12 Sundance Institute–Supported Projects from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

“I Was a Simple Man” director Christopher Makoto Yogi (left) talks with creative advisors Lynn Shelton and Joshua Marston at the 2015 Directors Lab. ©2015 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson

By Virginia Yapp

Back in 2015, writer-director Christopher Makoto Yogi was one of eight filmmakers who spent several weeks of their summer at the Sundance Resort for the Sundance Institute’s annual Directors Lab. Under the guidance of creative advisors like Joshua Marston, Miguel Arteta, Kasi Lemmons, and the late Lynn Shelton, Makoto Yogi was there to work on I Was a Simple Man, a ghost story set in the pastoral countryside of the north shore of Oahu, Hawai’i.

Nearly six years later, at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Makoto Yogi’s film had its world premiere, along with 11 other projects that were directly supported by the nonprofit Institute’s various labs, grants, and programs. Today we’re offering you a look at these wide-ranging works that spanned the full Festival program, from New Frontier to Indie Series to the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Below, we also invite you to learn more about our year-round artist support programs.

PS: The Sundance Institute’s programs are made possible in large part thanks to the generosity of our Members, who #StandForStorytelling. Join their ranks today to help amplify the voices of the next generation.

4 Feet High

Lead artists María Belén Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan’s immersive series about Juana, a 17-year-old wheelchair user who aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body, went through our Episodic Story Lab, New Frontier Story Lab, and Female Filmmakers Initiative. At the 2021 Festival, it was part of the New Frontier and Indie Series programs.


Director Jamila Wignot’s immersive portrait of the visionary pioneering artist Alvin Ailey went through our Film Music and Sound Design Lab as well as Catalyst, a program that connects independent filmmakers with independent investors.

The Changing Same: Episode 1

Lead artists Michele Stephenson, Joe Brewster, and Yasmin Elayat’s immersive VR work went through the New Frontier Story Lab. The Afrofuturism-infused experience, which offered participants the opportunity to travel through time and space to witness the connected historical experiences of racial injustice in America, was part of the 2021 Festival’s New Frontier exhibition.


Director Dash Shaw’s animated tale about cryptozookeepers and their search for a legendary dream-eating creature went through the 2020 Film Music and Sound Design Lab. At this year’s Festival, it won the NEXT Innovator Prize, presented by Adobe.

Faya Dayi

Director Jessica Beshir’s project received support from a 2020 Documentary Film Grant and was part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Festival. The film takes viewers on a spiritual journey into the highlands of Harar, immersed in the rituals of khat, a leaf Sufi Muslims chewed for centuries for religious meditations—and Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop today.

I Was a Simple Man

In addition to the 2015 Directors Lab, Christopher Makoto Yogi’s project went through our Screenwriters Lab, Creative Producing Summit, and Talent Forum; it also received support from our Time Warner Foundation Fellowship and our Film Fund Grant.

Marvelous and the Black Hole

Director Kate Tsang’s feature centers on a teenage magician (Miya Cech) who befriends a surly magician (Rhea Perlman) who helps her navigate her own inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight-of-hand magic. The project was supported through our Creative Producing Initiative.

Philly D.A.

Directors Ted Passon and Yoni Brook’s feature—which offers an inside look at the long-shot election and tumultuous first term of Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s unapologetic district attorney—went through Catalyst Forum in 2018. At the Festival, where the film was part of our Premieres section, producer Nicole Salazar was presented with the Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction.


Director Camilla Nielsson’s feature examines Zimbabwe at a crossroads during election season, as the country’s ruling party and the opposition are tested: How do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice? The project—which was assisted with a Documentary Film Program Grant—received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival Awards Night Ceremony.


Natalia Almada’s documentary—which investigates the consequences of technology—was part of Talent Forum in 2019 and was supported by an Art of Non Fiction Fellowship and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. During the 2021 Festival, Almada won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary for her work on the film.

Wild Indian

Director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s debut feature tells the story of two men who are inextricably bound together after covering up the savage murder of a classmate. The film was made with support from the Institute’s Film Music and Sound Design Lab, Talent Forum, our Directors and Screenwriters Labs, a Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellowship, an Indigenous Program Development Grant, and the Creative Producing Summit.

Writing with Fire

Directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s feature received a Bertha Foundation Fellowship and went through Catalyst. The project—about a group of intrepid reporters at India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women—took home the Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary and a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change at the 2021 Festival.


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