Sundance Institute Announces 2020 Class of Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows — Exclusive

The Sundance program, launched in 2015, helps emerging filmmakers develop their skills over a year.
Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute

Sundance Institute has announced its latest class of fellows, a group of 10 young filmmakers selected for the yearlong Sundance Ignite x Adobe fellowship. They’ll participate in a year of mentorship, workshops, and receive other support and will have their films screened at Sundance Film Festival: London in August.

The fellows, who hail from around the world and are between the ages of 18-25, submitted 1- to 15-minute short films as part of their applications, which totaled a record high of 1,600. The fellows kicked off their fellowship year on Monday with the Sundance Ignite Digital Filmmakers Lab on Sundance Co//ab. The week-long lab prepares the fellows for the year ahead, with focuses on presenting one’s artistic self, pitching projects, case studies, and goal-setting.

Earlier this month, Sundance announced a series of layoffs and consolidations in reaction to the financial hits endured during the pandemic. While the organization announce it would be restructuring some of its labs and associated programs, the endurance of this particular fellowship is heartening.

The fellows’ submitted short films will be screened virtually as part of Sundance Film Festival: London, which runs from August 7-9. During the course of their fellowship, each will continue to hone their craft with a yearlong membership to Co//ab, which offers classes, webinars, and a chance to connect with the film community. They’ll also receive a two-year Adobe Creative Cloud membership.

Each fellow will be paired with an a Sundance Institute alum mentor. This year’s mentors are Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”), Patricia Cordoso (“Real Women Have Curves,” “Queen Sugar”), Jeff Orlowski (“Chasing Ice,” “Chasing Coral”), Lacey Schwartz (“Little White Lie”), Hannah Pearl Utt (“Before You Know It”), Malik Vitthal (“Imperial Dreams,” “Body Cam”) and Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated,” “The Innocence Files”).

“We’re proud to support these ten emerging artists, who are creating bold new work that brings their stories, voice, and passion to life,” said Meredith Lavitt, director of Ignite, in an official statement. “Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows aren’t tomorrow’s filmmakers, they’re today’s filmmakers – and we’re thrilled to welcome them into the Sundance family.”

The program for this year has been renamed to include Adobe’s name. The software company has been a supporter of the fellowship since its founding in 2015.

“At Adobe, our mission is to enable creativity for all. We believe that everyone has a story to tell and that those stories deserve to be heard. When we elevate a broader and more diverse set of voices we can create change within ourselves, our communities and the world,” said John Travis, VP of brand marketing at Adobe, in his own statement. “We are so proud to partner with Sundance in the Sundance Ignite program and look forward to working with this year’s fellows to help bring their stories, creativity, and perspectives to the world.”

Here is the 2020 class of Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellows, along with their biographies provided by Sundance.

Jacob Anderson is a Kentucky-based writer, director, and cinematographer. He attended Western Kentucky University and graduated with a degree in filmmaking. Post-graduation, Jacob has become a working cinematographer based in the Nashville area. He has begun writing and directing his own projects that will explore the boundaries of genre within the American South. Recently, Jacob has begun writing his first feature film and next short that will explore intimate stories about people against a backdrop of the American South. Once established, his goal is to bring film opportunities to other budding southern filmmakers in the future.

Sasha Argirov is a Canadian writer/director based in Vancouver. His short film, “Personals,” is soon to begin its festival tour. He is developing his debut feature about an anxious college student who lures his girlfriend as a vessel for his mother’s ghost. He likes making films about lonely people in unusual situations.

Giselle Bonilla is a mediocre bartender desperately pursuing a back-up career as a filmmaker. She graduated with Honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in film and television production. Her thesis film received the Horizon Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and went on to compete in various festivals across the country. She is currently developing her first feature, and aims to shoot her proof of concept under the guidance of the Ignite Fellowship. Giselle is currently based in Los Angeles.

Aurora Brachman is a documentary filmmaker and MFA student in documentary film at Stanford University. She is also the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship in filmmaking to the pacific island nation of Kiribati where she directed the docuseries “Between the Tides.” She is currently working on a documentary about Club Quarantine, a virtual queer dance party where hundreds of people from around the world gather each night during the COVID-19 lockdowns. She primarily makes work about the experiences of various marginalized communities and is committed to collaborative and ethical storytelling.

Natalie A. Chao is a filmmaker and visual artist who completed her B.A degree in film production at USC in Los Angeles, with a focus in cinematography. Born, raised and currently based in Hong Kong, she is interested in bridging the gap between realism and poetry in order to tell stories through a more engaged and intentional gaze, one that can map out our memories, not draw lines between camera and subject, identity and politics.

In the context of Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis, she questions whether a collective gaze is possible, and is engaging with what it means to create a living documentary, one that seeks to do more than reducing ourselves to numbers on a statistic, politicized events on a historical timeline. Why do we want to remember? Who is the archive for? These are the questions that shape the experience of filming her first feature-length documentary.

Mariales Diaz is a queer, gender expansive Dominican immigrant raised in Brooklyn. They create documentaries and narratives focused on exploring human relationships, the conceptualization of the “American Dream,” and intersectionalities within identity. Their storytellings center Black and brown trans and gender expansive folxs. Mariales is a graduate of the SUNY Purchase Film Conservatory, a Fall 2019 Creative Culture Valentine and Clark Emerging Artist Fellow at the Jacob Burns Film Center, and a 2019 NeXtDoc Fellow. They are currently working on a second short film with Creative Culture, exploring the story of two enamored teenage girls seeking revenge on one of their assaulters.

Kourtney Jackson is a Toronto-based writer and filmmaker. She won the 2018 Emerging Director’s Spotlight Award at the Regent Park Film Festival for her experimental documentary pitch for “Wash Day,” which later premiered at TIFF NextWave and recently screened at Breakthroughs Film Festival. Ever contemplative of the cosmos, Kourtney aims to tell unexpected stories grounded in Afrofuturism, absurdism, and joy. These days, you can find her in her room shamelessly eating out of a carton of Chapman’s vanilla ice-cream, as well as writing a short film about loving friendship, sinister betrayal, and the poisonous but delicious fruit that is ackee.

JoeBill Muñoz is a Mexican-American filmmaker. His directorial debut, “Follow the Sun,” chronicles the lives of migrants making their way across Mexico. It screened in festivals across the country and was nominated for a student award by the IDA. He is currently an associate producer on a feature about global food, water, and land issues at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and the producer-writer on an independent feature about the California prison hunger strikes against indefinite solitary confinement. He has worked for Frontline, the Investigative Reporting Program, and The Associated Press.

Zenzele Ojore is a filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist from Houston, Texas based in New York City. Her award-winning short films have played at festivals including Sundance (Horizon Award) and SXSW. She received her undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2018, and is presently a dean fellow in the graduate film program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Zenzele is currently writing the feature length version of her short “The South is My Sister’s Skin,” as well as developing an upcoming short film that she intends to shoot next summer in Louisiana.

Sean Wang is a filmmaker from Fremont, California, a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and a Google Creative Lab 5 alum. His work has been viewed millions of times online and has aired on primetime television. Most recently, Sean contributed sequences for the feature film, “Summertime,” which premiered in the NEXT category at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and his short film, “Still Here” (還在), was featured by the American Film Institute, Short of the Week, and Vimeo Staff Picks. He is currently working on two short films: one about a young couple’s last night together in New York City and another about growing up told through the pages of a middle school yearbook. He is also developing his first feature film: a coming-of-age story set in the summer of 2008.

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