EXCLUSIVE: AT&T is about to give us some major Shark Tank vibes with a film twist with their upcoming AT&T Presents: Untold Stories pitch event which will livestream on April 22 ahead of the Tribeca Film Festival which kicks off April 24 and continues through May 5.
Now in its third year, AT&T partners with the Tribeca Film Institute to champion inclusive filmmaking, choosing five diverse filmmakers to present their story ideas and film scripts to a Greenlight Committee. The winner of Untold Stories gets $1 million prize and Tribeca provides mentorship from seasoned industry professionals for the deserving filmmaker to develop the pitch into a feature-length film. It will also premiere at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The other four filmmakers won’t walk away empty handed as AT&T will provide a $10,000 grant for their filmmaking goals.
This year, for the first time in the program’s history all five finalists are female. The finalists and the films they’ll pitch this year are:
- Aslihan Unaldi – Afloat
- Kaliya Warren – Expatriates
- Kate Tsang – Marvelous and the Black Hole
- Maria Victoria Ponce – Washing Elena
- Ellie Foumbi – Zenith
The Greenlight Committee is a prestigious roster of Hollywood luminaries including Haifaa Al Mansour (Director and Producer), Len Amato (President of HBO Films), Fiona Carter (AT&T Communications Chief Brand Officer), LisaGay Hamilton (Actor, Director, and Producer), Katie Holmes (Actor, Director and Producer), Mira Nair (Director and Producer) and Kal Penn (Actor, Comedian and Producer).
“As AT&T and Tribeca take our Untold Stories relationship into its third year, we have only just begun to recognize the power and impact that this program can have on delivering much-needed diversity in film while also creating a life-changing opportunity for a talented first-time filmmaker and their team,” Fiona Carter, AT&T Communications Chief Brand Officer tells Deadline. “With this year’s Untold Stories winner being chosen next week, we will have a project in every phase of development: Nigerian Prince – with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score – currently available on many VOD platforms, Lucky Grandma that will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and a brand new project from one of 5 extraordinary women directors we’ll select on Monday. We are absolutely thrilled to have such an extraordinary Greenlight Committee this year and it gives our team immeasurable pride to see how this one-of-a-kind program is building momentum and creating a transformative entertainment experience.”
As mentioned, last year’s winner Lucky Grandma will make its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and will continue its festival run in May at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Sasie Sealy, who directed the film and wrote the film with Angela Cheng, said that programs like Untold Stories are a catalyst in the current movement of authentic representation in Hollywood and that it is partially audience-driven.
“This generation of American moviegoers is more diverse, more open, and has greater access to movies and films from around the world than any generation that came before,” Sealy tells Deadline. “Audiences are ready and willing to engage with different kinds of stories and different kinds of characters, and in some ways, the industry is just following their lead.”
She adds that industry leaders are important because they are the tastemakers and financiers that can be the catalyst for change — and Untold Stories is a platform for new voices that will hopefully act like “a shot of adrenaline to the whole system.”
Her film Lucky Grandma stars the iconic Tsai Chin (Joy Luck Club, Memoirs of a Geisha) as an ornery, chain-smoking Chinese grandmother with a small-time gambling habit that eventually lands her in the middle of a Chinese gang war. She wanted to make a movie with the kind of hero we’ve never seen before: she’s grumpy, superstitious, difficult and complicated. The film is bold, moving, funny and a little crazy. She wanted to make a story that was effortlessly diverse and also interesting and new.
“When it comes to the stories that are in front of the camera, I think we should be framing the conversation in a different way so that you’re not marginalizing these films: New voices, different perspectives, unlikely heroes, an unexpected angle or twist — a different world on screen,” said Sealy. “Because in the end, the filmmakers are still operating as storytellers who are trying to engage and entertain an audience.”
Viewers can tune into the livestream of the Untold Stories event at 9 am ET on April 22 on Tribeca’s Facebook page. The Greenlight Committee will announce the winner later in the day.
Read the full descriptions of the five Untold Stories filmmakers below.
Written and Directed by Aslihan Unaldi, Produced by Izabella Tzenkova
Before he is thrown in prison for exposing government corruption in his latest book, Turkish journalist Yusuf convinces his ex-wife and adult daughters to reunite for a sailing trip on the Aegean coast. As soon as they leave the marina, tensions rise, old resentments surface and new secrets are revealed.
Written and Directed by Kaliya Warren, Produced by Marttise Hill, Julius Pryor and Tim Wu
An adventurous biracial American woman is on a travel photography project in East Africa, when she falls for a playboy volunteer doctor on assignment in Ethiopia. Together, they embark on a life-altering motorcycle road trip from Sudan to South Africa. EXPATRIATES explores the West’s relationship with contemporary East Africa and Neocolonialism in the Millennial age.
Marvelous and the Black Hole
Written and Directed by Kate Tsang, Produced by Carolyn Mao
Teenage delinquent Sammy Ko teams up with a surly children’s party magician on a bizarre adventure to navigate her tumultuous home life and inner demons. A coming-of-age comedy that touches on unlikely friendships, grief, and finding hope in the darkest moments.
Written and Directed by Maria Victoria Ponce, Produced by Vanessa Perez
Set in Richmond, California, WASHING ELENA follows 31-year-old Indalia’s struggle to solve the mystery surrounding her best friend Elena’s sudden death. To find answers, Indalia must confront the realities of Elena’s surprising conversion to Islam, leading Indalia to challenge her own biases, vices and lingering guilt.
Written and Directed by Ellie Foumbi, Directed by Joseph Mastantuono
An adopted Black Mennonite woman leaves the rural white community she was raised in and travels to an inner-city neighborhood in Philadelphia to find her biological mother. ZENITH explores how we choose to construct our identities through race, faith and family.
Watch a video of the live pitch process below.