Sundance Screenwriters Lab Unveils 15 Writers It Will Support (Exclusive)

SundanceMainStreet_Getty - H 2016
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

SundanceMainStreet_Getty - H 2016

Making the cut is Iranian writer-director Massoud Bakhshi true story 'Yalda,' which centers on a woman convicted of killing her husband who agrees to appear on a popular TV show to ask her husband's daughter for forgiveness.

The Sundance Institute has selected the 15 emerging screenwriters and their 12 feature film projects that it will support through the 2017 Screenwriters Lab.

The immersive writers’ workshop, which will run Jan. 13-18, is set to take place right before the Sundance Film Festival kicks off on Jan. 19 in and around Park City.

Among the projects making the cut are Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler’s Bell, about the advent of the telephone and its dark implications, and Jinho Ferreira’s Cops and Robbers, which chronicles an Oakland officer’s love story against the backdrop of inner-city violence, oppressive police tactics and a furious anti-police movement. Also getting the Lab's backing is Iranian writer-director Massoud Bakhshi Yalda, which centers on a woman convicted of killing her husband who agrees to appear on a popular TV show to ask her husband's daughter for forgiveness. If it is granted, her life will be spared  but even clemency comes at a cost. Based on real events in present day Iran.

Drawn from around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile and Iran, selected screenwriters will work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers in an environment that embraces creative risk-taking and the art and craft of cinematic storytelling. Under the leadership of Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program founding director Michelle Satter and Labs director Ilyse McKimmie, the fellows will work with a distinguished group of creative advisors that includes Thomas Bidegain, Sebastian Cordero, DV DeVincentis, Naomi Foner, Susannah Grant, Erik Jendresen, Kasi Lemmons, Walter Mosley, Nicole Perlman, Jose Rivera, Susan Shilliday, Zachary Sklar, Robin Swicord, Joan Tewkesbury, Audrey Wells, Bill Wheeler, and Tyger Williams. Howard Rodman serves as the artistic director.

"In a time when the core values that Sundance champions  freedom of expression, inclusion, empathy  are as important as they've ever been, we are thrilled to be supporting this group of singular storytellers whose bold and personal work exemplifies those ideals,” Satter said. “As a whole, they reflect the consistent breadth and artistry of diverse perspectives in independent storytelling,"

The fellowship often offers a path to a Sundance birth. Eight films supported by the Feature Film Program will premiere at the 2017 festival including Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats, Burning Sands (co-written by Christine Berg and Gerard McMurray and directed by Gerard McMurray) Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ and Mudbound, co-written by Virgil Williams, Dee Rees and Hillary Jordan and directed by Rees.

The complete list of projects and fellows selected for the 2017 January Screenwriters Lab follows:

The 40-Year-Old Version (U.S.A.) / Radha Blank (writer/director): The 40-Year Old Version tells the story of a down-on-her-luck New York playwright who decides that the only way to salvage her artistic voice is to become a rapper... at age 40.

Radha Blank is a playwright, performer and writer for television and film. She has received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Sundance UCROSS Playwrights Retreat, the Helen Merrill Award, the NEA New Play Development Award, and BlackStar Film Festival's Best Screenplay Award, among others. Blank also performs as emcee RadhaMUSprime, whose brand of Ghostface Killah-meets-Moms Mabley hip hop comedy has sold out shows from New York to Norway. Blank has written for Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, Lee Daniels' Empire, and most recently worked as writer/co-producer for Spike Lee’s upcoming Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It.

After Love (U.K.) / Aleem Khan (writer/director): When Mary is suddenly widowed after decades of marriage to her Pakistani husband, she discovers he has a secret family living just across the English Channel in Calais. As she sets out to meet her husband's mistress, Mary navigates her new reality and the Muslim faith she embraced for her husband many years ago.

Aleem Khan is a writer-director of mixed English-Pakistani heritage based in London. He studied Film Direction at The University of Westminster before shooting his debut short film, Diana, which garnered several awards and screened at over 30 festivals internationally. Khan’s most recent short film, Three Brothers, premiered at The BFI London Film Festival and received a BAFTA nomination for Best British Short Film in 2015. More recently, he was named one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow and has been selected to participate on Guiding Lights, The UK film industry’s leading high-level mentoring scheme.

Bell (U.S.A.) / Darcy Brislin and Dyana Winkler (co-writers): At a pivotal point in history, hearing society began a golden age of communication with the advent of the telephone, while deaf society plummeted into a dark age with the eradication of sign language and spread of eugenics. At the helm of both trajectories stands a single man—Alexander Graham Bell. This project is the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship.

A Boston native, Darcy Brislin studied Art History and French at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She received an MFA in screenwriting and directing from EICAR, the International Film School of Paris, where she met co-writer Dyana Winkler. Currently based in Los Angeles, Brislin has written screenplays with Sundance award-winning director Ondi Timoner and has a feature film in development entitled Crown Chasers, with Maria Bello attached to produce.

Dyana Winkler is a writer, director, producer based in Brooklyn. Her most recent film, a feature-length documentary entitled United Skates, is currently in postproduction and has received awards from the Sundance Institute, New York State Council For the Arts, Fledgling Foundation, Film Independent, Chicken & Egg, IFP, and many more. Winkler met her writing partner, Darcy Brislin, in Paris, France, while completing their MFAs in screenwriting and directing, and discovered their shared passion for casting new light on historical figures. They went on to write their first screenplay Turing, and have teamed up for a second time with Bell, which was the recipient of the 2016 Sundance Sloan Commissioning Grant.

Cops and Robbers (U.S.A.) / Jinho Ferreira (writer): Oakland police officer Jay Punch searches for his identity but instead finds love, against a backdrop of inner-city violence, oppressive police tactics and a furious anti-police movement.

Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira is a rapper who found international success with his band Flipsyde, a writer and actor who received national attention for his solo play Cops and Robbers, and a force in police reform, paying his own way through the Police Academy in 2010. He has a B.A. in Black studies from San Francisco State University.

The Cow that Sang a Song About the Future (Chile) / Francisca Alegria (writer/director): In rural Chile, a herd of cattle suddenly and mysteriously falls dead, a deceased woman inexplicably returns home, and an estranged family reunites with its aging patriarch to face up to their own complicated history together.

Francisca Alegría is a Chilean writer/director who received her MFA from Columbia University in 2016. Her thesis short film And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye, a recipient of the National Board of Review Award, screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and will screen at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. She is developing The Cow that Sang a Song About the Future, a Chilean/Italian co-production, with producer Augusto Matte.

The Currents (U.S.A.) / Crystal Moselle (co-writer/director) and Shaz Bennett (co-writer): When 14-year-old Maya returns to her deceased mother’s hometown with her younger sister and their unreliable father, she is quickly caught up in a powerful friendship with a local group of girls, led by the wild, siren-like Fiana. As she discovers the secrets of the town, she wrestles with the mystery of her mother’s past and her own true nature.

Crystal Moselle is a New York-based director best known for her Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize award- winning documentary, The Wolfpack. In the last decade she has been working with short-form storytelling for publications such as Vice, Nowness and The New York Times. Moselle's new project, That One Day, which features a crew of teenage skateboarders known as the Skate Kitchen, had its world premiere at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.

Shaz Bennett is a writer/director working in both film and television (The Glades, UnREAL, Bosch). She co-wrote The Skate Kitchen with Crystal Moselle and is a Graduate of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and FOX’s inaugural Fox’s Top 20 Directing Program. She recently wrote and directed her debut feature film Alaska Is A Drag and was nominated for a Gotham Award 2016 spotlight on female filmmakers.

Dey’Dey and his Brothers (U.S.A.) / Nick Bentgen (co-writer/director) and Lisa Kjerulff (co-writer): Da’Sean spends hours dancing on the New York subway, and his world is beginning to expand with love and opportunity. But when his recently paroled brother is drawn back into criminal activity, Da’Sean must face the violence that surrounds him and create his own path forward.

Nick Bentgen’s feature documentary, Northern Light, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. He directs music videos and commercials for Caviar Content. Nick also worked as cinematographer on Daniel Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces; Matt Wolf’s Teenage, as well as portions of Dan Schoenbrun’s Collective:Unconscious and Jody Lee Lipes’ Ballet 422.

Lisa Kjerulff is a Brooklyn-based independent film producer. She produced and co-wrote Anna Rose Holmer’s feature narrative The Fits, which has been nominated for several Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards. Her feature credits also include Zachary Shedd’s Americana and Nick Bentgen’s Northern Light.

Nine Days (U.S.A.) / Edson Oda (writer/director): In a place distant from our normal reality, a reclusive man charged with interviewing candidates for the privilege of being born must choose between an applicant tough enough to survive versus one for whom he has unexpected feelings. This project is the recipient of the Asian American Feature Film Program Fellowship.

Brazilian of Japanese descent, Edson Oda is a writer/director based in Los Angeles. After starting his career in advertising, Oda collected awards in major international festivals including the Clio Awards, the Cannes Lions and the One Show. As a director, he has a background in animation and live action; his work has been recognized by the Seattle International Film Festival, the Latin Grammy Awards, and Quentin Tarantino’s Emerging Artist Contest. Oda studied Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo and received his MFA in Film and Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Omni Loop Blues (U.S.A.) / Bernardo Britto (writer/director): For years, Zoya Lowe has been traveling back in time, reliving the final week of her life without variation — until one day, something unexpected happens, and she seizes the chance to do everything she ever wanted. This project is the recipient of the Feature Film Program Latino Fellowship.

Bernardo Britto was born in Rio de Janeiro, grew up in South Florida, and graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His animated short films, including Yearbook and Glove, have played numerous film festivals and won awards at Sundance, SXSW, AFI Fest and others. In 2016 he premiered his debut feature film Jacqueline (Argentine) in the NEXT section at the Sundance Film Festival.

Selah and the Spades (U.S.A.) / Tayarisha Poe (writer/director): Once upon a time, a girl named Selah started Pontomic High School’s most merciless gang: The Spades. By turns charming and callous, she chooses who to keep close and who to cut loose, exploring the pleasures and dangers of exerting power.

Tayarisha Poe is a filmmaker and photographer from West Philadelphia. She was chosen as one of the 25 New Faces by Filmmaker Magazine in 2015, and in 2016 she received the Sundance Institute’s Knight Foundation Fellowship. Selah and the Spades: an Overture (2014), the multimedia exploration into the dynamism of teenagehood in a fictional small town that her first feature film is based on, has been profiled by Filmmaker Magazine and IndieWire, and the feature film has gone on to receive development grants and support from Cinereach, the Leeway Foundation and Small But Mighty Arts, among others.

The Wall at the End of the Road (U.S.A.) / Grainger David (writer/director): A young man is forced to come to terms with his estranged father when a mysterious outbreak throws their rural town into quarantine.

Grainger David's short film The Chair won the Jury Prize at SXSW and went on to screen in competition for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A South Carolina native and graduate of Princeton University and the NYU Graduate Film Program, David has received generous support for his work from the South Carolina Film Commission, the San Francisco Film Society, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The MacDowell Colony.

Yalda (Iran) / Massoud Bakhshi (writer/director): Maryam has been convicted of killing her husband. She agrees to appear on a popular television show to ask her husband's daughter for forgiveness. If it is granted, her life will be spared — but even clemency comes at a cost. Based on real events in present day Iran.

Based in Tehran, Iranian writer/director Massoud Bakhshi worked as a film critic and documentary filmmaker before making his first fiction feature, A Respectable Family. The film competed for the Camera d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and went on to screen at more than 50 festivals around the world.