie Anderson's documentar "Heart of a Dog," and worked on camera crews for such Sundance films as "I Shot Andy Warhol," "Buffalo 66," "American Psycho" and "Personal Velocity."

• "Counterpoint" • "In a time when technology is creating extraordinary extensions of human capabilities, the boundaries of private space have never been more vulnerable to penetration. Counterpoint is a narrative virtual reality film about a military drone operator who develops a perversely intimate relationship with his target." Creator Griffin Frazen, a designer and director working in many media, won an Emmy for the main title design of the historical drama "Manhattan."

• "A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks" • "'A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks' is a transmedia activism and WebVR project that investigates the causes and consequences of normalized violence against women perpetrated under the guise of tradition. Focused on the ritual of Chaupadi in Nepal, viewers experience the brutal exile of women forced to live in isolation during their menstrual periods and following childbirth." Co-creator Poulomi Basu is a storyteller, transmedia artist and women's rights activist. Co-creator Debra Anderson is a VR producer, director and entrepreneur who co-created the software company Datavized and organizes the Women in VR Meetup in New York.

• "Inside a Mind at War" • "'When you sign up for the military you know that you might witness death, but you never receive any training to learn how to cope with it,' explained American-Iraq War Veteran Scott England. This immersive virtual reality project explores the banality and horrors of war and England's battle with mental illness through hand-drawn illustrations of places based on his memories." Co-creator Sutu is an Australian artist and founder of the augmented-reality art publishing company EyeJack. Co-creator Charles Henden is a creative engineer who has worked on licensed movie titles for the Nintendo Wii and real-time sports simulations on the PlayStation 4.

• Amelia Winger-Bearskin • Artist Amanda Winger-Bearskin will attend Sundance's New Frontier Lab as a creative observer. Her work is in developing cultural communities at the intersection of art, technology and advocacy. She founded and directed the DBRS Innovation Labs, co-founded VRSalon.org and the Stupid Hackathon.




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