Recapping the First-Ever Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia
Michael Dennis, Joan Tewkesbury, and Jos Duncan
Recapping the First-Ever Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia
Joan Tewkesbury and Jos Duncan
Recapping the First-Ever Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia
Fellows at the Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia.

Recapping the First-Ever Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia

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Jos Duncan is a filmmaker, storyteller, and educator who participated in the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia with her project “Wanaki,” the story of a 12-year-old girl torn between changing worlds. 

The Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive in Philadelphia was a soul-opening experience that left me feeling as if I had taken trail-runs through my fears, danced on kitchen tables, and inhaled the stinky things in my life, with the characters in my script. We wrote for nine hours. Veteran screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury led us in triggering memories of people, places, and sensory experiences that had been long forgotten—buried beneath refreshed perspectives, the need to leave old hurts behind and pressures in the here and now to write a good script. 

There was no time to fail, only to write. No caveats or woes, “just read what you’ve written,” was Joan’s firmly expressed rule. The 12 of us, full of wit and charm and stories, carved them into handwritten pages. We got to know each other through our words and looked forward to the humor, quirk, grit, and melodic tones we each wrote and read with. Like ‘spilled milk’ that shouldn’t be cried over, at times it was just messy and emotional. At other times, it was silly, adventurous, and completely ridiculous. 

In the workshop, I became friends with my character. Not only did I know her, but she knew me. I exposed her to the reasons I created her and the world she’d live in. We had gotten to know each other so well that the last writing exercise was more like having a conversation with my characters, on their front porches during a rain storm. I was breathing with them. The day’s writing synchronized our heartbeats.

At the reception, people asked, “How was the workshop, what did you do?” I couldn’t exactly explain it. It was quick and intense and life-changing like some kind of baptism where you’re thrown into a pool of water and you just come out… different. In my script, there’s a line where my 12-year-old character’s mother says to her, “This is your summer… The summer when you feel yourself grow six inches and your dreams get bigger and your underarms start stinking like a grown man’s.” That pretty much describes what happened to me as a writer that day. I grew in a way that was awkward, uncomfortable, and lovely.

"This is your summer… The summer when you feel yourself grow six inches and your dreams get bigger and your underarms start stinking like a grown man’s."

I was affirmed and headed in the right direction. I had new pathways to continue my work, new ways of finding solutions to my stumble blocks, and 11 other colleagues to share it with. 

Screenwriters Intensive Fellows and Projects included Deron Albright (Leave Worry Behind), Jos Duncan (Wanaki), Michael Dennis (Tupac Is Alive), Nanci Gaglio (Oh God), Cheryl Hess (The Bicycle Thieves), Karin Kelly (Crossover Summer), Jean Lee (Kimchi Princess), Tayarisha Poe (Selah), Catherine Rios (A Gun In The River), Heidi Saman (Namour), August Tarrier (The Second Coming), Israel Peterson Vasquez (Oscoda).