Sundance/NHK finalists announced

Twelve projects from four regions vie for cash.

by Amber Wilkinson

Sundance Institute and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) have announced the 12 finalists for the 2009 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Awards.

In its 13th year, this partnership presents an annual cash award to support new artists in international cinema and is presented to emerging film directors from four global regions in support of their next projects.

One recipient each from Europe, Latin America, the United States, and Japan will be selected by members of an international jury, with previous recipients including Miranda July (Me, You And Everyone We Know) and Walter Salles (Central Station).

Winners will be announced on January 22, 2009 at the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award reception at the Sundance Film Festival.

The winning director from each region will receive a $10,000 award and a guarantee from NHK - Japan’s largest broadcaster and one of the top five broadcasters in the world - to purchase the Japanese television broadcast rights upon completion of their project.

Associate Director of the Sundance Feature Film Program, International Alesia Weston said: "We are tremendously inspired by this year's finalists - their projects demonstrate a wide range of stories told with humor, artfulness and keen insight."

Sundance Institute Feature Film Programme director Michelle Satter added: "We're thrilled by the singular, authentic voices of this year's finalists and look forward to inviting the four winners to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival."

The 12 finalists are:

EUROPE:

– When dangerous fugitive Rosita Guzmán disappears into the Mexican desert, criminologist Garcia Navarro, convinced that she is a product of an unjust system, becomes obsessed with finding and unraveling the truth about her.

Celia Galán Julve was born in Barcelona in 1977. She received an MA in Animation Direction from the Royal College of Art in London in 2002. Her graduation film, Historia Del Desierto (Story Of The Desert), has been screened at more than 100 festivals, including the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and won several international awards, including Best Short Film at the IFP Los Angeles Film Festival and the Cinefondation's Second Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, Julve was invited as an Artist in Residence in Berlin (DAAD) and later that year, wrote and directed the short film One Minute Past Midnight which went on to claim Best Short Film at the Chicago International Film Festival. Rosita Guzmán Is Alive is her first feature and was written while Julve was an artist in residence at Cannes Film Festival's Cinefondation in Paris in 2005.

– A group of young boys who are isolated from the world act as guinea pigs in a series of bizarre medical procedures intended to trigger a reverse evolutionary step. Evolution depicts the attempts of one young, unruly test subject as he seeks to escape experimentation and recall his clouded past.

: Lucile Hadzihalilovic studied cinema at La Fémis, the French state film school. In 1990, she founded the production company, Les Cinémas de la Zone with Gaspar Noé, through which she produced Noé’s films Carne and I Stand Alone, as well as her own short films. In 1996, she produced and directed the short film Mimi, which was shown at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, Cannes and Toronto. Hadzihalilovic’s first feature Innocence (2004) won numerous awards, including Best First Film at San Sebastian Film Festival, and Best Film and Best Photography at Stockholm Film Festival.

- Cross-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications compound when a Polish au pair goes to work for a Dutch family. Structured in a puzzle-like narrative, Among Us depicts the young woman's tenure there from various points of view, and the characters failure to connect.

Marco Van Geffen was born in The Hague, the Netherlands. He started writing screenplays after studying Visual Arts at the ABK Art School in Arnhem. In addition to his Dutch box-office hit, The Schnitzel Paradise, he has written several feature films including Total Loss and Expelled, both of which were internationally awarded. He took up directing in 2005, and has directed several shorts as well as a TV series based upon The Schnitzel Paradise. Van Geffen’s short film My Sister was nominated for the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

LATIN AMERICA:

- A teenage boy struggles to define his future and explore issues of class privilege among Rio's decadent elite while his overprotective parents spiral into bankruptcy.

Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro and completed his MFA in film at Columbia University. His two shorts – Las Muerta Es Pequena and Salt Kiss – both screened at Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and 2007. Salt Kiss was also an official selection of the New York Film Festival and Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, and won more than 10 international awards. With Casa Grande, Barbosa went through the 2008 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs, and was recently awarded an Annenberg Foundation Grant.

- In a vast Brazilian metropolis, two solitary subway employees gradually come to know one another, triggering a change in perspective on their lonely lives.

Marcelo Gomes' first feature film Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, receiving the Award of the French Ministry of Education. The film was acclaimed worldwide in numerous film festivals and received more than 50 awards.

Cao Guimarães' documentaries have participated in various film festivals, including Sundance and Cannes. His last film, The Drifter premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2007.

– During the last years of the military dictatorship, a sexually repressed school monitor in Buenos Aires indulges in a strange compulsion, allowing her dark desires to compromise her role at the school.

Born in Buenos Aires, Lerman’s first feature film, Tan De Repente (Suddenly) won more than 30 international prizes, including the Silver Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival, The Jury Special and the Public Awards at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival and Best Film and Best Actress in La Habana International Film Festival. In 2003, he was selected for Cannes’ Cinefondation Residence in Paris where he wrote Mientras Tanto (Meanwhile). The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 and was selected for New Directors New Films and Karlovy Vary. His short films include La Prueba (1999) and La Guerra De Los Gimnasios (The War Of The Gyms) selected for both the Locarno and Rotterdam festivals. His documentary Servicios Prestados premiered at Locarno this year.

UNITED STATES:

- When forced to choose between the fragile cohesion of her middle-class family and imperative loyalty to her best friend, a Bronx teenager is forced to juggle conflicting identities and risk friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Dee Rees is an alumna of New York University’s Graduate film program and a 2008 Renew Media Arts Fellow. Her short film, Pariah has screened at more than 40 festivals, garnering more than 25 accolades. Rees continued development on her feature script Pariah at the 2008 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs. Rees worked as a script supervision intern on Spike Lee’s films When The Levees Broke and Inside Man and is currently wrapping post-production on a feature documentary titled Eventual Salvation, which received a grant from the Sundance Documentary fund and won the 2007 Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award. She is also the recipient of the Time Warner Storytelling Fellowship.

A young, single mother from South Texas is thrown into an unexpected and life-changing journey when her attempt to smuggle immigrants across the border ends disastrously, leaving her stranded with a young girl from southern Mexico.

Riker is a New York-based filmmaker currently living in Mexico. His debut feature The City (La Ciudad) was filmed over the course of five years in New York’s Latin American immigrant community and won awards at the Havana, San Sebastian, and Human Rights Watch International Film Festivals. Riker received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival as co-writer of Sleep Dealer. He attended the 2007 Screenwriters Lab with The Girl and is a recipient of the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Annenberg Fellowships.

- Set amid poverty, with moments of both joy and upheaval, this recounts the chaotic life of Antoinette Dawson as she raises her seven children in New Orleans.

A graduate of Williams College and Columbia University’s MFA film program, John Magary has written and directed several short films, including The Second Line (National Finalist, Student Academy Awards, Special Jury Award, SXSW), Site In Fishkill Creek, and Our National Parks, among others. Both The Second Line and Our National Parks premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Various grants include a Time Warner Storytelling Fellowship, an Annenberg Film Fellowship, and a Grand Marnier Film Fellowship. Blood Abundance, Or The Half-Life Of Antoinette went through the 2008 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs.

JAPAN:

– Nijiko, a gifted speed skater, runs through the world at full speed, leaving her friend Mitsuo in her wake. When Nijiko mysteriously disappears, Mitsuo learns what it means to look out for someone in love and prayer.

Qurata Kenji started making films in 1992 and established the production company EGT in 1993. Qurata produced commercials, developed projects for late night TV, and was involved in the development and production of various feature films, including Seishum Dorobo (Youth Rober), Mystery Of Akane-Cho, Yurei Shojyo Gakshou Dan (The Ghost Choir Girls). He went on to direct promotional and concert videos, as well as establishing Coyote, a co-operative for the development of films.

– A middle-aged crematorium worker emerges from a life of solitude when an eight-year-old boy asks her to pose as his mother so he can join a boxing gym.

Yukiko Mishima made 8mm films while a student at Kobe College. She went on to direct documentaries at NHK, and while working as an assistant director, started writing for film, television and theatre. Her works include Love 30, Dousei Doumei No Onna (The Woman With The Same Name) and Yume No Ondo (The Warmth Of Dreams). Mishima is also the leader of the theatrical group Mrs. Cappdocia, for which she wrote and directed Shadanki (The Railway Crossing Gate).

– When Tadahito Urushibara unexpectedly dies and becomes a corporeal ghost, he has the opportunity to re-examine his life, forge new bonds with his family, and resolve his relationships.

Noda entered Musashino Art University in 2003. There, he established the film and theatre group Niga-Uron (Bitter Oolong Tea). He has been exploring the possibilities of video expression and narrative since making his graduation project, Beyond Aomi's Second Ward, which won the Pia Film Festival Jury Prize and Semigao, winner of the Pia Film Festival Audience Award. In his spare time, Noda also plans and runs film festivals.

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