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Catalyst Women: Putting Our Money on Women Filmmakers

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Photo by Samantha Nandez

Sundance Institute

This May in New York City, Sundance Institute and The Harnisch Foundation launched Catalyst Women, a new program connecting film financiers dedicated to women artists with highly anticipated Sundance Institute–supported feature and documentary projects. The day-and-a-half program, which took us from HBO headquarters in Bryant Park to Bloomberg Philanthropies on the upper east side, exposed creative investors to the world of independent storytelling through film presentations, case studies, panels, deep-dive roundtables, and artist spotlights.

We began the day by delving into the moral and economic incentives that drive financiers to invest in diverse and female filmmakers, inspiring us to do the same. We then tracked the creative and financial evolutions of two Sundance Film Festival hits, the narrative feature Equity and the award-winning documentary Strong Island. We capped the morning with a conversation spotlighting the fiction and documentary winners of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award, Anu Valia and Garrett Bradley.

After lunch, we launched into the meat of the program. We presented a slate of six powerful, women-directed film projects, immersing us in worlds to which we’d otherwise have no access — from bull-fighting rodeos in Texas to a sex trafficking court in Queens to a Syrian refugee orphanage in Turkey. We then gathered for an elegant cocktail reception at Christie’s Auction House, generously hosted by Kering.

The following day, prospective investors met one-on-one with filmmaking teams to discuss potential partnerships while concurrent roundtables explored the risks and rewards of film financing. After a fruitful two days, we left with a strong sense of community and great prospects for each of the six Catalyst Women films!

Special thanks to Ruth Ann and Bill Harnisch and the Harnisch Foundation for their visionary partnership in creating this program with us. Thanks also to Kering, HBO and Bloomberg Philanthropies for their support. See below for details on the six projects featured at Catalyst Women. Each project is still seeking financing–if you are interested in learning more about investment opportunities, please reach out to katie_doering@sundance.org.

Photo Credit: Samantha Nandez


Blowin’ Up

Director: Stephanie Wang-Breal
Producer: Carrie Weprin

Blowin’ Up looks at sex work, prostitution and human trafficking through the lens of our nation’s first human trafficking intervention court in Queens, New York.

Going To Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

Director: Michele Stephenson & Joe Brewster
Producer: Amilca Palmer

Through intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatment of her poetry, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project pushes the boundaries of biographical documentary film to reveal the enduring influence of one of America’s greatest living artists and social commentators.

The Great American Lie

Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Producer: Amanda Mortimer

The Great American Lie examines how a U.S. value system built on the extreme masculine ideals of power, dominance, and control has glorified individualism, institutionalized inequality and undermined the ability of most Americans to achieve the American Dream.

Syrian Families Film (Untitled)

Director: Megan Mylan
Producer: Robin Hessman

A war story told in a unique key from Oscar-winning filmmaker Megan Mylan. In this feature documentary, portraits of Syrian families displaced and fractured by war create a meditation on parental love that is both urgent and timeless.


Stupid Happy

Director: Hannah Utt
Producer: Mallory Schwartz

Co-dependent sisters, Rachel and Jackie lose their father, only to find out the mother they thought had died when they were young, is in fact alive and starring on a soap opera.


Director: Annie Silverstein
Producer: Monique Walton

In a near-abandoned subdivision west of Houston, a wayward teen runs headlong into her equally willful and unforgiving neighbor, an aging bullfighter who’s seen his best days in the arena; it’s a collision that will change them both.

*Photos courtesy of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Samantha Nandez.

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