2019 Sundance Institute Directors Lab Projects and Fellows
Top row (l to r): Kobi Libii, Mounia Akl, Clara Roquet, Ihab Jadallah, Barbara Cigarroa Bottom row (r to l): Joey Ally, Dionne Edwards, Aristotle Torres, Bonsu Thompson, A.V. Rockwell

Filmmakers from the U.S., Lebanon, Palestine, and the United Kingdom have been selected for the 2019 Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Labs, taking place at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah.

At the Directors Lab (May 27-June 18), filmmakers will rehearse, shoot, and edit key scenes from their scripts, working in an immersive, hands-on environment with support from accomplished advisors to build their craft as directors and make key discoveries in collaboration with their actors and key crew. Immediately following, the Screenwriters Lab (June 20-24) provides the opportunity to process the insight gained from the Directors Lab through one-on-one story sessions with screenwriter advisors, and find inspiration and guidance for continued development of their screenplays.

Advisors for the month include Robert Redford, Gyula Gazdag (Artistic Director for the Directors Lab), Sandra Adair, Scott Z. Burns, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Sebastian Cordero, Joan Darling, Suzy Elmiger, Rick Famuyiwa, Stephen Goldblatt, Keith Gordon, Randa Haines, Ed Harris, Ken Kwapis, Christine Lahti, Sanaa Lathan, Pamela Martin, Walter Mosley, Dee Rees, Howard Rodman, Susan Shilliday, Peter Sollett, Joan Tewkesbury, Dylan Tichenor, Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten, Tyger Williams, Erin Cressida Wilson and Doug Wright.

Since 1981, the Feature Film Program (FFP) has supported an extensive list of leading-edge filmmakers, including Boots Riley, Ryan Coogler, Dee Rees, Cary Fukunaga, Benh Zeitlin, Chloe Zhao, Marielle Heller, Haifaa Al Mansour, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, Ritesh Batra, Paul Thomas Anderson, Miranda July and Quentin Tarantino, among many others. Lab-supported films that premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to be released this year include Before You Know It, co-written by Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock and directed by Hannah Pearl Utt, Brittany Runs a Marathon, written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo, The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, co-written by Joe Talbot and Rob Richert and directed by Joe Talbot, and Share, written and directed by Pippa Bianco. In addition, several Feature Film Program-supported films recently premiered and won awards at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, including House of Hummingbird, co-written and directed by Bora Kim, Initials S.G., co-written and directed by Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia, The Short History of the Long Road, written and directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy and Swallow, written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis. Finally, two new films supported by FFP will have their premieres at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival: Bull, co-written by Annie Silverstein and Johnny McAllister and directed by Annie Silverstein, and The Unknown Saint, written and directed by Alaa Eldine Aljem.

The 2019 Sundance Institute Directors Lab Projects and Fellows

The American Society of Magical Negroes (U.S.A.) / Kobi Libii (director and screenwriter): Omar, a young black man, is recruited into an undercover society of Magical Negroes who secretly conjure literal magic to make white people’s lives easier. Once he realizes they are using supernatural means to do the very thing he’s felt obligated to do his whole life, he attempts to buck the system and put his own dreams first.

Kobi Libii is an actor/writer/comedian, currently writing and performing on Comedy Central’s upcoming Klepper. Past acting credits include The Opposition with Jordan Klepper (Comedy Central), Transparent (Amazon), Girls (HBO), Jessica Jones (Netflix), and Madam Secretary (CBS), among others. In addition to his television work, Libii has written and performed sketch and improvised comedy all over the country, touring with Broadway’s Next Hit Musical, One Night Stand and in the Resident Company at Chicago City Limits. Libii has a bachelors in Theater from Yale University and studied comedy at Second City Chicago.

Costa Brava Lebanon (Lebanon) / Mounia Akl (director and co-writer) and Clara Roquet (co-writer): The Badri family lives an idyllic life of isolation in the Lebanese mountains, far away from a country drowning in garbage and pollution. When the government decides to build a landfill right outside their house, tensions amongst the family members explode, revealing the rot was not only outside their home.

Mounia Akl is a Lebanese director and screenwriter with a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from ALBA and and MFA from Columbia University. Her short film, Submarine, was in the Official Selection of the 69th Cannes Film Festival (Cinéfondation) and at the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2017, Akl was chosen to represent Lebanon at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors’ Fortnight Factory with her short film, El Gran Libano, co-directed with Neto Villalobos. With ​Costa Brava Lebanon, Akl completed the Torino Film Lab and the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation Residency.​ The film will be produced by Abbout Productions.

Clara Roquet is a Spanish writer and director. She is the co-writer of the films 10.000KM, directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet, and Petra, directed by Jaime Rosales, which premiered at this year’s Directors’ Fortnight. Her short film El Adiós, which she also directed, won the 2016 Student BAFTA, was nominated for the European Film Awards, and was acquired by HBO. Her previous collaboration with Mounia Akl include co-writing the short film Submarine.

The Doubt (Palestine) / Ihab Jadallah (director and screenwriter): After 12 years in prison, Ibrahim finally returns home to his wife and a son he has never met. Although he desperately wants to rebuild his life and his bond with his family, he is plagued by doubt about the true nature of their relationships, throwing into question whether this family can survive.

Award-winning Palestinian filmmaker and producer Ihab Jadallah has written, directed, and produced several highly acclaimed short films, including The Flower Seller, which screened at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. The Doubt will represent his feature directorial debut. The script won the AFAC Production Fund (2018) and was supported at the 2018 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab.

El Otro Lado (The Other Side) (U.S.A.) / Barbara Cigarroa (director and screenwriter): Set in Brownsville, Texas, during the child migration crisis, Lucy, a low-income Mexican American teen, is confronted with her own need for escape when her father decides to sponsor two undocumented minors for money.

Barbara Cigarroa is a Mexican-American filmmaker from South Texas. She resides in New York City/Texas and holds an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University and a BA in English from Yale. Cigarroa’s screenplay, El Otro Lado (The Other Side), was a featured project at IFP’s 2018 No Borders Co-Production Market, and was selected for both the 2019 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and 2019 Hamptons Screenwriters Lab. Cigarroa was also the recipient of the Sundance Latinx Fellowship. Her short film Dios Nunca Muere had its world premiere at the 2018 New York Film Festival, and she was invited to be a member of the 2018 NYFF Artist Academy. Her previous short Marta Rosa was an official selection at dozens of international film festivals, including Austin, New Orleans, and Palm Springs, where it won Panavision’s Best North American Short under 15 minutes.

The Hater (U.S.A.) / Joey Ally (director and screenwriter): Dorothy Gale Rexford is fired for taking her liberal extremist views too far, and must retreat to her conservative Texas hometown where she learns that her Republican childhood bully is running for state congress. In this town, only Republicans can win, so obviously the only thing to do is go undercover and run against him as a Republican herself!

Joey Ally is an actor, writer, and director based in Los Angeles. Her short films have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the BFI London Film Festival, as well as online with The New Yorker and Vimeo Premieres. She is an alumna of the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, among other programs. Most recently, she wrote and starred in Are You Still Singing? for Turner and Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology.

Pretty Red Dress (United Kingdom) / Dionne Edwards (director and screenwriter): South London, present day. Travis, a black man newly released from prison, returns to a turbulent home life with his longtime girlfriend Candice and their androgynous daughter Kenisha. The family’s precarious balance is sent spinning when they discover him cross-dressing, calling all of their relationships into question.

Dionne Edwards’ short We Love Moses screened at over fifty festivals, including LFF and TIFF. It has picked up nine awards and has been licensed for television by Cine+, Canal+ and HBO. Edwards is a Fellow of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab 2019. In 2018 she directed That Girl, for Channel 4’s ‘On the Edge’ series and directed second unit on the third series of Top Boy (Netflix). She is currently developing her debut feature film Pretty Red Dress with the BFI.

Story Ave. (U.S.A.) / Aristotle Torres (director and co-writer) and Bonsu Thompson (co-writer): After running away from his rough home life, a teenage graffiti artist holds up an unsuspecting old man in a robbery gone right that changes both of their lives forever.

Aristotle Torres is a writer, director, and producer from the Bronx, NY. Torres founded By Any Means, a multimedia artist collective, and directed content for NaS, Kanye West, The Roots, and Ludacris, among others. He produced the feature Are We Not Cats which premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival and won the audience award at Sitges 2016. Torres’ short film Story Ave screened at several regional festivals across the US and will have its international premiere at Festival Sayulita in Mexico City in 2019. He recently wrote and directed his third short film, The Chair, a Mandarin thriller shot on location in Taiwan.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, and Brooklynite. He co-wrote the short film Story Ave, produced the feature documentary Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story, created and executive produced the digital documentary series Prelude for BET.com, and has helped lead media entities in roles including Editor-in-Chief of The Source, Creative Consultant for MTV2, and Music Editor for XXLmagazine. Thompson has lent his creative vision in the marketing and branding space to brands including NIKE, Hennessy, Stolichnaya, and Beats by Dre, among others. He has interviewed and written about entertainment figures including Jay-Z, Sanaa Lathan, Carmelo Anthony and Chanel Iman for outlets including Billboard, Penthouse, and Bleacher Report.

A Thousand and One Nights (U.S.A.) / A.V. Rockwell (director and screenwriter): An orphan with a mysterious past and the free-spirited hairdresser who takes him in embark on a search for identity and stability in a rapidly changing New York City.

A.V. Rockwell is an award-winning filmmaker from Queens, NY. Her previous short films include The Gospel, B.L.B., and KIDS. Rockwell has received fellowships from Tribeca Film Institute, the John S. Guggenheim Foundation, and Sundance Institute. Her latest short film Feathers was recently acquired for distribution by Fox Searchlight and screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

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