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It Felt Like Love’s Eliza Hittman & Up the Yangtze’s Yung Chang Among Dozen Selected for ’15 January Screenwriters Lab

Eliza Hittman (was love at first sight for her directorial debut It Felt Like Love) and Yung Chang (a docu-helmer best known for the award-winning portrait of modern China in Up the Yangtze) are just two of the dozen folks/projects invited to the upcoming Sundance Institute 2015 January Screenwriters Lab. The labs work as a testing ground of sorts, with Lab Director Ilyse McKimmie seeing to it that the screenwriters are mentored by filmmaking professionals. I’d wager that a good portion of these projects on paper eventually make it onto the big screen (say about 65 to 70 percent) and about 35-40 percent break into the actual Sundance Film Fest. Not unlike her debut picture, Hittman’s potential sophomore pic Beach Rats features NYC borough backdrop and via a teenage vantage point but is sure to stir the pot with tad bit more destruction. After Up the Yangtze, China Heavyweight,  and The Fruit Hunters, Chang might be moving to fiction film with Eggplant which explores some of the themes in his non-fiction work. Other items include The Diving Bell and the Butterfly actress turned director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, who will already be at the fest for her short film, and the week before that will be workshopping Mustang. Jonathan Minard who broke into Sundance last year with the New Frontier selected Clouds continues in the same notion of data collection with Archive. (I’ve included another project of his below – worth checking out). Here is the press release which details the lab projects and those behind

The projects and fellows selected for the 2015 January Screenwriters Lab are:

Archive (USA) / Jonathan Minard (Co-writer/Director) and Scott Rashap (Co-writer)
In the wake of a virtual affair lived entirely through email and gchat, two lovers face the intangibility and distance that characterized their relationship. A search for the physical traces of their connection prompts a journey to the data center which holds their intimate messages. This project is the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship.

Jonathan Minard’s films examine our dreams of the near future through documentary and science fiction. He has directed a web series on the history of the internet called The Information Age, and created Clouds, an interactive movie presented in virtual reality which premiered as part of New Frontier at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and was awarded Best Interactive Film at the Tribeca Film Festival. Minard has received support through research fellowships and commissions from Eyebeam, the Studio for Creative Inquiry, NASA Ames, and the US Fulbright Program in Mongolia. In 2009, he founded Deepspeed Media, a production company with a focus on science and technology.

Scott Rashap is a screenwriter and director of live action and animation. Since graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he has written a series of historical and biographical films told through a nontraditional lens, including Toru, the story of a terminally ill baby who lives out his brief life in a simulation; Songs from a Room, a study of a dead man’s identity based on the items found in his office; The Epic History of Everyday Things for the History Channel; and Past Perfect, an interactive documentary directed with Jonathan Minard, which invited participants to back up their memories to the Cloud.

Beach Rats (U.S.A.) / Eliza Hittman (Writer/Director)
On the dirty beaches of South Brooklyn, a teenager’s misguided attempt to come out sparks an explosive hate crime.

Eliza Hittman is an award-winning filmmaker, born and based in Brooklyn. Her debut feature film It Felt Like Love premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in NEXT and the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Tiger Competition in 2013. It was released in the US by Variance and was a New York Times, Village Voice, and Los Angeles Times Critics’ Pick. She was recently named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Hittman was nominated for a Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Gotham Award (2014) and for two Independent Spirit Awards (2015).

Beretta (Qatar) / Sophia Al-Maria, (Writer/Director)
Barraged by daily harassment from men on the streets of Cairo, a mute young woman is finally pushed over the edge when she is attacked and raped by a stranger. Transforming from victim to vigilante, her feelings of powerlessness and rage echo the complex dynamics unfolding in the Arab world today.

Sophia Al-Maria is a Qatari-American artist and writer based in London. Her memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth, was published in 2012 by Harper Collins and has been translated into Arabic. Her video work has been shown in galleries, biennales and museums all over the world from New Zealand to South Korea to the United Arab Emirates. She has been interviewed about her work on Gulf Futurism in Vice Magazine, Dazed and Confused and TANK.

Eggplant (China/Canada) / Yung Chang (Writer/Director)
A wedding photographer and his girlfriend drift across the country on the run from their pasts, when they encounter a young grifter who irrevocably changes the course of their lives. Eggplant follows three Chinese millennials who strive for a better, more meaningful existence in a society fixated on money, materialism and duty.

Yung Chang (张侨勇), based between China and Canada, is known for his feature documentaries, Up the Yangtze (2008), China Heavyweight (2012), and The Fruit Hunters (2013). Both Up the Yangtze and China Heavyweight premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to garner numerous awards including two Taipei Golden Horse Awards. Up the Yangtze had one of the highest documentary box office releases in 2008 and China Heavyweight had a theatrical release in over two hundred mainland China cinemas — a first for a social issue documentary. Eggplant is his first narrative feature.

First Match (U.S.A.) / Olivia Newman (Writer/Director)
Hardened by years in foster care, a teenage girl from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood decides that joining the all-boys high school wrestling team is the only way back to her estranged father.

Olivia Newman is a writer/director from Hoboken, NJ. Her short film, First Match, premiered at the New York Film Festival, won Best Student film at the Aspen Shortsfest, and is currently airing nationally on PBS and internationally on ShortsHD. Newman was one of ten filmmakers selected for the 2012 IFP/Film Society of Lincoln Center Emerging Visions program and the 2014 Cine Qua Non Screenwriting Lab. She received her MFA in film from Columbia University and her BA in women’s studies and French from Vassar College.

The Hanged (Brazil)/ Fernando Coimbra (Writer/Director)
A family dispute upsets the ruling order in Rio de Janeiro’s underworld, triggering a bloody escalation of betrayals and double crosses. Set in the unique world of traditional Brazilian gambling syndicates, The Hanged is a dark comedic tale of greed and trust. It illustrates the point at which even the closest relationships can’t survive.

Fernando Coimbra majored in Cinema at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). He has written and directed 9 short films, including Tropic of Goats (2007) and Magnificent Desolation (2010). His first feature, A Wolf at the Door, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. The film won the Horizons Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, and won awards at many other international film festivals including Havana, Miami, Guadalajara, Marseille and Rio de Janeiro.

I Was a Simple Man (U.S.A.) / Christopher Makoto Yogi (Writer/Director)
Like marionettes on a toy stage, the ghosts of Seiichi’s past haunt the countryside in this tale of a Hawai’i family facing the imminent death of their eldest.

Christopher Makoto Yogi was born in Hawai’i and raised on the ocean. Working in both fiction and documentary, his recent films Obake, Layover, on the Shore, and Makoto: Or, Honesty, have screened across the country and worldwide. He is a graduate of the USC MFA film program and currently resides in New York, where he is developing two features and a documentary, all of which explore his beautifully complex island home.

Little Woods (U.S.A.) / Nia DaCosta (Writer/Director)
While trying to make a life for herself in an oil town in North Dakota, Deb finds out she must undergo a medical procedure she can’t afford. With no other option, she turns to her childhood friend, Ollie, to help her illegally cross into Canada, jeopardizing her job, her son, and both of their lives.

Nia DaCosta is a writer/director based in New York City. She has written and directed projects for stage, film and new media platforms including the playlet Kingdom Come at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, the game show Sagmeister v Walsh for Adobe (Behance), and the documentary Shark Loves the Amazon.

Mustang (France) / Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (Writer/Director)
Roman Coleman is halfway through an 11-year sentence for attempted murder when he is offered the chance to participate in a rehabilitation program that trains inmates to break captured wild mustangs. Based on a real-life program, Mustang is a portrait of one man’s unique connection to these wild animals that forces him to confront his past.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is a French actress, producer, and director living in Paris. She has worked as an actress with directors including Raoul Ruiz, Luc Besson, Julian Schnabel, Pascal Thomas, Jean Michel Ribes, Danielle Thompson, and Rani Massalha. Her first short film as a writer/director, Atlantic Avenue, won prizes at the Nantucket Film Festival, Milwaukee Film Festival, and the Tenerife International Film Festival, and also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Clermont Ferrand, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, among others. Her second short film, Rabbit, has been bought by Canal Plus and was produced by Charles Gillibert of CG CINEMA in coproduction with the company MACT PRODUCTION. Rabbit will screen at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Rogue (U.S.A.) / Mark Kindred (Writer/Director)
An ex-cop gone rogue wages unconventional warfare on the institutional forces that wronged him. Inspired by true events.

Mark F. Kindred grew up as an immigrant in the projects of Boston. He earned his bachelor degree in philosophy at Harvard University and has lived and traveled all over the world. He is currently a graduate thesis student at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where he is the recipient of the Williard T.C. Johnson Fellowship and the 2014 Faculty Commendation Award. His short film America premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.

Untitled Loveless Fable (U.S.A.) / Brent Green (Co-writer/Director) and Michael McGinley (Co-Writer)
A young boy living on a farm begins inventing strange, hand-made machines to ease the family’s hard labor, but his ambitions quickly grow. When his most daring invention backfires and changes life on Earth forever, the townspeople struggle to understand whether he has done them harm or shown them what they have been missing.

Working in the hills of rural Pennsylvania, Brent Green is a self-taught filmmaker, storyteller, and visual artist whose films have screened, often with live musical accompaniment, at the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the San Francisco Film Society, MoMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Walker Art Center, The Hammer Museum, as well as at warehouses, galleries, and rooftops across the globe. He serves on the board of Rooftop Films, is a 2005 Creative Capital grantee, and the recipient of 2014 MAPfund grant. Green’s work is in permanent collections including the Progressive Collection, the Hammer Museum and MoMA.

Michael McGinley is a musician and painter from Chicago. He has performed with members of Fugazi, Dirty Three, and Califone. His work has been featured in the Chicago Reader, Doris, and Dead or Dying.

What They Had (U.S.A.) / Elizabeth Chomko (Writer/Director)
When her mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, wanders into a blizzard on Christmas Eve, Bridget Ertz flies back to her hometown. Through stepping into her past, she finally realizes what’s missing in her present.

Elizabeth Chomko is a writer, director and actress whose plays have been part of The Kennedy Center’s New Plays Festival, Inkwell Theatre LAB, and The Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series. She recently wrote and directed a short film, Adoptation, and has appeared as an actress in numerous films, television series, and in theaters across the country and in London.

Participating independent screenwriters – drawn from around the world, including the United States, Latin America, Europe, China, and the Middle East – will have the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers in an environment that encourages innovation and creative risk-taking. The fellows will work with a distinguished group of Creative Advisors at the Lab, led by Artistic Director Scott Frank, and including Naomi Foner, Rodrigo Garcia, Michael Goldenberg, John Lee Hancock, Erik Jendresen, Kasi Lemmons, Walter Mosley, Marti Noxon, Howard Rodman, Susan Shilliday, Zach Sklar, Elena Soarez, Peter Straughan, Joan Tewkesbury, and Audrey Wells.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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