Nate Parker Announces 'Birth of a Nation' Fellowship With Sundance Institute

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Nate Parker

At an event at the Ace Hotel Thursday, the director-writer-star of the Sundance sensation also revealed the advice George Lucas once gave him.

Nate Parker, the writer-director-producer-star of Sundance sensation Birth of a Nation, got some help from the Sundance Institute in making his film. Now, he's "paying it forward" as he announced at the Sundance Night Before Next event Thursday night at the Ace Hotel.

Parker, who was honored with the Vanguard Award at the intimate event in Downtown Los Angeles, announced that he and the cast, crew and producers of The Birth of a Nation, were creating a Birth of a Nation fellowship that will sponsor one young filmmaker of color, 18 to 25 years old, for the next five years to participate in the Sundance Ignite program. The program is a year-long fellowship with the Sundance Institute that allows aspiring filmmakers to attend the Sundance Film Festival and interact with filmmakers and other industry heavyweights.

Parker received the Vanguard Award for his work on Birth of a Nation, a film that he wrote, produced and directed. He gave up acting for several years in order to get the film made. He was supported by the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program from development to post-production through both grants and mentorship.

The hotel's theater was packed with other actors and filmmakers that are a part of the indie community and Sundance family, including director Kevin Smith, Jay and Mark Duplass, Bryce Dallas Howard, Norman Lear and Michael B. Jordan, who presented the Vanguard honor to Parker.

Parker's The Birth of a Nation, which won the Jury and Audience Award at Sundance, was sold in a record $17.5 million deal to Fox Searchlight at Sundance. It opens wide Oct. 7.

"I often compare it to being on an island," said Parker of filmmaking. "You're by yourself and all you have is your script, your dream, your voice. And you're surrounded by an ocean of fear, an ocean of doubt, an ocean of despair, an ocean of reasons why that voice does not need to exist in the world."

"Sometimes you need someone that knows something, you need someone that supports something great, that recognizes something great. You need someone to tell you, 'Yes, you can do it,'" he says, revealing that it was the Sundance Institute that finally gave him the support he was needing to make the film.

But he also mentioned that he got some support very early on for his dream project. Parker said onstage that back in 2012 he was speaking to George Lucas while making the film Red Tails, and he mentioned that he was hoping to make his own film someday.

"I told him that people are telling me maybe it can't be done, maybe it's impossible," he said. "He said, 'Well, when people tell you it's impossible, that's when you know you're on the right track.'"

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