Sundance Institute Selects Projects and Panelists for Creative Film Producing Labs and Summit, July 27 – August 3

Los Angeles, CA — Sundance Institute today announced the participants for its weeklong Creative Film Producing Initiative at the Sundance Resort in Utah, July 27 – August 3, including nine feature film and documentary projects for the Creative Producing Labs and more than 50 industry leaders for the Creative Producing Summit. The Institute’s Creative Producing Initiative encompasses a year-round series of Labs, Fellowships, granting and events focusing on nurturing the next generation of independent producers and renewing the community of veteran producers who sustain the vibrancy and vitality of independent film.

The Feature Film Creative Producing Lab (July 27 – July 31) identifies emerging producers and, under the guidance of Creative Advisors, allows them to develop their creative instincts and evolve their communicating and problem-solving skills at all stages of their feature film project. This year’s Creative Advisors include producers Lindsay Doran (Sense and Sensibility), Lynette Howell Taylor (The Place Beyond the Pines), Gina Kwon (Me You and Everyone We Know), Paul Mezey (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Jay Van Hoy (Beginners) and director Matthew Ross (28 Hotel Rooms).

The Documentary Film Creative Producing Lab (July 27 – August 1) brings together documentarians with award-winning Advisors to focus on their current projects to explore the wide range of creative approaches to distribution, outreach and impact strategies. This year’s Creative Advisors include producers Julie Goldman (Best of Enemies), Bonni Cohen (3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets), Ryan Werner (Cinetic), Maxyne Franklin (Britdoc), and Wendy Cohen (Picture Motion).

The Creative Producing Summit takes place immediately following the Labs, July 31 – August 3. More than 50 industry leaders will participate in a series of curated panels, case studies, roundtables, and one-on-one meetings addressing critical issues producers face including financing, distribution, audience engagement, marketing and sustainability. Panelists this year include Len Amato (HBO Films), Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics), Dori Begley (Magnolia Pictures), Josh Braun (Submarine), Dan Cogan (Impact Partners), Victoria S. Cook (Frankfurt Kurnit), Danielle Di Giacomo (The Orchard), Fred Dust (IDEO), Ted Hope (Amazon), Micah Green (CAA), John Hoffman (Discovery Channel), Marcus Hu (Strand Releasing), Charles King (MACRO), Jessica Lacy (ICM Partners), Stephanie Langhoff (Duplass Brothers), David Magdael (TCDM Associates), Victor Moyers (Broad Green), Annie Roney (ro*co Films), John Sloss (Cinetic Media), Graham Taylor (William Morris Endeavor), and Jay Van Hoy (Parts & Labor).

The Fellows and projects selected for the 2015 Feature Film Creative Producing Lab are:

50 Miles From Boomtown
Producing Fellow:  Alex Scharfman
After years of saving for her hard-earned dream, the only woman working on the fracking fields of North Dakota can finally quit but unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with the young man she’s training to take her place.  (writer/director Flo Linus Baumann).

Alex Scharfman is a New York-based producer whose past feature credits include The Heart Machine and Lyle, as well as the short film Superior, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and the WGA Award-nominated webseries F to 7th. He is an executive at Parts & Labor Films where he worked on films including Keep The Lights On and Loitering with Intent. He has also produced content for Vice, Google, the Ford Foundation, and AT&T. Alex received his BA from Cornell University, is a former MFA candidate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and received his MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Bexar County
Mark Silverman Honorees and Producing Fellows:  Blake Pickens and Stephen Love Jr.
In sunny San Antonio, Texas, where nothing ever changes, a town is turned on its head when a delusional Texas housewife accidentally poisons her son’s fiancée, learning that killing people is an efficient way to solve her problems. (Co-writer/director Catherine Grieve, co-writer Dylan Slocum)

Blake Pickens is from the south side of Oklahoma City, from a neighborhood known as the Flats. Despite the community’s rampant drug use and gang wars, Blake found his way into storytelling with a writing position at National Lampoon. He later attended the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC where he and his producing partner, Stephen Love Jr., formed their company BS Pictures. They are currently in pre-production on the Steven Caple Jr.’s film The Land and in development on The Friendship Nine with producer Nina Yang Bongiovi. Blake’s aspirations are to tell the stories that make people laugh, cry, and ultimately impact their lives.

Stephen Love Jr. grew up in the rural towns of Filbert and Bennettsville, South Carolina. During his time as a business major at Morehouse College, Love founded the Morehouse Filmmakers’ Association, for which Spike Lee is the honorary advisor. He also received his MFA from USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program and formed BS Pictures with fellow graduate Blake Pickens. Love’s primary career goal is to produce film and television that gives “a voice to the voiceless” while challenging the confines of the business of filmmaking.

Producing Fellow: Drew Houpt
A restless teenager becomes obsessed with a mysterious Colombian woman who exploits his desire and lures him into her plot for revenge. (Writer/director Mary Angélica Molina)

Drew Houpt is an independent producer based in Brooklyn. For over ten years he was the head of operations at Mike Zoss Productions, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Tribeca-based production company. During that time he worked on the Academy Award-winning No Country For Old Men and the Academy Award-nominated A Serious Man and True Grit. He served as Associate Producer on the Coens’ Grand Prix-winning Inside Llewyn Davis and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning film Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance. This past year he co-produced Maris Curran’s directorial-debut Five Nights in Maine and produced Every Day, a short documentary for ESPN’s 30 for 30 Shorts series that had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. He has also produced music videos for the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang and an experimental documentary, When A Priest Marries A Witch, by Suzanne Bocanegra.

Rita Mahtoubian Is Not A Terrorist
Producing Fellow: Deanna Barillari
When Iranian-born Rita Mahtoubian sets out to change her life from ordinary to extraordinary, she accidentally captures the attention of a homeland security agent in this satirical comedy about romance, terrorism and trying to be a better person. (Co-writers/directors Roja Gashtili &  Julia Lerman)

Upon graduating NYU Tisch, Deanna Barillari co-founded a non-profit theater company producing Off-Off-Broadway plays, including the NYC premiere of Leslye Headland’s Cinephilia (2008), which funded in-school arts initiatives in the NYC Public School system. She then went on to work in TV on NBC’s Mercy (2009), CBS’ Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (2010), ABC’s Pan Am, 86th Oscars (Ellen DeGeneres; 2014) and in Drama Development at Universal Television. Recently, she collaborated with AFI DWW Fellows Roja Gashtili and Julia Lerman, producing their web-series K(ID) starring Caterina Scorsone (Grey’s Anatomy) and their short Rita Mahtoubian Is Not A Terrorist starring Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) which made its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.  She also produces for the LA based Ovation Award-winning IAMA Theatre Company.

The Space Between
Producing Fellow: Angela C. Lee
A female body builder devotes her life to turning ‘pro’ when she unexpectedly falls in love, forcing her to confront her fractured past with her dying father. (Writer/director Philiane Phang)

Angela C. Lee is a Los Angeles based independent producer. She produced Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival and recently screened in the Directors’ Fortnight program at the Cannes Film Festival. Angela is also the Artist Development Manager at Film Independent, where she oversees the selection process and curriculum for the Filmmaker Labs program, including Screenwriting, Directing, Producing, and Documentary Labs, the Fast Track Finance Market and the Fox Writers Intensive, managed in conjunction with Fox Audience Strategy. Previously, Angela served as Director of Creative Affairs at New York based Vox3 Films. Prior to her career in film, Angela was an Associate at Goldman Sachs. A native Chicagoan, Angela graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Economics and is on the Board of Directors for the University of Chicago National Arts Alumni Network.

The Fellows and projects selected for the 2015 Documentary Film Creative Producing Lab are:

Co-Directors/Producers: Jessica Dimmock & Christopher LaMarca
Brick reveals the raw emotional and physical experience of being a middle aged to senior transgender woman coming out for the first time in the Pacific Northwest. The film follows three intersecting stories of individuals who have lived their whole lives as men and decided this burdensome secret is one they can no longer keep.

Jessica Dimmock is the recipient of the 2013 World Press Photo Multimedia Contest as the director and cinematographer of the online feature, Too Young to Wed. In 2010, Dimmock won Kodak’s Best Cinematography Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival for Without. The film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, received an Independent Spirit Award, and was nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Award. Dimmock contributed two short films to Doctors Without Borders’ Emmy-nominated campaign, “Starved for Attention.” Her first photojournalism project, “The Ninth Floor” was publishedas a monograph. Most recently, she worked as photographer and videographer for Emmy-nominated HBO series, The Weight of the Nation. She is represented by VII agency.

Christopher Lamarca is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker and based in Portland, Oregon. LaMarca has recently entered post-production on his first feature length film, Boone. In 2012, it was chosen as one of eight films for Film Independent’s Documentary Film lab. LaMarca’s monograph, “Forest Defenders: The Confrontational American Landscape” was published by PowerHouse Books in 2008. He was chosen to participate in the International Center of Photography’s triennial exhibition (2007), New York Photo festival (2009) and Lishui photo festival in China (2010). He reported on environmental and energy issues for magazines such as Rolling Stone, GQ, Fortune, and Newsweek.

The Island and the Whales (working title)
Directore/Producer: Mike Day
The pilot whale hunters of the Faroe Islands believe that hunting is vital to their way of life, but when a local professor makes a grim discovery about the effects of marine pollution, and the seabirds populations collapse, environmental changes threaten to change the community and their way of life forever.

Mike Day is a Scottish director and producer. Formerly a lawyer in London and the Middle East he founded Intrepid Cinema in 2009 before heading out into the North Atlantic to make his previous film. His debut documentary The Guga Hunters of Ness broadcast on the BBC in 2011 and screened at festivals internationally to critical acclaim. It was while at sea in the Atlantic that he met a group of Faroese sailors, leading to his next film. Mike was listed as one of ’10 Filmmakers to Watch’ by Filmmaker Magazine, he was one of EDN’s ’12 for the Future 2012’, and is supported by the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Docscene programme. Intrepid Cinema also has two other feature documentaries in development.

The Road From Hainan
Director/Producer: Nanfu Wang
State surveillance. Harassment. Imprisonment. Human rights activist Ye Haiyan, AKA Sparrow, knew she faced these risks when she went to Hainan Province to seek justice for six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. But the scale and intensity of the government’s reaction surprised even the most seasoned activists across China. The Road From Hainan follows Sparrow as she was chased from town to town by local governments, national secret police, and even her own neighbors.

Nanfu Wang is a documentary filmmaker based in New York. Originally from a remote village in China, Wang overcame poverty and lack of access to formal secondary education and went on to earn graduate degrees in communications and documentary film from universities in China and the United States. Her work often features the stories of marginalized or mistreated people, from Chinese blood donors stricken with HIV after being issued used needles by the government to the left-behind children of migrant laborers. During the production of her first full-length documentary, Wang lived on the streets of Miami with a homeless former drug dealer who relied on the kindness of strangers for his survival. Wang’s short films have been distributed on many platforms and translated into several languages, and she continues to seek out and tell the stories of people who have been ignored by their societies.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Director/Producer: Deborah Esquenazi
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez — four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of allegedly gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. The film also unravels the sinister interplay of mythology, homophobia and prosecutorial fervor which led to this modern day witch hunt during the ‘Satanic Sexual Abuse Panic’ of the late-80’s and early-90’s in the United States.

Deborah S. Esquenazi is an Austin, Texas-based documentary film and radio producer, instructor, and journalist. Her in-progress documentary feature, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, has received international attention for its investigation into this controversial criminal case, and has been mentioned in Forbes Magazine, New York Times, Texas Observer, Vice Magazine, among others. Her film and radio documentaries have been funded by Chicken & Egg Pictures, Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program | John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Initiative, Humanities Texas, Astraea Global Arts Fund, and many others.


The Sundance Institute Creative Producing Initiative is supported by SAGindie and the Zygmunt & Audrey Wilf Foundation.

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program is made possible by founding support from Open Society Foundations. Generous additional support is provided by Skoll Foundation; Ford Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; The Charles Engelhard Foundation; Arcus Foundation; Cinereach; Discovery; Anonymous; TED; City Drive Films; Time Warner Foundation; CNN Films; ESPN Films; the Joan and Lewis Platt Foundation; Anonymous; Anonymous; Compton Foundation; SundanceNow Doc Club; Chicago Media Project; Threshold Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Candescent Films; Code Blue Foundation; Kenneth Cole Productions; PBS; Signal Media Project; and WNET New York Public Media.

The Sundance Institute Feature Film Program is supported by The Annenberg Foundation; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; RT Features; Time Warner Foundation; HP; AJ+; Jeanne Donovan Fisher; Hollywood Foreign Press Association; National Endowment for the Arts; NHK Enterprises, Inc.; Manish Mundra; 3311 Productions; The Ammon Foundation; Firestone / von Winterfeldt Family Fund; A3 Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; SAGindie; Grazka Taylor; The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund; and Naja Pham Lockwood and David Lockwood.


Sundance Institute
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre, The Invisible War, The Square, Dirty Wars, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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Alexis Chikaeze as Kai in 'Miss Juneteenth,' coming to digital platforms June 19

Channing Godfrey Peoples on a Bittersweet ‘Miss Juneteenth’ Release and the Urgency of Portraying Black Humanity on Screen

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature is hitting digital platforms this Juneteenth—the day for which the film is named and which is very close to the director’s heart. “I feel like I’ve been living Miss Juneteenth my whole life,” she says.
The June 19 holiday—which commemorates the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas (more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was issued)—is celebrated in her hometown of Fort Worth with a deep sense of reverence and community, with barbecues, a parade, and a scholarship pageant for young Black women.

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