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Sundance to Honor Michelle Satter at Inaugural Benefit

The Feature Film Program director has been with the institute since it launched in 1981.

The Sundance Institute is holding its first L.A. fund-raiser tomorrow night to celebrate its 30th anniversary, and the organizers have wisely chosen also to use the occasion to honor the longtime director of its Feature Film Program, Michelle Satter.

Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Lisa CholodenkoDebra GranikDarren AronofskyRyan Fleck & Anna BodenCherien DabisKimberly PeirceTamara Jenkins and many more have been the beneficiaries of the writing and directing labs Satter has run in the Utah mountains since the Institute launched. I was lucky enough to spend a little time observing Satter at work up at the labs a few years ago, and she's a uniquely nurturing presence in an industry that more often than not mocks creativity and trivializes risk-taking.

The Celebrate Sundance Institute benefit will raise funds for the international nonprofit arts organization's year-round programs, which include the labs, grants and fellowships for screenwriters, directors, producers, theatre artists, film composers and documentary filmmakers. The event is taking place at Franklin Canyon Ranch in Beverly Hills at 7 p.m.

Here are a few comments from some of the successful filmmakers who flourished under Satter's care:

Aronofsky: “Michelle has always had the most-sensitive ear and heart-warming words. Her early encouragements made me feel invincible.”

Cholodenko: "Michelle Satter has quietly had a big influence on the course of my career. As one of my earliest champions (coming out of the festival, and then the labs), she's always been more than an advocate. Her calm charisma, cool demeanor, and keen intelligence were a beacon for me. Michelle radiates an aura of knowingness and confidence, an ineffable energy of soulfulness and sage wisdom that I instantly trusted. So when Michelle told me that "my script would be good" (eventually), or that "things would work out" (eventually), I believed her, as if she knew what no one really could. There are few people in my life like Michelle that have helped me find my path and stay on it with confidence and determination. She is indeed a champion, in the truest sense of the word."

Anderson: “Michelle was the first person I met in the film business who gave me confidence and support. She was firm and loving and gentle and intelligent in her advice. She made me feel as if I was the only one she had this affection for; it turned out that she had this in abundance for a whole generation of filmmakers. But I still feel she gave more to me than anyone else; and I’m sure we’d all say the same thing. This is her power as a teacher and benefactor. I still feel thankful for that huge chunk of good luck that came my way the day I met her. She changed the course of my life and I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
Granik: “By holding dear and cultivating stories that come from ordinary life and from lived experience, Michelle has made room for neo-realism and humility in American film culture. She is a tireless champion of storytelling diversity and has labored for years through the Institute to pry this space open, which in turn, has allowed filmmakers not previously represented in American movie making to contribute their work. She's created a big, irrevocable, indispensable opening. And all the filmmakers she encouraged to come forward thank her forever.”