Sundance may be synonymous with American independent cinema, but in recent years the Institute has made far-ranging commitments to going global. The inaugural recipients of the Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award were announced on Tuesday at the Sundance House Presented by HP at Kimball Arts Center, drawing mid-Festival fanfare for an ambitious partnership between the American nonprofit and one of India’s largest corporations.
“We’re always looking to discover more about the world through film, and where the film communities are flourishing,” said Alesia Weston, associate director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program. Which is not just talk—according to Keri Putnam, executive director of Sundance Institute, currently 30% of filmmakers supported by the Institute are international.
In addition to the Filmmaking Award, Sundance and Mahindra announced that a Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab will open in India starting in March 2012. And in future years, at least one of the Awards will go to an Indian director. “India is a place so abundant with art and storytelling, and we’re just really excited for the potential to bring Sundance Institute artists and staff over there to collaborate with Mahindra,” said Putnam.
“The pursuit of the art of storytelling in its purest form was what drew us to Sundance,” said Rohit Khattar, director of Mumbai Mantra, Mahindra’s media and entertainment satellite. “There’s tremendous talent in Indian independent cinema and we hope to play a part in bringing that to the world.”
Hailing from Israel, Romania, Malaysia, and Mexico, this year’s world-spanning winners were on hand to accept their $10,000 cash award and to mingle with a room full of industry professionals. “These are all filmmakers we’ve been tracking for a long time,” said Weston. “Since the first hello, the first short, the first pitch, the first draft of a script. They’re still just emerging, which is a great reminder of how much work it takes to get to that first or second feature film.” All four recipients have scripts in the development stage, and each spoke about the benefits of having a project recognized by Sundance Institute.
“Receiving this award opens up doors and exposes the project to America,” said Seng Tat Liew, a Malaysian filmmaker whose project is called In “What City Does it Live?” “Being associated with Sundance is like a stamp.” For emerging filmmakers looking for financial backing, that stamp can be invaluable. “I don’t get any support back home in Malaysia. There’s no government funding or anything,” he explained. “So I’m always looking outside of my country for funding.”
Ernesto Contreras, a Mexican filmmaker who’s developing a film called “I Dream In Another Language,” agreed. “We have the opportunity to meet important people from producers to financiers, because they’re interested in what we’re all doing,” he said. “If the Institute is behind the project, people at least know about it.”
“The process of making a first feature film, writing all the drafts and raising the budget, is really long and complicated,” said Talya Lavie, an Israeli filmmaker working on a project entitled “Zero Motivation,” and the Institute has already been helpful in letting her focus on the creative aspects of her project.
For Bogdan Mustata, a Romanian filmmaker whose film is entitled “Wolf,” there are benefits that go beyond logistics. “It’s not only about my project,” he said. “You get confidence. And this confidence is very important for every stage of the project. To know that you have people that support you is wonderful. They come to you first to ask you if you need something.”
“Some of it is emotional support,” acknowledged Weston. “When they’re stuck, and they’re losing confidence and they don’t want to write to us, literally, because they don’t have a new draft and they’re embarrassed. It’s about saying it’s okay. There’s no agenda but to help them. We believe in you, whatever that process is, if it takes 3 years or 7 years.”
Michelle Satter, director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, took it a step further. “Once Sundance supports and selects a project,” she said, “we’re in it for life.”