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Meet the Sundance Institute 2023 Directors, Screenwriters, and Native Lab Fellows

The heart of Sundance Institute’s work begins with our labs each spring/summer and continues year-round with the nurturing of diverse, dynamic voices. Today we are introducing you to the fellows and projects selected for the 2023 Directors, Screenwriters, and Native Labs. These artists will develop original works under the guidance of accomplished creative advisors, fostering a robust community throughout key stages of the filmmaking process. 

The Native Lab has been a significant part of supporting Indigenous filmmakers for nearly two decades and this year will be held online from May 1–5 and in person in Santa Fe, New Mexico from May 8–13. Five fellows will be participating: three from the U.S.A., one from Canada selected with the Indigenous Screen Office, and one from New Zealand selected with the New Zealand Film Commission. Artist in residence Taylor Hensel (Cherokee Nation) will also be in attendance, auditing the lab while in script development. The lab concentrates on the distinct development of feature film and episodic work by storytellers from Native and Indigenous backgrounds. Through roundtable discussions and one-on-one feedback sessions with advisors, artists will enhance their storytelling and technical skills and explore indigenizing their creative practices

“One of the core tenets for us in the Indigenous Program is that we support a broad spectrum of Indigenous storytelling — our cohort of Native Lab fellows and their projects offering different global and tribal perspectives demonstrate that commitment to supporting diverse narratives and approaches,” said Adam Piron, Director of Indigenous Program. 

The 2023 Directors Lab will take place May 30–June 13 in person at the Sundance Resort, where filmmakers will rehearse, shoot, and edit selected scenes from their work-in-progress screenplays in a workshop environment while being supported by experienced creative advisors. Directors focus on core elements of filmmaking, including directing actors, workshopping dialogue, and further defining their visual language. The 2023 Screenwriters Lab will be held June 20–23 online, where fellows will refine their scripts through individual story sessions with screenwriter advisors and group sessions on the art and craft of screenwriting.

Michelle Satter, Founding Senior Director of Artist Programs shared, “We are thrilled to welcome this group of emerging talent with unique voices to advance their projects as they embark on their visionary journey. As a nonprofit, we are especially grateful to the creative advisors, actors, crew, and staff involved who are critical to the process and continuum of support and contribute to our longstanding mission of uplifting independent storytelling.”

The participation of experienced advisors has always been an instrumental part of the labs, contributing their invaluable knowledge and abilities from various areas of the industry. Many have been a part of the labs over the years and continue to give back by providing guidance to a new generation of artists. The Directors Lab advisor cohort, led by Artistic Director Gyula Gazdag, includes Miguel Arteta, Joan Darling, Rick Famuyiwa, Stephen Goldblatt, Keith Gordon, Randa Haines, Ed Harris, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Polly Morgan, Ira Sachs, Michelle Tesoro, and Joan Tewkesbury. The Screenwriters Lab advisor cohort, led by Artistic Director Howard Rodman, includes Justin Chon, Sebastian Cordero, Cherien Dabis, D.V. Devincentis, Scott Frank, John Gatins, Nicole Kassell, Kasi Lemmons, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Elena Soarez, and Robin Swicord. The Native Lab creative advisors include Andrew Ahn, Alex Lazarowich (Cree), Dana Ledoux Miller (Sāmoan), and Jennifer Reeder. 

The Directors and Screenwriters Labs are overseen by Michelle Satter, Founding Senior Director of the Institute’s Artist Programs, and Ilyse McKimmie, Deputy Director of the Feature Film Program. The Native Lab is overseen by Adam Piron, Director of the Institute’s Indigenous Program, and Ianeta Le’i, the program’s Senior Manager.

Previous Sundance Institute lab fellows include award-winning filmmakers Andrew Ahn, Paul Thomas Anderson, Gregg Araki, Darren Aronofsky, Lisa Cholodenko, Ryan Coogler, Nia DaCosta, the Daniels, Rick Famuyiwa, Sydney Freeland, David Gordon Green, Sterlin Harjo, Marielle Heller, Sky Hopinka, Miranda July, Nikyatu Jusu, James Mangold, John Cameron Mitchell, Kimberly Peirce, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Boots Riley, A.V. Rockwell, Ira Sachs, Quentin Tarantino, Shaandiin Tome, Erica Tremblay, Taika Waititi, Lulu Wang, Charlotte Wells, and Chloe Zhao. 

HERE ARE THE PROJECTS & FELLOWS FOR THE 2023 SUNDANCE INSTITUTE NATIVE LAB

Eva Grant (writer-director) with Degrees of Separation (Canada): In this smart and stylish ensemble comedy, Indigenous PhD student Delphine plans a daring heist to return Ancestral remains to her tribe. But first she and her team must outsmart the White Saviours and Collectors who have arrived in the community like vultures, ready to pick the bones clean.

Eva Grant is a bilingual filmmaker of mixed St’at’imc Indigenous, Asian, and European heritage. She is currently a Vancouver Queer Film Festival Disruptor Fellow, and an Artist in Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario. A former E20 screenwriter, she studied literature and philosophy at Stanford University.

Quinne Larsen (writer) with Trouble (U.S.A.): Five people living in an abandoned desert motel try to put their world (and their giant robot) together from scraps. 

Quinne Larsen is a Chinook writer and cartoonist in Los Angeles (Tongva territory). They’ve worked on shows at Sony Pictures, Cartoon Network, Disney TVA, and Netflix. They’re currently working on an original graphic novel for First Second.

Anpa’o Locke (writer) with Growing Pains (U.S.A.): Kawá, an urban Native teen, and her mother, Elizabeth, a relocated rezzer, return to their hometown in South Dakota after Elizabeth is hired as the new Lakota teacher at the reservation high school; Kawá navigates friendship, queerness, and belonging on the reservation.

Anpa’o Locke is a Hunkpapha Lakota and Ahtna Dené writer, filmmaker, and curator from the Standing Rock Nation. She was a 2022 Sundance Indigenous Fellow focused on Native diaspora experience and self-determination in filmmaking. She holds a BA in Film Studies from Mount Holyoke College and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jana Schmieding (writer-producer-actor) with Auntie Chuck (U.S.A.): A rezzy spinster must find her inner auntie when she’s tasked with taking care of her siblings for two weeks. 

Jana Schmieding wrote on and co-starred in Rutherford Falls and is known for her comedic roles on Reservation Dogs, The Great North, and Spirit Rangers. A Lakota woman, Jana is making her mark on the entertainment industry as an actor, writer, and producer bringing Native stories to mainstream audiences.

Cian Elyse White (writer-director) with Te Puhi’ (New Zealand, United Kingdom): Aotearoa, 1962. 19-year-old Te Puhi claims international fame overnight when she is crowned Miss New Zealand — the first Māori to win the title. Torn between duty and her dreams, Te Puhi navigates the disconnect from home when she moves to London against her family’s wishes.

Cian Elyse White (she/her) is a Te Arawa, Ngāti Pikiao/ Ngāti Te Tākinga, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou (Te Whānau a Ruataupare, Te Whānau a Hinetāpora), Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Tainui writer, director and actress born in Rotorua, New Zealand. Cian has written scripts for stage and screen including: Kōtiro (Daddy’s Girl), PIIKSI/HUIA, and Te Puhi (in development). In 2022, Cian won the award for Outstanding Newcomer at the Women in Film & Television awards, NZ. 

HERE ARE THE PROJECTS & FELLOWS FOR THE 2023 SUNDANCE INSTITUTE DIRECTORS AND SCREENWRITERS LABS

Hadas Ayalon (writer-director) with In a Minute You’ll Be Gone (Israel): A middle-aged lesbian couple are struggling with the death of their son when an unexpected letter from a sperm bank puts their relationship to the test, forcing them to confront their loss and their identity as mothers.

Hadas Ayalon is a director, screenwriter, and film editor living in Tel Aviv. Her short film Paris on the Water (2014) won the Student Academy Award and the Israeli Academy Award for Best Narrative Short. In a Minute You’ll Be Gone is her first feature film. 

Dania Bdeir (writer-director) and Bane Fakih (co-writer) with Pigeon Wars (Lebanon, Canada, France): In the gritty world of Beirut’s pigeon wars, a relentless young woman and a dutiful young man form an unlikely alliance, challenging societal norms and political tensions while seeking redemption and self-discovery.

Dania Bdeir is a Lebanese-Canadian filmmaker who gained acclaim for her NYU thesis film In White and award-winning short Warsha, shortlisted for the 2023 Academy Awards. A Screen Daily Arab Star of Tomorrow, Bdeir is developing her first feature, Pigeon Wars.

Bane Fakih is a Lebanese filmmaker whose shorts Assil and Jad and Vibes screened at Palm Springs ShortsFest and Outfest. After her MFA from Columbia University, Fakih received the Ezra Litwak Award for Screenwriting Distinction. Her feature screenplay Keep It Together was shortlisted for the 2019 Tribeca All Access.

Rashad Frett (co-writer-director) and Lin Que Ayoung (co-writer) with Ricky (U.S.A.): Newly released after being locked up in his teens, 30-year-old Ricky navigates the challenging realities of life post-incarceration, and the complexity of gaining independence for the first time as an adult.

Rashad Frett is an award-winning Caribbean American filmmaker who pursued an MFA from NYU Grad Film after experiencing 9/11 as a U.S. Army combat medic. He’s a recipient of a DGA Student Film Award, a Spike Lee Production Grant, the Cary Fukunaga Production Grant, and Ryan Murphy’s HALF Initiative.

Lin Que Ayoung is an award-winning writer/director/producer and graduate of NYU Grad Film. Her film Cracked won The Spike Lee Production Grant and a King Wasserman Award for Best Graduate Film at NYU’s First Run Film Festival. Cracked world premiered at Tribeca and is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Masami Kawai (director-writer-producer) with Valley of the Tall Grass (U.S.A.): A TV/VCR combo set is thrown out, but it survives and circulates through the lives of various working class Indigenous characters of color in an Oregon town. They find forgotten memories, love, and connection through this seemingly obsolete object.

Masami Kawai is a Los Angeles–born filmmaker of Ryukyuan descent. She is an Assistant Professor of Filmmaking at the University of Oregon. She participated in the Gotham Project Market and Film Independent’s FastTrack. Her films have screened at various venues, including the Rotterdam Film Festival, LACMA, and Palm Springs ShortFest.

Gabriela Ortega (writer-director) with Huella (U.S.A., Dominican Republic): Following the death of her family’s matriarch in the Dominican Republic, a disenchanted flamenco dancer living in New York City must rid herself from her ancestor’s curses to pave her own future. (Screenwriters Lab only)

Gabriela Ortega is a multidisciplinary artist from the Dominican Republic. She is a Sundance Institute and Academy of Motion Pictures Fellow, and is one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Her short film, Huella, was an official selection for the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Her work draws cultural bridges that lead to the Caribbean through intersectionality, duality, and ancestral memory. 

Audrey Rosenberg (writer-director) with Wild Animals (U.S.A.): After a fatal mistake makes her a pariah of her insular and devout 19th century farming community, Frances becomes consumed with hunting down a mythic beast, at the cost of her family’s reputation and safety.

Audrey Rosenberg is an award-winning genre writer and director. Their short film Skin won the Jury Special Mention at Outfest, and their feature Wild Animals has received fellowships from Black List, WIF, and the Sundance Institute. They have a degree in film from USC. Recipient of generous support from the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, which dedicates funding to a filmmaker who identifies as Queer or a project dealing with themes of Queer identity at Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Labs.

Abinash Bikram Shah (writer-director) with Elephants in the Fog (Nepal, France): In a small Nepalese village nestled in the heart of a forest populated by wild elephants, Pirati is the matriarch of a community of transgender women. She aspires to a “normal” life with the man she loves, but when one of her “daughters” disappears, she must choose between love and responsibility to her community. (Screenwriters Lab only)

Abinash Bikram Shah is a national award-winning writer-director and an alumnus of Locarno Filmmakers Academy, Berlinale Talents, Sundance Institute lab, and Asian Film Academy. He has written and directed films that have won at many international film festivals, including short film Lori, which was awarded Special Jury Mention at Cannes Film Festival 2022.

Walter Thompson-Hernández (writer-director) with If I Go Will They Miss Me (U.S.A.): Twelve-year-old Lil Ant begins to see mysterious figures — eerie men with their arms spread like wings — around his home. When his father, Big Ant, realizes his son sees these “airplane people” too, their family history emerges and reveals deeper meaning and connection between them.

Walter Thompson-Hernández is a writer-director from southeast Los Angeles. He was named as one of Variety’s “10 Storytellers to Watch” in 2021 and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2022. His short film If I Go Will They Miss Me was awarded the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction.

Sean Wang (writer-director) with DìDi (弟弟) (U.S.A.): Fremont, CA. 2008. In the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom.

Sean Wang is a filmmaker from Fremont, CA. He is a Google Creative Lab 5 alum, 2020 Sundance Ignite fellow, and current Sundance Institute | TAAF fellow. His latest film, Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma), premiered at SXSW 2023 where it won the Documentary Short Jury Award and Audience Award.

Farida Zahran (writer-director) with The Leftover Ladies (Egypt, U.S.A.): A 60-something woman has her life turned upside down when her polygamous husband, who had been happily ensconced with his second wife, unexpectedly expresses a renewed interest in their stale relationship.

Farida Zahran is an Egyptian writer-director based in Brooklyn. Most recently, she wrote on the acclaimed Hulu series, Ramy. Farida has been supported by programs such as the NYFF Artist Academy, Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab, and TIFF Writers’ Studio. She is a graduate of the NYU Graduate Film Program. 

The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The 11th Hour Project/The Schmidt Family Foundation, Endeavor, Warner Bros. Discovery, Nia Tero Foundation, The Christensen Fund, Indigenous Screen Office, SAGindie, Susan Shilliday, Felix Culpa, and Sterlin Harjo.

The Sundance Institute Feature Film Program is supported by explore.org, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; The Asian American Foundation (TAAF); United Airlines; Hartbeat; Maja Kristin; The Walt Disney Company; NBCUniversal; Hollywood Foreign Press Association; Karen Lauder; Ray and Dagmar Dolby Fund; National Endowment for the Arts; NHK/NHK Enterprises, Inc.; Kimberly Steward—K Period Media; SAGindie; Directors Guild of America; Rosalie Swedlin and Robert Cort; Deborah Reinisch and Michael Theodore Fund; Octavia Spencer; Scott and Jennifer Frank.

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