Sundance Institute Sets 10 Producers For 2021 Lab & Summit, Unveils Advisors & Industry Participants

Sundance 2021 Producers Lab
Sundance Institute

On Wednesday, Sundance Institute named the fellows selected for its 2021 Producers Lab and Summit.

Producers and projects selected on the feature film side include Katie White (Caity), Deidre Backs (Fancy Dance), Duran Jones (The Incredible Heist of Hallelujah Jones), Shao Min Chew Chia (The Plutonians), and Austin Sepulveda (Sundown Town).

Those chosen for the Documentary Producers Lab are Jole Estrella Horwitz (All that is Solid (Todo Lo Sólido)), Darcy McKinnon (Commuted), Keith Wilson (I Didn’t See You There), Razi Jafri (Loyalty) and Ann Bennett (Razing Liberty Square).

Fiction producers serving as advisors at this year’s program include Mollye Asher (Nomadland), Amy Lo (Nancy), Paul Mezey (After Yang) and Laura Rister (The Tale). Nonfiction advisors will include Violeta Bava (Azor), Jannat Gargi (Vice Studios), Andrea Meditch (Fathom), and Tracy Rector (Nia Tero).

This year’s Producers Lab is set for July 25-29. The Producers Summit will take place between August 2-5. Both events will be held virtually on Sundance Co//ab.

Additional projects invited to participate in the Summit, on the fiction side, include 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.), and Wounspe Wankatya: A College Education (U.S.).

Other nonfiction projects invited to participate include 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), and We Are Volcanoes (China).

Industry professionals taking part in the Summit 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), and Chi-hui Yang (Ford Foundation).

The Sundance Institute’s Producers Program is overseen by Creative Producing and Artist Support Director Shira Rockowitz and Documentary Film Program Deputy Director Kristin Feeley. It aims to champion the current and next generation of producers across fiction and nonfiction film, and encompasses a year-round series of Labs, Fellowships, granting and events. Under the guidance of advisors, Lab fellows are able to deepen the creative potential of their projects, develop their creative instincts and evolve their storytelling, communication and problem-solving skills. Following the Producers Lab and Summit, fellows receive ongoing year-long mentorship, creative support, and networking opportunities with industry professionals.

This year, Hasan Minhaj will deliver the program’s keynote speech, exploring the critical role of bold, personal storytelling. The usual variety of curated talks, one-on-one meetings, and roundtables will also be offered.

The Sundance Institute Producers Program is supported by an endowment from the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Charitable Foundation, with generous additional support from Cinereach, Amazon Studios, and SAGindie.

The Sundance Institute Feature Film Program is supported by, 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; NHK/NHK Enterprises, Inc.; Amazon Studios; Kimberly Steward—K Period Media; National Endowment for the Arts; 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.

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program is made possible by founding support from The Open Society Foundations. Generous additional support is provided by Ford Foundation; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Luminate; Sandbox Films; The Kendeda Fund; The Charles Engelhard Foundation; Gucci; CNN Films; Compton Foundation; Genuine Article Pictures; Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman; Violet Spitzer-Lucas and the Spitzer Family Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Code Blue Foundation; EarthSense Foundation; Harbour; Adobe; WNET New York Public Media; and two anonymous donors.

More information on the fellows and projects selected for the 2021 Feature Film Producers Lab can be found below:

Caity (U.S.)

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.

For more information on the fellows and projects selected for the 2021 Documentary Producers Lab, read on.

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 U.S./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 Lens and Dance in America, many of which have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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