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Sundance Institute and The Walt Disney Studios Launch Project Advancement and Completion Fund

SUPPORTING UNDEREPRESENTED DIRECTORS


Film Industry Leaders Unite to Champion Inclusivity in Filmmaking

Photo Credit Courtesy of Sundance

Park City, UT, November 6, 2023 – Today, the nonprofit Sundance Institute and The Walt Disney Studios are proud to announce the establishment of the Project Advancement and Completion Fund, an initiative designed to provide grants to fiction directors from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. This fund aims to empower and uplift filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and genres, fostering a more inclusive cinema landscape.


The Project Advancement and Completion Fund will support nine directors currently engaged in fiction features through Sundance Institute's esteemed artist programs. These talented filmmakers, hailing from a range of traditionally underrepresented communities, including women, AAPI, Black, Indigenous/Native, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, disability-identifying, and religiously marginalized individuals, will be granted the resources needed to bring their unique visions to life.


"After working with several Sundance filmmakers, we know how important it is for directors to develop their first independent feature films in order to take on larger projects at the studio level and we couldn’t be more excited to collaborate with Sundance Institute in an effort to help them do just that,” said Mahin Ibrahim, Director, Creative Talent Pathways, Representation & Inclusion Strategies. “At Disney, we believe in the power of diverse voices and storytelling, and this initiative reaffirms our commitment to empowering underrepresented talent in the industry.”


As part of this initiative, each selected director will receive a $25,000 unrestricted grant, providing vital financial support to advance their projects. In addition to the grant, directors will benefit from a customized continuum of support, ensuring they have access to the necessary resources, mentorship, and industry connections to navigate the filmmaking process successfully. 


As a Sundance Institute grantee, the selected directors will also enjoy festival benefits and be part of Sundance ELEVATE, which includes professional development and specific learning opportunities during their year of primary programmatic activity. They will also benefit from learning and community opportunities through Sundance Collab, the Institute’s digital space for artists, granting them unlimited access to the esteemed Master Classes and other live event recordings in the expansive video library.


“Diverse communities often encounter formidable barriers when striving to break into the industry. We are thrilled to join forces with The Walt Disney Studios to champion the essential work of nurturing underrepresented voices," said Michelle Satter, the Founding Senior Director of Artist Programs at Sundance Institute. "We're honored to create this pioneering program in support of nine exceptional filmmakers during the inaugural year of this initiative.”


The directors selected for the inaugural cohort are: 


Ramzi Bashour 

  • About the Artist:Ramzi Bashour is a Syrian-American filmmaker based in New York. He grew up in Beirut and has worked as a cook, baker, journalist, and teacher. His short The Trees won the International Special Jury Prize at Clermont-Ferrand in 2021 and he was a Sundance Institute Fellow in 2022.

  • Project: Tomahawk Springs tells the story of 17-year-old Daniel, who is expelled from high school in Indiana when his Lebanese mother, Layal, agrees it’s best he move out to his father’s place in California. With a plan to meet Dad halfway in New Mexico, mother and son hit the road, and encounter themselves along the way.

Dania Bdeir 

  • About the Artist:Lebanese-Canadian filmmaker Dania Bdeir gained acclaim for her NYU thesis film In White and award-winning short Warsha, shortlisted for the 2023 Academy Awards. A Screen Daily Arab Star of Tomorrow, Bdeir is developing her first feature, Pigeon Wars which was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters lab. She is managed by Anonymous Content.

  • Project: Pigeon Wars follows Rana, a college student trying to reconcile a difficult secret from her past, who becomes obsessed with conquering the male-dominated pigeon wars of Beirut. With the help of Hassan, a kindred spirit with a secret of his own, she embarks on a mission to catch a rare bird – the Nicobar.

Caledonia Curry

  • About the Artist: Caledonia Curry, in her art practice, known as Swoon, is a contemporary artist and filmmaker, recognized around the world for her pioneering vision of public artwork. She is currently developing a full-length narrative movie that will mesh drawing, immersive installation, stop-motion animation and her collaborative work, with the traditions of storytelling through film.

  • Project: Sibylant Sisters Growing up with a stuporous witch as a mother, the Sibylant Sisters, Caelum, and Terra, fend for themselves in a sometimes delightful, sometimes terrifying world of ogres, gnomes, toads, paper dolls, and the WeeWitch Katarina. To survive, they'll need to learn how to make their own magic.

Rashad Frett 

  • About the Artist: Rashad Frett is an award-winning Caribbean-American filmmaker based in New York City. He pursued the arts seriously after experiencing 9/11 as a U.S. Army combat medic. Frett is an MFA graduate of the NYU Tisch Graduate Film program and a 2023 Sundance Feature Film Program Fellow.

  • Project:Ricky, while saving up for his first car after incarceration, an ex-offender pursues some semblance of a normal life at all costs. 

Masami Kawai 

  • About the Artist: Masami Kawai is an LA-born filmmaker of Ryukyuan descent. She’s an Assistant Professor of Filmmaking at the University of Oregon. Her films have screened at various venues, including the Rotterdam Film Festival, LACMA, and Palm Springs ShortFest. She was also a participant in the Sundance Director and Screenwriter’s Lab.

  • Project: Valley of Tall Grass is a feature film that tells the story of a TV/VCR combo set thrown out, but it survives and circulates through the lives of various working-class indigenous characters of color in an Oregon town. They find forgotten memories, love, and connection through this seemingly obsolete object.

Walter Thompson-Hernandez 

  • About the Artist: Walter Thompson-Hernández is a writer-director from southeast Los Angeles. He was named as one of Variety’s “10 Storytellers to Watch” in 2021 and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2022. His short film If I Go Will They Miss Me was awarded the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction.

  • Project: If I Go, Will They Miss Mefollows twelve-year-old Lil Ant, who begins to see mysterious Airplane People around his home. His father learns his son sees them, unraveling deeper meaning and connection for the two of them.

Sean Wang 

  • About the Artist: Sean is a filmmaker from Fremont, CA. He is a Google Creative Lab 5 alum, 2020 Sundance Ignite Fellow, and current Sundance Institute | TAAF Fellow. His latest film, Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (Grandma & Grandma), premiered at SXSW 2023 where it won the Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award.

  • Project: Dìdi (弟弟), a feature film set in Fremont, CA in 2008. In the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable thirteen-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt and how to love your mom.

Keisha Witherspoon 

  • About the Artist: Keisha Rae Witherspoon is a Miami-born writer/director. Her short film T screened in 2020 at Sundance Film Festival, and later at Berlinale where it won the Golden Bear. Tand her experimental short 1968<2018>2068 currently show on The Criterion Channel. She is writing her first feature film.

  • Project: ABC. As a major hurricane looms, an alienated young hustler seeking answers about his mother’s disappearance finds solace in a mysterious woman who seizes his town, promising extraterrestrial salvation, drawing the attention of an elderly ex-government op desperate for a case.

Yuan Yuan 

  • About the Artist: Yuan is a writer-director, graduated from the NYU Tisch Grad Film program. Her previous short films won Best Student Film at DGA, Palm Springs and Aspen ShortFest, Jury Award at Hong Kong International Film Festival etc. Yuan was a fellow at the 2022 Sundance Screenwriters and Director’s Lab.

  • Project:Late Spring tells the story of a Chinese factory worker who travels to New York for her daughter's eagerly anticipated college graduation, only to be thrust into a desperate search in unfamiliar territory when she learns the girl is missing.

About the Sundance Institute

As a champion and curator of independent stories, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists across storytelling media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Collab, a digital community platform, brings a global cohort of working artists together to learn from Sundance Advisors and connect with each other in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress.. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Through the Sundance Institute artist programs, we have supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Big Sick, Bottle Rocket, Boys Don’t Cry, Boys State, Call Me By Your Name, Clemency, CODA, Drunktown’s Finest, The Farewell, Fire of Love, Flee, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Fruitvale Station, Get Out, Half Nelson, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hereditary, Honeyland, The Infiltrators, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Little Woods, Love & Basketball, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Mudbound, Nanny, Navalny, O.J.: Made in America, One Child Nation, Pariah, Raising Victor Vargas, Requiem for a Dream, Reservoir Dogs, RBG, Sin Nombre, Sorry to Bother You, The Souvenir, Strong Island, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Swiss Army Man, Sydney, A Thousand and One, Top of the Lake, Walking and Talking, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and Zola. Through year-round artist programs, the Institute also nurtured the early careers of artists such Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Gregg Araki, Darren Aronofsky, Lisa Cholodenko, Ryan Coogler, Nia DaCosta, The Daniels, David Gordon Green, Miranda July, James Mangold, John Cameron Mitchell, Kimberly Peirce, Boots Riley, Ira Sachs, Quentin Tarantino, Taika Waititi, Lulu Wang, and Chloé Zhao. Support Sundance Institute in our commitment to uplifting bold artists and powerful storytelling globally by making a donation at sundance.org/donate. JoinSundance InstituteonFacebook,Instagram,TikTok, X(formerly Twitter), andYouTube.


About The Walt Disney Studios

For 100 years, The Walt Disney Studios has been the foundation on which The Walt Disney Company was built. Today it brings quality movies, episodic storytelling, and stage plays to consumers throughout the world. The Walt Disney Studios encompasses a collection of respected film studios, including Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Searchlight Pictures, and 20th Century Studios. It is also home to Disney Theatrical Group, producer of world-class stage shows, as well as Disney Music Group.




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