Tribeca and AT&T Award $1 Million to Minority Filmmakers

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
From left: Alexander Dinelaris, Ilana Glazer, Fiona Carter, Sasie Sealy, Angela Cheng, Robert De Niro, Lisa Cortes, Griffin Dunne and Alfre Woodard

The winning film 'Lucky Grandma' follows a grumpy old lady on an action-packed adventure.

With the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival coming up, many people are finalizing their plans for the next couple of weeks. But the nine filmmakers who pitched their movies to a star-studded panel on Wednesday were thinking about next year’s festival, as they were competing for the opportunity to screen their film at the 2019 edition of the annual event.

In partnership with AT&T, Tribeca hosted its second annual Untold Stories program where directors and producers pitch to a panel for the chance of winning $1 million towards their film’s creation. After a pitch session and around two hours of deliberation, judges Fiona Carter (AT&T's chief brand officer), Griffin Dunne (Dallas Buyers Club), Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman), Lisa Cortes (Precious), Ilana Glazer (Broad City) and Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers’ Boys) awarded Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng the big prize. 

Sealy and Cheng pitched a film about a ornery Chinese grandmother living in New York City’s Chinatown called Lucky Grandma. After being down on her luck, the grandmother learns from a fortune teller that “a most auspicious day” is on the horizon. The elderly woman immediately takes fate up on its offer, just like Sealy and Cheng will be making the most of the grant.

“Being able to make offers to the cast we want, getting the crew that we want, being able to plan, to prep without the fear of the money going away and the date shifting, that's a huge thing,” Sealy excitedly told The Hollywood Reporter.

In their pitch, Cheng and Sealy featured home videos and clips from their own mothers explaining Chinese concepts. “Lucky Grandma is kind of our homage to these amazing women,” said Cheng. Although the film focuses on a very specific woman, that’s part of the reason the judges liked it so much.

“It really was this specific blend of American and Chinese sensibilities and so specific that it is universal and relatable,” jury member Glazer told THR. “Alfre was saying there's grandmas who either go to church or are gambling and smoking cigarettes. We found that grandma in this culture.”

And Woodard told THR, “You can tell when a story is coming from the belly of someone and a need to tell it. And that means the story will be universal because it’ll have a human connection. It doesn’t matter what the culture, what the language, it falls on people’s hearts and minds in a universal way.”

From this point on, Cheng and Sealy and their producing crew will have just one year to create their film and premiere it at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival. AT&T and Tribeca will assist the creators of Lucky Grandma with awards submissions, qualifying screenings, advertising and promotion.

Meanwhile, the other four filmmakers received $10,000 each, and last year's winner, Faraday Okoro, will screen his film, Nigerian Prince, at the festival on April 24. Okoro offered a few pieces of advice to this year's winners, including, “Hit the ground running, trust your instincts and take a lot of advice and lots of collaboration." 

And all of the filmmakers might be interested in Dunne's words of advice.

"Don't doubt yourself," the actor-director told THR. "You know exactly what you're doing."

Untold Stories itself began as a collaboration between Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal and Carter. 

“We just believe as a company that our customers have every right to see their lives and their stories play out on the screen,” Carter said, adding, “If you look at the films that were pitched today, each and every one of them took us to a world that we may be aware of but we’re not familiar with.”