Natasha Rothwell among Sundance Institute 2021 Screenwriters Lab Fellows
Fifteen emerging storytellers from Chile, India, Kenya, Tunisia and the U.S. will convene digitally for Sundance Institute’s January Screenwriters Lab, taking place online via Sundance Co//ab from January 11 -15, 2021. The Fellows will work to further develop twelve original projects, in collaboration with an experienced group of Creative Advisors. Under the leadership of Michelle Satter (Founding Director, Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program) and Ilyse McKimmie (the Program’s Deputy Director), the Creative Advisors include: Scott Frank (Artistic Director), Ritesh Batra, Andrea Berloff, Rodrigo Garcia, Amanda Idoko, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Doug McGrath, Walter Mosley, Jessie Nelson, Nicole Perlman, Howard Rodman, Elena Soarez, Dana Stevens, Robin Swicord, Joan Tewkesbury, Bill Wheeler, and Tyger Williams.
“At this time of unprecedented change, we’re so fortunate to virtually gather this inclusive group of bold and vibrant filmmakers and Advisors for a week of story meetings, craft workshops, and life-long creative relationships that have long been a hallmark of our Labs,” said Satter. “We strongly believe that storytellers have the power to reimagine and rewrite the future, and we’re excited to launch this next generation of filmmakers with a year-round support system beginning with the January Lab.”
For over 35 years, the FFP Labs have supported and championed an exciting and ground-breaking array of independent filmmakers including Radha Blank (The 40-Year-Old Version), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Chloe Zhao (Songs My Brother Taught Me), Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats), Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl), Fernando Frias de la Parra (I’m No Longer Here), Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Edson Oda (Nine Days), Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), Dee Rees (Pariah), Nia DaCosta (Little Woods), Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) and Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild), among many others.
The projects and fellows selected for the 2021 January Screenwriters Lab are:
Black Comic-Con (U.S.A.)
Natasha Rothwell (writer/director)
Two cosplaying Blerds, Kindsey and Allen, have an epic meet-cute at Comic-Con but are separated before they learn each other’s true identity. When they unknowingly meet again in real life, Kindsey must reconnect to the courage and confidence that masked-anonymity provided her in order to see what (and who) is right in front of her face.
Natasha Rothwell is a series regular and producer on Issa Rae’s Peabody Award-winning HBO series Insecure, for which she was nominated for a 2019 NAACP Image Award. Before that, she wrote for Saturday Night Live and went on to write and star in the original sketch series Netflix Presents: The Characters. She can also be seen in the groundbreaking hit film Love, Simon as well as Sonic The Hedgehog and Wonder Woman 1984. Rothwell is currently developing two original series for HBO which she will executive produce, in addition to writing and starring in one of them. Concurrently, she is writing the coming-of-age feature We Were There, Too with Gloria Calderón-Kellett for HBO Max, and will star in Malltown, an animated series she is executive producing alongside Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. Rothwell has voiced characters on Ducktales, Bojack Horseman, Tuca & Bertie, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, and the new Nickelodeon series Baby Shark. Recipient of the 2021 Sundance Institute | Comedy Central Comedy Fellowship.
The Catch (Ghol) (India)
Rishi Chandna (writer/director)
An impoverished Muslim fisherman becomes a millionaire overnight after catching a shoal of the rare and prized Ghol fish in the polluted, nearly barren waters off the west coast of India. The newfound wealth offers him a chance to buy a bigger boat and rebuild his life, but a renewed wave of anti-Muslim sentiment threatens his plans and forces him to confront past traumas.
Rishi Chandna is a self-taught filmmaker based in Mumbai. As a writer-director-producer, he has created content that ranges from digital commercials to audio-video installations, which have shown at the MoMA, Venice Biennale of Architecture, and the MAK Museum Vienna. His debut short film, Tungrus (2018), traveled to more than 150 international festivals (including Hot Docs, BFI London Film Festival, and IDFA,) won 28 awards, and became an Oscar-qualifying documentary after winning the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival. Tungrus was released online on the NYT Op-Docs platform as well as on The Criterion Channel. Chandna’s upcoming short film Party Poster is a hybrid satire about a community of laundrymen wanting to celebrate a religious festival in the face of a pandemic.
Alyssa Loh (writer)
1958. In a purported attempt to “redeem” nuclear weapons, the American government embarks on a plan to blast a new harbor into the Alaskan coastline using five thermonuclear bombs — one of them 10 times the size of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima. A Native village next to ground zero must join forces with a young American scientist to face down the government and save their home from destruction. Inspired by true events.
Alyssa Loh is a writer and filmmaker whose essays on technology, surveillance, and visual culture have appeared in Artforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The American Reader, where she served as deputy editor. She sits on the Editorial Board of the history journal Lapham’s Quarterly and has held creative residencies at dispersed holdings (NYC) and Mildred’s Lane (Beach Lake, PA). She co-created the ensemble film Twelve Theses on Attention for the 2020 Glasgow International. Loh is a joint MBA/MFA (filmmaking) candidate at NYU. She holds a BA from Princeton in literature and creative writing, where she won the Ward Mathis Prize for best short story, and was selected by Toni Morrison for participation in her Atelier program. Recipient of the 2021 Alfred P. Sloan Development Fellowship.
Fancy Dance (U.S.A.)
Erica Tremblay (co-writer/director) and Miciana Alise (co-writer)
Following the disappearance of her sister, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from her white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in the hope of keeping what’s left of their family intact.
Erica Tremblay is an award-winning writer and director from the Seneca-Cayuga Nation. Her short film Little Chiefpremiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was included on IndieWire’s top 10 must-see short films at the fest. Tremblay was a 2018 Sundance Native Film Lab Fellow and she is a current Sundance Indigenous Intensive fellow. She was recently honored as a 40 Under 40 Native American. Tremblay lives on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York where she is studying her Indigenous language.
Miciana Alise interned with the Native American Journalists Association in 2011 and 2012. She served as first assistant director under the guidance of director Randy Reinholz during his production of the original Alaska Native play, William Inc., for Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska. Alise self-published her first book, Heavens & Heathens, a young adult fantasy fiction novel in 2016, and was selected as a Sundance Institute Indigenous Film Fellow in 2018. She is the creator of The Mission by Miciana, a YouTube channel which focuses on educating Native youth on current events and Indigenous history of the United States through innovative teaching methods. She is currently a student in the Film and Media Studies Program at Arizona State University.
Mary Ann Anane (writer) and Cris Gris (director)
After moving to the working-class part of the Hamptons, a Latinx teen employed as a housecleaner for the elite explores identity and sexuality in the shadows of gentrification and inevitable loss.
Mary Ann Anane is a Ghanaian-born, New Jersey-raised screenwriter and novelist. She is a graduate of Northwestern University with a concentration in playwriting. Anane was a writer’s fellow at the 2020 Athena Feature Lab, 2020 Film Independent’s Project Involve, and a finalist for MACRO’s inaugural Episodic Lab. Outside of writing, Anane worked as a development assistant at Endeavor Content, a producer’s assistant on The Farewell and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and has worked on off-Broadway productions at New York Theatre Workshop. All her titles are in the lowercase.
Cris Gris holds an MFA in directing and screenwriting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her films have screened internationally in festivals including La Semaine de la Critique, Festival de Cannes. She’s known for moving between acting, writing and directing and landed her first leading role in the feature independent drama Fish Bones. Gris’ music videos have been nominated by MTV Latin America for Video of the Year. Her short San Miguelreceived the Spike Lee Film Production Fund, the HFPA Fellows Fund, and was named a 2019 NBR student grant winner. Her latest short, Pia & Mike premiered at the Morelia International Film Festival. Gris is also a directing fellow for the 2020 Film Independent program Project Involve and is currently developing her first feature film and a television show.
The Macrobiotic Toker (U.S.A.)
Tracy Droz Tragos (writer/director)
Living in a mommune, balancing her alternative lifestyle and a bitter divorce, Sula’s life is plunged into potential chaos by an unplanned pregnancy. After discovering how to procure abortion pills online, she travels an unexpected path to become an underground supplier, an accidental pro-choice activist, and ultimately, a convicted felon. Inspired by true events.
Tracy Droz Tragos is a writer, filmmaker, and mother of two kids. Her documentary work includes Abortion: Stories Women Tell, the HBO film about unplanned pregnancies and resilience; Be Good, Smile Pretty, an Emmy Award-winning documentary about the grief and healing of survivors of the Vietnam War; and Rich Hill (Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary, 2014 Sundance Film Festival) for which she embedded in the homes of low-income families in rural Missouri. In 2020, Tragos won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her long-form work on the documentary Sarah. Way back in 1993, she received her MFA in screenwriting from USC.
Meryam Joobeur (writer/director)
In rural Tunisia, Salha works to keep her family together when her sons leave to fight for the Islamic State. When her eldest returns home with a mysterious young wife in tow, she struggles to reconcile the darkness that he has brought back with him.
Meryam Joobeur is a Tunisian American director, based in Montréal, Canada. Her work includes both documentary and fiction. Her short films Gods, Weeds and Revolutions (2012) and Born in the Maelstrom (2017), starring Sasha Lane, screened in festivals around the world. Her most recent short Brotherhood (2018) was nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Live Action Short and screened at 150+ festivals, winning 75 international prizes.
The Mysterious Gaze of the Flamingo (Chile)
Diego Céspedes (writer/director)
Chile, 1984. A remote mining town is stricken with a mysterious disease, said to be transmitted between men through eye contact. Twelve-year-old Lidia must protect her older brother Alexo, who raised her, when he comes under threat from the fearful townspeople.
Diego Céspedes is a Chilean filmmaker who studied Film & Television at Universidad de Chile. In 2018, he wrote and directed his first short, The Summer of the Electric Lion, which won the Cinéfondation First Prize at Cannes Film Festival and the Nest First Prize at San Sebastian Film Festival, and also screened at festivals including Sundance, Palm Springs and AFI Fest, among others. The Mysterious Gaze of the Flamingo, which takes place during the onset of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chile, has been selected for the Cinéfondation Residence (Cannes Film Festival) and the Ikusmira Berriak Residence (San Sebastian Film Festival.)
Neon Tilapia (Kenya/U.S.A.)
Tony Koros (writer/director)
When a dangerous water-weed threatens to take over his lake and livelihood, a fisherman in rural Kenya forms an unexpected alliance with his estranged granddaughter to fight back using glowing, genetically modified fish. As strange lights appear in the lake, chaos erupts in the village, and the two are challenged to reach a new understanding of each other.
Tony Koros is a New York-based Kenyan screenwriter, director and producer. He is a recipient of the 2020 Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Grant, the Cine Qua Non Lab Fellowship 2020, the Martin E. Segal Production Grant and the 2019 Hollywood Foreign Press Association grant. His latest short film, Tithes & Offerings, premiered in competition at the 2019 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and has since been acquired for distribution by CANAL+. His previous short films have screened at over 70 international film festivals including the Palm Springs International Shortfest (where he won the Alexis Prize in 2017,) Clermont-Ferrand 2018, FESPACO 2017, and he won the Sembene prize at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. He holds an MFA in Filmmaking from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Parts & Labor (U.S.A.)
Cristina Costantini (co-writer/director) and Jacob Albert (co-writer)
Working single mom Maria Burgos signs on as a gestational surrogate for a wealthy, controlling New York couple to pay for her son’s college tuition. She tolerates their degrading demands until the relationship explodes, and Maria seizes the moment to blackmail her way to the American Dream.
Cristina Costantini is an Emmy Award-winning director. Her latest documentary Mucho Mucho Amor premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on Netflix in 2020. The film was nominated for a Critics Choice Award and won the Best Latinx Film award from NALIP. Her first feature documentary, Science Fair, won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award as well as the SXSW Audience Award, a Critics Choice Award for Best First Time Director, and an Emmy award. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, Costantini worked as an investigative journalist, covering immigration, detention centers, sex trafficking, and the opiate epidemic. Her investigative work has been recognized with a GLAAD Media Award, two Emmy nominations, and an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award. She is a Wisconsin native and a Yale grad who now lives in California with her husband and their pug dog Harriet. She is a partner at Muck Media, a Los Angeles-based production company.
Jacob Albert lives in Oakland. He ghostwrites popular science books for research scientists and is at work on a novel. Formerly a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he has received fellowships from the Blue Mountain Center, the Michener Center, and the Elizabeth George Foundation.
A Real One (U.S.A.)
McKenzie Chinn (writer/director)
A bright Black teenager living in a working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side discovers the power and beauty of true friendship when her illicit relationship with a teacher is discovered amid the final weeks of her senior year of high school.
McKenzie Chinn is a filmmaker, actor, and poet based in Chicago. She is the writer, producer, and lead actor of Olympia, which premiered at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the 2019 Bentonville Film Festival. As an actor, her credits include Fox’s Empire, CBS’ The Red Line, and the upcoming Fox pilot The Big Leap, as well as stage productions with Goodman and Steppenwolf Theatres, The Second City, Woolly Mammoth, and others. Her poetry has been nominated for multiple awards including a Pushcart Prize. Chinn is part of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective whose releases include two albums, BIG DARK BRIGHT FUTURES (2020) and WE HERE: Thank You For Noticing (2017), and the poetry collection Five Fifths (Candor Arts, 2018). She is a 2015 Leonore Annenberg Artist Fellow and a 2020 See It Be It Filmmaker Fellow with the Bentonville Film Festival.
On a southern plantation in the 1800s, Lena is an 11-year-old slave with telekinetic abilities she cannot yet control. When she is separated from her mother and moved into close quarters with the volatile Master’s wife, Lena must grapple with the danger of her gift as well as its potential power.
Sontenish Myers is a Jamaican-American writer-director based in Harlem, New York. She is a graduate of NYU’s Graduate Film program where she’s now an adjunct professor. Her short film, Cross My Heart, won the Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker at the Palm Springs International Shortfest and the Vimeo Staff Pick Award at Hamptons International Film Festival. Stampede, her debut feature, was accepted into the 2019 HIFF Screenwriting Lab, Film Independent Screenwriting Lab and IFP Week 2019. It is also a selected script on the Black List 2019, and a recipient of SFFILM’s Rainin Grant and Tribeca All Access Grant.
The Sundance Institute Feature Film Program is supported by explore.org, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation; Maja Kristin; NBCUniversal; Hollywood Foreign Press Association; Karen Lauder; Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund; Sandra and Malcolm Berman Charitable Foundation; Comedy Central; National Endowment for the Arts; NHK/NHK Enterprises, Inc.; Amazon Studios; Kimberly Steward—K Period Media; SAGindie; Philip Fung—A3 Foundation; Rosalie Swedlin and Robert Cort; Directors Guild of America; Deborah Reinisch and Michael Theodore Fund; and Writers Guild of America West.
Natasha Rothwell image credit: Shutterstock