(Left to right) Christina Marouda, President/Founder IFFLA; Michelle Satter, Founding Director, Feature Film Program; Howard Rodman, Writer and Lab Advisor; Alesia Weston, Associate Director, Feature Film Program, International;
There are those who argue that Los Angeles, with its sprawling polyglot patchwork of ethnic enclaves, is the city of the future — a global microcosm where it’s possible to travel a few miles and have a full-immersion foreign cultural experience. Such was the case last week at the 10th Annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, where Indian expats and international film lovers gathered to savor the cinema of the subcontinent. This year, the IFFLA introduced its first-ever Industry Leadership Awards, with Sundance Institute’s Michelle Satter, Director of Feature Film Program, and Alesia Weston, Associate Director of Feature Film Program, International, among the honorees. The celebration was particularly poignant, given that Weston will soon depart the Institute to assume her new role as the executive director of the Jerusalem Film Center and the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The awards were distributed at last week’s lively luncheon at the House of Blues, where screenwriter, Howard Rodman, commemorated Satter and Weston’s contributions to the creative community with the following introduction:
I’ve had the great good fortune to be an advisor, for a dozen years now, to the Sundance Screenwriters Labs. It’s changed my life in more ways than I could count or even imagine.
But in all my Sundance days I’ve never been so touched, so humbled, so moved in mind and spirit, as I found myself, a few weeks back, at the Sundance/Mumbai Mantra Screenwriters Lab in Mumbai and Tungi. The Lab fellows, young and emerging screenwriters and filmmakers from India and around the world, were extraordinary beyond imagining. We were there to help give them skills; but what we found was that we were there to be taught. Lessons about the possibilites of cinema, and lessons about the possibilities of the heart.
The Sundance Labs were founded, some 30 years ago, by Robert Redford—is there anyone in our industry who has used his good fortune to better effect? Their purpose is to keep alive the art of storytelling, and to insure that the widest variety of filmmakers get to tell the stories only they can tell, with craft, with voice, and with passion. In a time where intellectual property conglomerates have never been so cautious, so narrowminded, so rapacious about what constitutes the movies, the Sundance Feature Film Program has never been more essential.
The Labs at the heart of that program have been conceived and refined by the extraordinary woman who I am here today to introduce to you: Michelle Satter.
And for the past decade, the labs have had an increasingly international bent. Sundance has traversed the globe, to Brazil, to Jordan, and now to Mumbai, to work with emerging filmmakers. Equally importantly, Sundance has brought those filmmakers here to change the way we ourselves look at cinema, look at the world. And the Sundance international programs have been crafted and overseen by the other extraordinary woman who I am here today to introduce to you: Alesia Weston.
There’s an army of filmmakers who can testify to the generosity of the Institute, it’s reach here and abroad, and to the tenacity of its support. Independent cinema as we know it today—from the work of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky, to Josh Marston and Hany Abu-Assad and Cary Fukanaga, to Cherien Dabis and Shirin Neshat and Etgar Keret, to Sean Durkin and Lena Dunham and Benh Zeitlin—would not exist without Michelle. And Alesia’s international programs have not only invigorated independent cinema around the world—but it have prodded American filmmakers to expand and refocus our own voices.
If you are a fan of cinema at all, you have been changed by the work enabled, encouraged, emboldened, clarified, and urged into being by Michelle Satter and Alesia Weston. It has been my grand pleasure to have come to know them, work with them, treasure them.