Sundance screenwriters lab projects announced

UK/Egyptian project among 12 selected for January programme.

by Amber Wilkinson

A British co-production is among the 12 projects selected by the Sundance Institute for its annual January Screenwriters Lab, to be held January 9-14, 2009 at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

Writer/director Sally El Hosaini - who was script editor on recent BBC series House Of Saddam - will be among those taking part in the the five-day writers' workshop that gives independent screenwriters the opportunity to work intesively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers.

Her screenplay about the tale of two Muslim brothers confronting prejudice in post 9/11 London will rub shoulders with stories that embrace magical realism in locales as far-ranging as India and New Orleans.

According to her website, her film is comparable to American History X, Adulthood and La Haine.

Director of the Feature Film Programme Michelle Satter, said: "We are pleased to bring together such a diverse and singular group of writers and writer/directors.

"With humour, irony, pathos, and a fierce determination to tell their stories, each project is rooted in the writer's passionate desire to fully engage in the complicated, ever-changing world we live in. This year, our American writers will be joined by writers from India, Mexico, Ecuador, and the UK, as we continue our commitment to the work of international writers."

The fellows will work with a distinguished group of creative advisors, including Lab Artistic Director Scott Frank, Marcos Bernstein, Naomi Foner, Nelson George, Michael Goldenberg, Deena Goldstone, Erik Jendresen, Etgar Keret, Kasi Lemmons, Doug McGrath, Walter Mosley, Ron Nyswaner, Tom Rickman, Susan Shilliday, Zach Sklar, Dana Stevens and Bill Wheeler.

The projects selected for the 2009 January Screenwriters Lab are:

Sally El Hosaini (writer/director) - My Brother The Devil (UK/Egypt): Two brothers must face their prejudices head on if they are to survive the perils of being young, Arab, British, and Muslim on the streets of gangland, post-9/11 London.

Sally El Hosaini is an Egyptian-Welsh writer/director based in London. After making award-winning documentaries in Belgium, Yemen, and Iraq, she worked as a production coordinator on features, and as a script editor in television drama. Although El Hosaini has written and directed several short films, one of which won a regional BAFTA in 2008, My Brother The Devil is her first feature.

Benh Zeitlin (co-writer/director) and Lucy Alibar (co-writer) - Beasts Of The Southern Wild (US): In this epic comedy set on the crumbling grounds of the Louisiana delta, a 10-year-old girl desperately tries to hold on to whatever love is left for her despite the imminent death of her father and in defiance of the impending Apocalypse.

Raised by two folklorists in Queens, New York, Benh Zeitlin is a director, animator, and composer for the Court13 coterie. He has directed the award-winning shorts Egg, Origins of Electricity, I Get Wet, and Glory at Sea. Zeitlin currently resides in New Orleans, where he is developing two feature films and transforming Glory at Sea's ship, the US. S Jimmy Lee, into a rolling, popcorn-making, movie projector cum Mardi Gras float in preparation for a Glory at Sea American tour.

Lucy Alibar is a playwright and actress born and raised in Florida. Alibar's plays have been performed around the world, and include Juicy And Delicious, A Friend Of Dorothy, Gorgeous Raptors, Mommy Says I'm Pretty On The Insides, and Home Baking Made Easy, a musical about sex and southern food. She is an Affiliated Artist of New Georges, and works with SLAM Theater and SLANT Theater Project.

Kirill Mikahnovsky (writer/director) - Fuga Mortis (US/Russia): In modern-day Havana, a city where everything is for sale, an adolescent hustler is willing to beg, steal or do just about anything else to get his sister off the streets.

Born in Moscow, Kirill Mikhanovsky moved to the United States in his teens. He received an MFA from the NYU Graduate Film Program and has written and directed four short films. Mikhanovsky's first feature, Sonhos de Peixe (Fish Dreams), which features a non-professional cast and was shot in a small Brazilian fishing village, premiered in Critics Week at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Prix Regards Jeune.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (co-writers/co-directors) - Howl (US): A hybrid feature about the creation of the ground-breaking poem by Allen Ginsberg and the resulting 1957 obscenity trial—an opening volley in the coming "culture wars."

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have been working as a filmmaking team for 20 years. As writer/directors their films include Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (Academy Award, 1990); Where Are We? (Sundance Film Festival, 1992); The Celluloid Closet (Sundance award winner, 1995, Emmy Award for Directing); and Paragraph 175 (Sundance 2000 Directing Award).

Rob Epstein's previous films include the Oscar-winning The Times Of Harvey Milk, which won a Special Jury Award at the first Sundance Film Festival, and World Is Out. Howl marks their movement towards incorporating elements of mixed media and narrative film into their work.

Mishna Wolff (writer) - I'm Down (US): Adapted from Wolff's memoir, this tells the story of a white girl living in a black community who strives to be cool enough to hang with her white but very "down" father.

Originally from Seattle, Mishna Wolff now splits her time between New York and Los Angeles. Her first foray into writing was at age 20 when she wrote a humor piece for BlackBook Magazine about models-turned-actresses. For the next several years, she took the stage at the old Luna Lounge, Stella and Upright Citizens Brigade, honing her comedic voice and performing personal essays. Her memoir, I'm Down, comes out in hardcover in the spring of 2009 through St Martin's Press.

Alejandro Landes (writer/director) - Porfirio (Brazil/Ecuador): After years of futile waiting for his pension, a Colombian man confined to a wheelchair hijacks a place with his unwitting teenage son in an effort to draw the attention of the President to his plight.

Alejandro Landes studied economics at Brown University. After a stint writing for a US newspaper and a television show, he directed the feature documentary Cocalero, which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. He is currently in residence at the Cannes Film Festival Cinefondation.

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (writer/director) - On The Ice (US): In the remote arctic village of Barrow, Alaska, a young Iñiut man tries to help his best friend get away with a murder.

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean is an Iñupiaq filmmaker born and raised in Alaska, currently living in New York City. His most recent film, Sikumi (On The Ice), premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking. MacLean was recently named a 2008 United States Artists Rasmuson Fellow.

Carlos Contreras (writer/director) - On Speaking Terms (Mexico): The existence of a rare indigenous language is threatened with extinction when the last two practitioners have a fight and refuse to speak to one another.

While working in advertising in 1998, Carlos Contreras began to write short films for his brother, director Ernesto Contreras. With Blue Eyelids, their first feature film, Contreras won the Best Ibero-American Script Award at the XXII Guadalajara Film Festival. The movie participated in the 46th International Critic’s Week, the 60th Cannes Film Festival, the San Sebastian Film Festival, and the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Award. Contreras has twice been selected for the Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam.

Todd Rohal (writer/director) - Scoutmasters (US): When a well-meaning but immature scout leader kidnaps his adopted Sudanese nephew to indoctrinate him into the joys of scouting, his good intentions are quickly thwarted as he leads his troop down a darkly comic road of chaos, death, and destruction.

Todd Rohal is the writer and director of the feature film The Guatemalan Handshake, which was self-distributed theatrically in 26 cities around the world with the film's single 35mm print. He directed the short films The Sweaty Salesman and Sins Of The Nude, starring Danny McBride, co-created a series of music videos with The American Astronaut frontman Cory McAbee, and directed an award-winning music video for the band Ola Podrida.

Ritesh Batra (writer/director) - The Story Of Ram (US/India): A chance encounter over the radio waves leads to an extraordinary friendship between the Prime Minister of India and an ordinary tea vendor.

Born and raised in Bombay, India, Ritesh Joginder Batra is now based in New York and attends NYU. In 2006 he attended the MAISHA Film Lab. Batra recently worked on a feature screenplay for Santosh Sivan and is currently writing a feature on commission for an Indian production house. In previous lives, he has worked as a management consultant, a disaster relief worker and as a programmer for the Silk Screen Film Festival.

Elgin James (writer) - Untitled Elgin James Project (US): A homeless teenager on the streets of Boston gathers a crew of throw-away kids to battle drug dealers and inner city gangs with a pact to help the less fortunate. When he is betrayed by someone close to him, he's left with an explosive choice.

As a homeless teenager, Elgin James founded a national street gang that robbed drug dealers to give money to charity. In 2006, after a life spent torn between violence and altruism, James crawled out of the criminal lifestyle and settled in Los Angeles. The following year, he shot a short film version of Goodnight Moon, which ultimately sold to THINKFilm.

Avi Zev Weider (writer/director) - Zeroes And Ones (US): In creating an intelligent machine out of discarded computer parts, a young woman completes her grandmother’s fractured story of survival at Auschwitz and emerges from her own secluded life.

A lifelong New Yorker, Avi Zev Weider’s award-winning short film, I Remember, premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He is also at work on a documentary feature about our human relationship to technology, Welcome to the Machine. With his company, Loop Filmworks, Weider has produced over 50 commercials and network spots for clients like HBO, Disney, Nickelodeon, Bravo, and the Sloan Group. He is the recipient of a 2008 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) fellowship in screenwriting.

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