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by Brian Brooks
November 29, 2010 10:08 AM
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10 Films Slated for Sundance Institute's Inaugural Film Forward Initiative

A scene from Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone." [Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions]

Ten films have been selected to take part in the Sundance Institute's inaugural cultural exchange program, Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue initiative. The first year slate includes five American and five international titles, screening in New York and Tunisia in December.

The concept is a public/private cultural exchange effort spearheaded by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) in cooperation with its federal cultural partners, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to “foster cross-cultural understanding through cinematic storytelling.”

The five films slated to travel through the U.S. and abroad are: "A Small Act," directed by Jennifer Arnold; "Amreeka," directed by Cherien Dabis; "Freedom Riders," directed by Stanley Nelson; "La Mission," directed by Peter Bratt, and "Winter's Bone," directed by Debra Granik, which took the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize.

The five international films joining the roster include "Afghan Star" directed by Havana Marking; "Boy" directed by Taika Waititi; "Last Train Home" directed by Luxin Fan; "Son of Babylon" by Mohamed Al-Daradji, and "Udaan" directed by Vikramaditya Motwane.

The slate will travel to six U.S. states and reach six countries, reaching a number of underserved communities in each location. Locations in the United States include the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Piney Woods Boarding School in Jackson, Mississippi; the Ghetto Film School in the Bronx, New York; the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee; the Jacobs Burns Center, in Pleasantville, New York and the Puerto Rico Film Society in Puerto Rico.

American embassies abroad will play a key role in hosting the program and presenting these films to international audiences. Locations will include Tunisia, Kenya, Turkey and China. Film Forward's centerpiece will be a gala showcase of all ten films screened simultaneously in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in May, presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian Associates. The entire program concludes in September.

Participating filmmakers will present their work and lead master classes, discussion panels, Q&As and participate in other engagements to be held around the screenings in all locations.

"This exciting and diverse slate of independent films presents the common humanity we share across all boundaries," commented Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute in a statement. "Film Forward deeply reflects Sundance Institute's core mission by presenting films to new audiences around the world to inspire cross-cultural dialogue."

This year's list of Film Forward titles with descriptions and information provided by Sundance Institute:

"A Small Act" (Director: Jennifer Arnold)
A young Kenyan's life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founded his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received.

"Afghan Star," Afghanistan/UK (Director: Havana Marking)
After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, Pop Idol has come to television in Afghanistan: millions are watching and voting for their favorite singer. This film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk their lives to sing.

"Amreeka" (Director and Screenwriter: Cherien Dabis)
When a divorced Palestinian woman and her teenage son move to rural Illinois, they find their new lives replete with challenges. Cast: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Yussuf Abu-Warda, Alia Shawkat, Joseph Ziegler.

"Boy," New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi)
When his father returns home after many years away, an 11-year-old Boy and his little brother Rocky must reconcile reality with the fantasy dad they created in their imagination. Cast: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone.

"Freedom Riders" (Director: Stanley Nelson)
The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South.

"La Mission," USA (Director and Screenwriter: Peter Bratt)
A traditional, Latino father in San Francisco's Mission District struggles to come to terms with his teenage son's homosexuality. Credited by Latino media as being both authentic and genuine to various aspects of American Hispanic cultures. Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Erika Alexander, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Talisa Soto Bratt, Jesse Borrego.

"Last Train Home," Canada (Director: Lixin Fan)
Getting a train ticket in China proves a towering ordeal as a migrant worker family embarks on a journey, along with 200 million other peasants to reunite with their distant family.

"Son of Babylon," Iraq (Director: Mohamed Al Daradji; Screenwriters: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Jennifer Norridge, Mithal Ghazi) In the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a young Kurdish boy and his grandmother venture through Iraq on a quest to find their missing father/son. Cast: Yasser Talib, Shazda Hussein, Bashir Al-Majid.

"Udaan," India (Director Vikramaditya Motwane; Screenwriter: Motwane)
Following his expulsion from boarding school, Rohan returns to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur. After 8 years away, he finds himself closeted with an authoritarian father and a younger half brother whom he didn't even know existed. "Udaan" explores deep-rooted family dynamics and embraces a triumph of the human spirit. Cast: Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy, Aayan Boradia, Ram Kapoor.

"Winter's Bone" (Director: Debra Granik; Screenwriters: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her missing father while trying to keep her family intact. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan.

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