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Sundance Institute Announces 10 Producers Lab Fellows, Summit Panelists and Conversations

The Sundance Institute announced today the producers who will take part in its upcoming Producers Lab (July 25 – 29) and the panelists, projects and advisors participating in its Producers Summit (August 2- 5). The former consists of five fiction and five non-fiction producers, each with specific projects.

From the press release:

Under the leadership of Creative Producing and Artist Support Director Shira Rockowitz and Documentary Film Program Deputy Director Kristin Feeley, the Institute’s Producers Program champions the current and next generation of producers across fiction and nonfiction film and encompasses a year-round series of Labs, Fellowships, granting and events.

The Labs support emerging independent producers and engage the community of veteran producers who sustain the vibrancy and vitality of independent film. Under the guidance of advisors, the Labs allow fellows to deepen the creative potential of their projects, develop their creative instincts and evolve their storytelling, communication and problem-solving skills at all stages of their project. The fellows continue on through the Producers Summit and receive ongoing year-long mentorship, creative support, and networking opportunities with industry.

This year’s advisors include fiction producers Mollye Asher (Academy Award winner, Nomadland), Amy Lo (Nancy), Paul Mezey (After Yang), Laura Rister (The Tale), and nonfiction producers Violeta Bava (Azor) Jannat Gargi (Vice Studios), Andrea Meditch (Fathom), and Tracy Rector (Nia Tero). The Producers Summit brings together diverse sectors of the industry including financiers, packaging agents, distributors, and domestic and international sales representatives with emerging and mid-career producers for a revolving series of conversations around critical issues facing the field and producer sustainability. The program includes curated talks, one-on-one meetings, roundtables and a keynote conversation with Hasan Minhaj exploring the critical role of bold, personal storytelling.

Both events will take place digitally this year on Sundance’s Co//ab platform. Of note to readers here are two producers previously selected for Filmmaker’s 25 New Faces: Darcy McKinnon and Joie Estrella Horwitz.


The Fellows and projects selected for the 2021 Feature Film Producers Lab are:

Caity (U.S.)

Producing Fellow: Katie White

While managing her family’s local haunted house with her alcoholic father, Paul, 16-year-old Caity navigates the evaporating space between childhood and adulthood and discovers a fantasy of intimacy in another teenage employee, Hannah.

Katie White is a creative producer. Her work includes the award winning film Best Summer Ever (SXSW 2021), hailed as a ‘Critics Pick’ by The New York Times, and praised widely for its groundbreaking inclusivity. She recently produced the queer comedy Bridesman, Grindr’s first foray into narrative series. Katie is the co-founder of the Eastside Women’s Film Club, a volunteer with SELAH, and member of the DPA, membership and inclusion committee.

Fancy Dance (U.S.)

Producing Fellow and Mark Silverman Honoree: Deidre Backs

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 hopes of keeping what’s left of their family intact.

Deidre Backs worked at Alexander Payne’s development company on The Descendants and next on Nebraska after transitioning to production. Her first foray into independent film was as an associate producer on Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter with the Zellner Brothers. Deidre then served under Daniel Lupi on Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and Ready Player One, and Jordan Peele’s Us. Most recently, she produced the short film, Little Chief, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

The Incredible Heist of Hallelujah Jones (U.S.)

Producing Fellow: Duran Jones

During a season of extreme gun violence in Compton, California, a precocious book thief who hears the voices of his dead parents finds out that his family’s long-lost novel is being auctioned off. With the help of the neighborhood matriarch, a 100-year-old Black woman, he concocts a plan to steal it back.

Duran Jones is a graduate of Hampton University, Scripps Howard School of Journalism, and an accomplished independent rapper/ songwriter with a keen sense of storytelling. Now a Producing Fellow at the American Film Institute Conservatory, his goal is to tell truthful stories for people of color that impact our global community. Jones is also a graduate of the 2020 PGA Power of Diversity workshop.

The Plutonians (U.S.)

Producing Fellow: Shao Min Chew Chia

When the scientific definition of the word planet threatens to exclude Pluto, ninth planet expert Alvin Gibbs swoops into a sleepy international astronomy conference to save it, bullying others to cover his fear that his life’s labor may ultimately be worthless.

Shao Min Chew Chia is a producer, writer, and director whose independent work moves between documentary and narrative storytelling. After graduating from Harvard University with an Honours BA in the Comparative Study of Religion, she returned home to Singapore and began working in television as a producer for On The Red Dot, a weekly current affairs program on Channel News Asia. Transitioning to a freelance career in independent film, she has produced, assistant directed, written, and directed a variety of projects including feature films, short films, music videos, commercials, and multimedia events like the South East Asian Games 2015 Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Sundown Town (U.S.)

Producing Fellow: Austin Sepulveda

When Loretha learns that her grandmother’s health has taken a downward turn, she returns home to the deep south with her naive boyfriend Sam. As mysterious encounters begin to unearth long held prejudices, Lo’s scarred past comes to light when she discovers a dark secret hidden in her own hometown.

Austin Sepulveda obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from The Pennsylvania State University in Business and MFA from USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program. He interned with ICM, Open Road, Whitaker Entertainment, Team Downey, Skydance, and Legendary Pictures. Austin has produced two feature films as well as over twelve short films and nearly fifty commercials. His focus is working with passionate filmmakers, and he declares he will go to the edges of the Earth for those he believes in.

The Fellows and projects selected for the 2021 Documentary Producers Lab are:

All that is Solid (Todo Lo Sólido)

Producing Fellow: Joie Estrella Horwitz

Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) tells the story of an island sinking into the Caribbean Sea. As a nameless drifter searches for explanations about the island’s destiny, reality and fantasy merge to reflect on the construction of a nation and the burden of progress.

Joie Estrella Horwitz is a filmmaker and producer who was named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine in 2020. Her work has screened at REDCAT, Visions du Reel, ICDOCS, Flaherty Seminar, Tacoma Film Festival, among others. Her current film, Tender Crossings, is a ghost story about notions of home on the US/Mexico border. She is a co-founder of Bahía Colectiva, a community of filmmakers who collaborate in cinematic practice and is producing Todo lo Sólido, which received a development grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund.


Producing Fellow: Darcy McKinnon

When Danielle Metz’s triple life sentence was commuted, she got a rare chance to regain the life and family that she’d been dreaming about in prison. But back home in New Orleans, she steps into a different reality. Commuted traces Danielle’s journey to find purpose and love, and to confront the wounds of incarceration that linger after release from prison.

Darcy McKinnon is a documentary filmmaker based in New Orleans who produces work with Southern filmmakers. She just released The Neutral Ground with CJ Hunt, and is in late production on Commuted (dir. Nailah Jefferson), and Roleplay (dir. Katie Mathews). Her directorial debut, the award-winning short A Fine Girl, is in the festival circuit. McKinnon’s work has been broadcast on POV, Reel South, LPB and Cinemax. Darcy is a co-founder of All Y’all, the Southern Documentary Collective, part of the Impact Partners Producing Fellowship, and one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 2020 25 new faces in independent film.

I Didn’t See You There

Producing Fellow: Keith Wilson

Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency.

Keith Wilson is a director, creative producer, and visual artist based in San Francisco and Athens, Georgia whose work has been exhibited at Sundance, Berlinale, South by Southwest, Hot Docs, the U.S. National Gallery of Art, documenta14, and the Museum of Modern Art. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from the University of Texas-Austin, and grew up on a cul-de-sac in suburban Atlanta.


Producing Fellow: Razi Jafri

Loyalty is an all-access look inside the military and the fight for religious freedom led by three courageous Muslim chaplains. The film explores why Muslim service members defend a country that does not always defend them and how they reconcile this contradiction amidst growing white supremacy and violent hate crimes against religious minorities.

Razi Jafri is a documentary filmmaker and producer whose work focuses on race, immigration, democracy and human rights. His projects include Hamtramck, USA, a film about democracy in America’s first Muslim majority city. The film premiered at SXSW and aired on the PBS program America ReFramed. 

Razing Liberty Square

Producing Fellow: Ann Bennett

Miami is ground-zero for sea-level-rise and the Climate Crisis. Elevation becomes real-estate gold as the rich move inland from low-lying beachfront properties. When residents of Miami’s Liberty Square public housing development learn about a $300-million revitalization project, they brace themselves against a new form of racial injustice — Climate Gentrification. 

Ann Bennett is an Emmy-nominated documentary-filmmaker, multimedia-producer, and teaching-artist who has devoted her career to telling diverse stories through film, television, and interactive projects. She has produced documentaries for PBS series American Experience, ‘Independent Lensand Dance in America’, many of which have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Projects invited to participate in the Producers Summit include nonfiction features:  

8 Stories About My Hearing Loss (Chile), Bartolo (U.S.), Boycott (U.S.), Cult Foods Project (U.S.), Florence From Ohio (U.S.), Hakucha Munayta (Peru), Higher 15 (U.S.), La Bonga (Colombia),Untitled Prison Hunger Strike Film (U.S.), Untitled Vinay Shukla Project (India),We Are Volcanoes (China)

And fiction features:

Calma Chicha (Argentina), Chalino (U.S.), Late Bloomers (U.S.), Lords of the Earth (U.S.), Malpelo (Colombia / U.S.), Motherhood (Tunisia / Canada / France), The Mysterious Gaze of the Flamingo (Chile / France / Mexico), Neon Tilapia (Kenya / U.S.), Stampede (U.S.), Untitled Opa Locka Project (U.S.), Wounspe Wankatya: A College Education (U.S.)

Industry participants in the Summit this year include Salma Abdalla (Autlook), Brad Abramson (A&E IndieFilms), Pamela Aguilar (MTV), Rose Arce (Soledad O’Brien Productions), Belisa Balaban (Hulu), Carole Baraton (Charades), Jason Berman (Mandalay Pictures), Josh Braun (Submarine), Gabby Canton (Orion Pictures), Yohann Comte (Charades), Jeff Deutchman (NEON), Erika Dilday (POV), Tony Ducret (Universal Pictures), Luane Gauer (Protagonist Pictures), Anna Godas (Dogwoof), Wyck Godfrey (Temple Hill Entertainment), Julie Goldman (Motto Pictures), Rebecca Green (Producers Union), Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin (Cardozo Filmmakers Legal Clinic), Poppy Hanks (MACRO), Kevin Iwashina (Endeavor Content), Lakshmi Iyengar (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions), Tilane Jones (ARRAY), Alan Khamoui (Amazon Studios), Aijah Keith (IFC Films), Andreas Zoupanos Kritkos (Wishmore Entertainment), Amanda Lebow (CAA), Amira Lewally (A&E IndieFilms), Maida Lynn (Genuine Article Pictures), Will Maxfield (Endeavor), Colin McCormack (SAGIndie), Deb McIntosh (Endeavor), Lisa Nishimura (Netflix), Emma Pompetti (Acton Family Foundation), Heather Rae (Producer, Bull), Etoy Ridgnal (Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation), Sara Rodriguez (HBO), Marjan Safinia (Department of Expansion), Alex Simon (Emerson Collective), John Sloss (Cinetic Media), Rory Thost (Participant Media), Chi-hui Yang (Ford Foundation)

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