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Sundance Institute and The Walt Disney Studios Launch the Project Advancement and Completion Fund to Support Underrepresented Directors

08/11/2023

The nonprofit Sundance Institute and The Walt Disney Studios have teamed up to announce the founding 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 stream 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 to help them during their time in the cohort. 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.

Meet the directors selected for the inaugural cohort:

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.

Walter Thompson-Hernandez

About the Artist: Walter Thompson-Hern ndez 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 Me follows twelve-year-old Lil Ant, who begins to see mysterious Airplane People around his
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