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Meet the 10 Talented Filmmakers Selected for Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Intensive 2016

Meet the 10 Talented Filmmakers Selected for Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Intensive 2016

For over 30 years Sundance Institute has been an iconic organization providing opportunities and resources to independent filmmakers and those that want to support them. Their two flagship programs are the renowned Screenwriters Lab and the Directors Lab, which allow up-and-coming artists to interact and receive mentorship from successful and acclaimed members of the film industry. To say that being part of one these programs is a once in a lifetime opportunity is an understatement. The proof is in the undeniable quality of the projects that are shaped during the labs and that eventually become part of the cinematic conversation. 

While fostering talent is what Sundance Institute does best, they are one of the institutions that most diligently reinforces their commitment to provide opportunities for new voices that represent an eclectic array of backgrounds and experiences. In order to cast their net of support even wider, the institute offers numerous exciting programs beyond those that are already well-known in the filmmaking community. As part of Sundance Institute’s Diversity Initiative, the Screenwriters Intensive is an invaluable resource that focuses on stories outside of the homogenous fare. 

The program is a 1 1/2 day workshop for writers whose work has been encountered by the institute as part of their outreach for the Labs and which they find especially promising. The writers of 10 projects take part in a program whose elements include a hands-on writing workshop led by creative advisor Joan Tewkesbury (“Nashville”), a screening of a recent Sundance film followed by a candid conversation with the filmmaker, a reception with Sundance staff and the extended Sundance community, and one-on-one meetings with two creative advisors to get feedback on their script. With the Intensive, the Sundance Institute aims to present participants with creative tools that they can take back to their own work, provide a space for dialogue and information sharing about the creative process of making a film (and all of the joys and challenges therein), and foster community among storytellers and an ongoing connection with Sundance.

The screening this year was Andrew Ahn’s “Spa Night,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and has now been picked up for U.S distribution by Strand Releasing. Centered on the conflicted son of a Korean immigrant couple in Los Angeles, Ahn’s subtle yet poignant narrative deals with issues of identity both sexual and cultural. For the second day of the workshop, the fellows had one-on-one meetings with celebrated figures in independent cinema: Miranda July, Jennifer Salt,  Deena Goldstone, Patricia Cardoso, Pete Sollett, Dana Stevens, Tanya Hamilton, Ligiah Villalobos, Scott Neustadter, and Kyle Patrick Alvarez

The Screenwriters Intensive fellows come from uniquely different backgrounds, and their projects bring original stories that are sure to showcase new and inventive perspectives on the world. Get to know them and their stories as they are on their way to giving us a great batch of new independent films.

The application for the 2017 January Screenwriters Lab is currently open with a deadline of May 3. Applicants for the Screenwriters Lab are also considered for the Screenwriters Intensive, Sundance Institute Asian American Fellowship, and the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program Latino Fellowship, as eligibility allows. To learn more about the Sundance Institute’s programs visit HERE

KHALIK ALLAH 

Project: “Kareem”    

Khalik Allah is a
self taught filmmaker and photographer. His work has been described as
visceral, hauntingly beautiful, penetrative and profoundly personal.
Photography and filmmaking are two overlapping circles that form a venn diagram
in Allah’s mind; the area where they overlap is the space he inhabits as an
artist. Allah’s cinematic vignettes document hardscrabble life at the corner of
125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem (New York City), most recently in
his award-winning documentary Field
Niggas
, which screened at festivals worldwide.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is. Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular. 

My project is in an incredibly early stage. I’m basically taking the last four years of my life as a photographer on 125th and Lex and adapting it into a fiction narrative. 
Briefly tell us about the most important or rewarding lesson you took from the first day of the Screenwriters Intensive Lab. How will this impact the future development of your project? 

The most important thing was the mutual inspiration we gave each other. The lab advisors helped us dig deeper into ourselves. Their faith in us was tremendous. I took away a new lease on my future. 
Tell me about your experience during day two and your interaction with the advisors. How important was it for you to get feedback from a professional in the field that has gone through some of the same creative challenges as you?

I met with Miranda July on day two of the lab. Wow she was incredible. She read my entire script and gave me many productive notes. I was impressed that she gave me so much time. Plenty of useful information I can implement. 
Now that you’ve gone through this learning experience, what are some of the next steps you will be taking as you continue to develop your project?

I must keep writing.


ZIA ANGER

Project: “Despues
De” 

Zia Anger is a filmmaker and music video director. Her most
recent short, “My Last Film,” premiered
at the 53rd New York Film Festival. In 2015, her short “I Remember Nothing” had its world premiere at New Directors/New
Films and its international premiere at Festival del film Locarno. Other
screenings include: AFI Fest, Denver Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, Ann
Arbor Film Festival, Basilica Soundscape, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and
Outsider Art,  and Vienna
Independent Shorts. She has made music videos for various independent artists,
including Angel Olsen, Julianna Barwick, and Jenny Hval, the latter of whom she
also tours with, projecting live video and participating as a performer. Her
music videos have been featured in various online publications including:
Pitchfork, the Guardian, and NPR. In 2015, Anger was included in Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces
of Independent Film” issue. She was a 2015 fellow in film/video from the
New York Foundation for the Arts. In 2008, she was the recipient of the
Panavision New Filmmaker Grant for her short film “Lover Boy.” She holds a BA/BS from Ithaca College and a MFA from The
School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is. Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular. 


JESSIE KAHNWEILER

Project: 
“Meet
My Rapist”  
 

Jessie
Kahnweiler has been featured in The New
York Times, CNN, TMZ, People, The Hollywood Reporter, New York Magazine, Mashable,  Buzzfeed, Elle, The Daily Beast,
Jezebel,  Indiewire, LA Weekly, The
Huffington Post
, and The Independent.
At the University of Redlands, Kahnweiler quickly began ditching class in order
to make documentaries. For her thesis film, Little
America
, she hitchhiked across the country to explore the world of
America’s truck drivers. After getting dumped, she wrote and co-directed the
comedic short “Baby Love,” co-starring
alongside “Anchorman’s” David Koechner.
Kahnweiler was selected for the 6 Points Artist Fellowship which inspired her
comedic web series entitled “Dude, Where’s
my Chutzpah?” Her short “Meet my Rapist,” a dark comedy about running into her rapist at the Farmers’ Market, inspired
her live show “The Rape Girl.” Kahnweiler
confronted her own white privilege in her viral hit “Jessie Gets Arrested.” Her latest project, for which she serves as writer, director, and stars,
is “The Skinny,” a dark comedic series
based on her 10 year relationship with bulimia. It premiered at the 2016
Sundance Film Festival and is produced by Refinery29 and Jill Soloway’s
Wifey.tv  Kahnweiler lives in LA
with her plants.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is.

Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular.   My project is called “Meet My Rapist” and it is loosely based on a short film I made of the same name a few years ago. After the short had it’s 15 minutes online I was moving on to other projects but I felt this gnawing at my gut. I tried to ignore it, popped some advil, and went to yoga but that gnawing just wouldn’t stop. That annoying painful gnawing was the beginnings of this script. I’ve been working on the script on and off for about a year. I’m at the stage where I need to take out most of the flippant jokes and get to the real meat of the matter – the heart, the pain. I need to live and cry this story out. Because the project is so personal it is easy for me to get lost in it. Sometimes I forget where I end and my characters begin.  So being at the Sundance lab is great timing. I feel totes blessed. 

 
Briefly tell us about the most important or rewarding lesson you took from the first day of the Screenwriters Intensive Lab. How will this impact the future development of your project? 

That I can’t hide behind my jokes.  After writing in a feeling state all day our amazing teaching Joan looked at me and was like “Your movie is a song and you gotta hit the bass notes.” I was like MIC DROP.  I love the challenge of making something that is a comedy based in the tragedy of human reality. That is my north star for this movie. I’m not sure if I will get there but that’s where I’ll be heading. 

Tell me about your experience during day two and your interaction with the advisors. How important was it for you to get feedback from a professional in the field that has gone through some of the same creative challenges as you? 

It was incredible to take a deep dive into the script with women who so deeply understand screenwriting from the inside out. The feedback was never like “do it MY way” it was more about ripping open the guts of the script and getting to that deeper level. Okay this happens but WHY? Screenwriting can be so daunting like “I need write the perfect thing so I can get an agent so I can get hired etc. ” and the process can be so lonely and daunting . But in both my sessions we just talked about human behavior and what makes people tick and it reminded me that filmmaking is magic and I’m really lucky to be here. Also a woman, it was inspiring to meet with other women who are living my dream. Who are feeling for a living. In both my sessions I laughed, cried, and go to ask as many questions I wanted it. It was basically my ideal Tinder date. 

Now that you’ve gone through this learning experience, what are some of the next steps you will be taking as you continue to develop your project?

 I’m going to keep working on drafts of the script, keep sharing it with people I trust, keep begging Sundance to let me come over and eat bagels, keep pitching it to anyone who will listen, keep crying, keep feeling, keep making my movie. 

ALLISON LEE 

Project: “Jawbone”

Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Los Angeles, Allison Lee
studied English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago. She
received her MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of
Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Upon graduation, she worked in
development and production at DreamWorks and NBCUniversal. Lee has received
grants from the Media Action Network and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts
and Sciences. She was also named a Project Involve fellow, and her short The Grizzly was produced by Film
Independent. In 2015, she was one of five screenwriters who received a
residency through the inaugural Hedgebrook Screenwriters Lab, where she was
mentored by Jenny Bicks and Jane Anderson.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is. Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular.

“Jawbone” is about a Korean woman who undergoes drastic plastic surgery as a means to achieve what she and her peers view as success. After she gives birth to a daughter who looks nothing like her, her life begins to unravel and she’s forced to confront her past.

I am currently grappling with rewrites while meeting with potential producers and crew.

I see “Jawbone” as a hybrid of Korean cinema and American independent film. Korean movies relish the tension in tightly wound familial and social relationships. I think my personal connection to this fabric helps me discern and explore where the similarities and differences to American culture begin and end. I also think the best American independent films underscore the universality of specific personal stories, and I aspire to follow in this tradition.

Briefly tell us about the most important or rewarding lesson you took from the first day of the Screenwriters Intensive Lab. How will this impact the future development of your project?

I felt transformed by the sessions with Joan Tewkesbury. She pushed us to bare our souls and delve into our histories to deliver stories that were truthful and specific. My biggest fear about “Jawbone” is that a few extreme events in the plot would read as absurdist melodrama. Relating these events back to some of my own crises helped me re-center the emotional truth of my characters and their journeys.

Tell me about your experience during day two and your interaction with the advisors. How important was it for you to get feedback from a professional in the field that has gone through some of the same creative challenges as you?

It was crucial to work with filmmakers who knew the Sundance aesthetic and had weathered the challenges before us. I knew the script needed improvement but had a hazy vision of what it required. Tanya Hamilton’s notes were both encouraging and precise about galvanizing and concretizing the protagonist’s journey. Patricia Cardoso, with her directorial and producerial expertise, reminded me that my artistic flights of fancy should still be grounded in reality and be economical and pragmatic. The breadth of their approaches made me feel like I was getting the best of all worlds.

Now that you’ve gone through this learning experience, what are some of the next steps you will be taking as you continue to develop your project?

I am hustling on a rewrite ready to be seen by producers and representatives. Ultimately, I want to direct “Jawbone,” and I am also working on a short film version. 

ELIZA LEE

Project: “A Beautiful Lie”

Educated in Canada and the Czech Republic, Eliza Lee began in Asia as a DP trainee before returning to her first passion: screenwriting. She takes great pride in world building for her complex women characters. Lee’s feature, Maybe Tomorrow, about rock legend Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, is being produced by Michelle Sy (“Finding Neverland”) and Sophia Chang (former artist manager for Wu Tang Clan), with Academy Award nominee Steph Green (“Run & Jump”) attached to direct. Lee’s screenplay, “A Beautiful Lie,” about crime novelist Patricia Highsmith, was honored at the 2015 Athena Film Festival, and was also selected for the 2015 Outfest Screenwriting Lab. In addition, she was a CAPE 2015 Film & Television Fellow and was mentored by various executives from Sony, Paramount, and Fox, among others. Lee has several features and television projects in development. She is the 2016 Sundance Institute Asian American Fellow.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is. Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular. 

When Strangers on the Train was published in 1950 and with the anticipation for it to be turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, Patricia Highsmith was catapulted into the literary spotlight. Here she thought was her opportunity to break free of the crime genre and finally write her Great American novel. Except, it was at the height of McCarthy’s witch hunt, and her Great American novel would become the iconic lesbian tale, The Price of Salt. In the book, Patricia defiantly gave her lesbian main characters a happy ending together, but faced with the real threat of being blacklisted, she is forced to publish it under a pseudonym. This decision would send her down a path of alcoholism, promiscuity and loneliness as she realized she would not have the happy ending she wrote.


With this story, I knew it had to come from the seminal moment in her life. And for me, it is when she braved writing The Price of Salt at a time where being who you are and believing in what you do can land you in jail, exile or financial ruin. She had to deny her nature, and coupled with a growing rage it would breed the infamous “monster” that would come to define her in her later years.

While her male peers have enjoyed forgiving, pedestal descriptors like “troubled”, “complex” or the genius “l’enfant terrible”, Highsmith was shown no such generosity.

On top of that, I am struck how often pictures of her old age are published displaying her alcohol and anger ravaged face. We made that. Juxtapose those with photos of Highsmith at 21, so full of hope, vitality and ready for all the wonders of love, and it is clear – she was born this way. “A Beautiful Lie” is about a woman’s quest for love when it was a crime.
Briefly tell us about the most important or rewarding lesson you took from the first day of the Screenwriters Intensive Lab. How will this impact the future development of your project?
 
Specifically, I learned I hide behind fiction or through my characters and not have to admit the narrative comes from a personal place. Through an incredibly safe and nurturing environment on the first day, Joan Tewksbury led us through a series of spontaneous and revelatory writing exercises that at first seemed random, but without time to allow the self-censor to kick in, the writing showcased how many more complex layers we can apply to our characters through our uninhibited sharing of our personal experiences. As a result, because the stories come from us, they are inherently going to be personal. It was like sleight of hand for the imagination.
Tell me about your experience during day two and your interaction with the advisors. How important was it for you to get feedback from a professional in the field that has gone through some of the same creative challenges as you?

The advisors were there to help us tell the story we want to tell. And the one-on-one sessions were focused solely on the writing, and was intended to be a dialogue. It was humbling to learn the tremendous amount of time they took to burrow deep into our scripts. I was thoroughly empowered by what these writers offered me, and excited that I could challenge such seasoned pros with my perspective and approach to telling a story. Ligiah Villalobos dared me to linger longer in emotional scenes and to take my pursuit for emotional truths for my character even further. While Scott Neustadter and I discussed much about memories as structure, he also pushed me to defy a note i have received that my character is “unlikable” and to allow her to have even more anti-hero moments. i concluded my last day at the Intensive with their voices unifying in the same sentiment: they have a good feeling the film will be made. 
Now that you’ve gone through this learning experience, what are some of the next steps you will be taking as you continue to develop your project?

Through the Sundance Intensive, I have a clear idea of what is my next step, and that is to apply another layer of shading to my portrait of Patricia Highsmith. I’m anxious to keep the momentum going, and then take it out to talent. I’m going to realize this film. 

JIMMY MOSQUEDA 

Project: “Valedictorian” 

Jimmy Mosqueda is a lifelong California resident, the son of two
Mexican migrant workers, and a graduate of Stanford University. From an early
age he showed a fondness for writing, starting his first journal at the age of
five, which developed into a passion for writing short stories, poetry and
eventually screenplays. While attending Stanford on a full scholarship, Mosqueda
saw how social class and race influenced the experiences of his fellow
students, which made him realize just how much the American educational system
is intimately tied to those pillars. The intersection of race, class, and
education remains an ongoing theme in his works. Today, Mosqueda lives in Los
Angeles and writes full-time. His screenplays have placed in numerous contests,
including as a finalist in the Austin Film Festival, Script Pipeline and
TrackingB competitions, and as a semifinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship. He’s
represented by Angelina Chen and Brooklyn Weaver of Energy Entertainment, and
is actively developing projects for film and television.

Describe your project briefly and at what stage in the creative process it is. Include details about your artistic vision for this project in particular. 

“Valedictorian” is dark teen comedy in the vein of “Election” and “Heathers.” It’s about an ambitious teenage girl who do anything to be crowned valedictorian of her high school, including a little bit of murder. So, you know, just like real high school! I started writing this project about three years ago. It was inspired by my own school experiences, where everyone on the Honors track was super competitive and had their sights set on the Ivy League. Readers respond positively to the comedy and the heightened world of the script, which is great, but one thing I felt got buried underneath the multitude of drafts is the emotional core of the main character. So during the Intensive my main goal was to rediscover who she was and, building out from that, the reason why I wanted to tell this story in the first place.

Briefly tell us about the most important or rewarding lesson you took from the first day of the Screenwriters Intensive Lab. How will this impact the future development of your project? 

The most important thing I learned from the workshop with Joan Tewkesbury is that creative development is not about brainstorming characters or story points. All of us have unique, personal experiences and emotions that can form the building blocks of a story. You really have to look inward and tap that raw data, or else run the risk of your story ringing hollow. A lot of artists understand this intuitively, I believe, but Joan’s workshop laid it out in such clear and simple terms. For my next draft of “Valedictorian,” I’m going to use these techniques as a stress test, but in all honesty I want to go back and revisit every project I ever worked on using this approach now.

Tell me about your experience during day two and your interaction with the advisors. How important was it for you to get feedback from a professional in the field that has gone through some of the same creative challenges as you?

My advisors were the bee’s knees, if I can be so blunt. My first session was with Scott Neustadter, who along with his writing partner has written a lot of films with teen lead characters. He very clearly understood what the script was, and gave very specific, actionable notes on how to improve what’s already there. I love how he was able to cut through and really get at the core issues of script, which were mostly the same issues I had going in. Scott is killing the screenwriting game right now. His insights were invaluable.

My second session was with Kyle Patrick Alvarez. We spent a lot of time talking about the main character, her motivation, her relationships, and how she “earns” the big moments/twists in the script. We also spent some time talking bigger picture about the industry and how to build a career in Hollywood, which was very much appreciated. Additionally, it was great getting the perspective of another Latino in the industry.

Both men were truly gracious with their time. I left both sessions feeling inspired!

Now that you’ve gone through this learning experience, what are some of the next steps you will be taking as you continue to develop your project?

After stepping off Cloud 9, it’s back to the computer and working on a new draft of “Valedictorian.” In addition, I will also be tackling a new draft of the pilot version. It’s the same world and characters, but with a different engine that is geared towards episodic narrative. Many of the notes I got from Scott and Kyle apply to the pilot version as well, so it’s like getting two for the price of one!

Finally, I just want to thank everyone involved with putting together the Intensive: Ilyse McKimmie, Michelle Satter, Anne Lai, Shira Rockowitz and everyone at the Sundance Institute who made this possible. I am forever grateful for the experience.

LOTFY NATHAN

Project:  Untitled Bouazizi Project    

Lotfy Nathan’s first film, the documentary “12 O’Clock Boys,” played over 50 film festivals worldwide, including
SXSW, Sundance NEXT Fest, Lincoln Center, Viennale, Hot Docs, London, and
Copenhagen in 2013. It was ranked 7 in the BFI list of top 20 documentaries of
2013, and garnered Nathan an HBO Emerging Artist award. “12 O’Clock Boys” was subsequently picked up by Oscilloscope for a
North American release in theaters, acquired by Showtime for television, and
was optioned for a fiction remake by Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment.
Nathan is a 2015 grantee of the Creative Capital Foundation, a resident
filmmaker at the Cinereach Foundation, and a previous awardee of the Garrett
Scott development grant, the Peter Reed Foundation, the Grainger Marburg travel
grant, and an IFP fellowship.

 

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