The annual program will spotlight eight artists working across disciplines, and was designed to support women doing bold work in film and media. The fellowship prioritizes filmmakers from underrepresented communities.
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“We’re excited to announce our new group of cross-disciplinary artists, supporting storytellers working in documentary, fiction and episodic formats. This year-long fellowship will provide bespoke professional and creative development designed to advance their singular projects and burgeoning careers,” said Michelle Satter, founding senior director of artist programs at the institute.
The fellowship offers a year of mentorship from the Sundance Institute and Adobe executives, as well as workshops, coaching, a $6,250 cash grant and a one-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.
Fellows will also receive introductions to industry contacts and advisers, referrals to specific career and development opportunities, and quarterly group calls to share progress. Each fellow is also participating in a Sundance Institute Lab or program aligning with their career path.
“Women have been noticeably under-represented in creative fields like filmmaking — indeed, this year we were delighted to see Chloe Zhao be one of only two female directors to win an Oscar — and Adobe is committed to help address this,” said Ann Lewnes, Adobe chief marketing officer and executive vice president of corporate strategy and development. “I’m incredibly proud of the ways Adobe is helping to advance the role of women in film through our support of programs like the 2021 Women at Sundance fellowship.”
The program was created in 2020. The inaugural class of participants include Jenny Shi, whose documentary feature “Finding Yingying” was acquired by MTV Documentary Films and was nominated for an Emmy. Dionne Edwards, also a 2020 fellow, just wrapped production on her debut feature, “Pretty Red Dress.” Adobe is also the founding supporter of Sundance Ignite, a year-long artist development program supporting filmmakers ages 18-25.
More about the 2021 fellows:
McKenzie is a filmmaker, actor, and poet based in Chicago. She is the writer and lead actor of Olympia, which won the Audience Award at the 2019 Bentonville Film Festival. She has appeared on screen, including in the upcoming series The Big Leap, as well as onstage with Goodman and Steppenwolf Theatres, The Second City, and others. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she is part of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective whose releases include two albums and the poetry collection Five Fifths. She is a 2020 Sundance Institute Launch Grant Fund Recipient and a 2021 Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Lab Fellow.
Most recently story editor on the 22nd season of NBCUniversal’s Law & Order: SVU, Melody Cooper was previously staff writer on Stage 13’s Two Sentence Horror Stories, now on Netflix. A 2021 Sundance Institute Episodic Lab Fellow and 2019 HBO Access Writing Fellow, Melody has been named one of the Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2021 by ISA. An award-winning playwright, Melody received a Ford Foundation grant to develop her Rwanda play Sweet Mercy. Melody also writes the comic book OMNI (Vol. 2: Issues #5 – 10). Her next project is a soon to be announced feature for Netflix.
Deborah Esquenazi is a two-time Emmy-nominated, Peabody-winning director, screenwriter, and investigative reporter. Her debut documentary, Southwest of Salem, helped exonerate the “San Antonio Four” from their wrongful convictions. She was a 2020 Sundance Institute Momentum Fellow for her feature, A Killing on Park, a thriller also based on Esquenazi’s original investigative work. She is the creator of the podcast, A Feminist History of Crime, now in development.
Cris Gris is a Mexican filmmaker whose films have screened internationally in prestigious festivals, including La Semaine de la Critique, Festival de Cannes. She’s known for moving between acting, writing, and directing, and landed her first leading role in the feature independent drama Fish Bones (2018). Her short San Miguel (2018) received the Spike Lee Film Production Fund, the HFPA Fellows Fund, and was named a 2019 NBR student grant winner. Her short Pia & Mike (2019) premiered at Morelia International Film Festival. Gris is a Film Independent Project Involve 2020 fellow, a 2021 Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Lab Fellow. Forward will be her feature directorial debut.
Meryam Joobeur is an Academy Award nominated Tunisian director, based in Montréal, Canada. Her work includes both documentary and fiction. Her short films Gods, Weeds and Revolutions (2012) and Born in the Maelstrom (2017), starring Sasha Lane, screened internationally. Her academy nominated Short Brotherhood (2018) screened at 150+ festivals and won 75 international prizes.
She is co-owner of the Tunisia based production company Instinct Bleu with producer Sarra Ben Hassen and is currently developing her first feature project Motherhood. She is 2021 Sundance Institute January Screenwriters Lab Fellow.
Rajal Pitroda is a producer of fiction and non-fiction film whose work tackles issues of race, class and gender beyond the mainstream narrative. She most recently produced Down a Dark Stairwell, a feature documentary that premiered at the 2020 True/False Film Festival and was broadcast on Independent Lens. She is a 2020-2021 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow, was a Black Public Media 360 Incubator Fellow, a Resident at SFFILM FilmHouse, and an Impact Producer Fellow with Firelight Media. Prior to producing, Rajal was the Founder/CEO of Cinevention, a media company focused on film marketing and distribution.
Shaandiin Tome is a Diné filmmaker from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her breakout, award-winning short film Mud (Hashtł’ishnii) premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and premiered around the world, putting her on the map as a writer/director. While working on her path as a narrative filmmaker, she has directed multiple narrative-shifting short documentaries. Her unique outlook allows her to capture other trailblazers in the indigenous community, both as a director and cinematographer. She aims to bring resonating imagery in convergence with story, illustrating her perspective as a Diné woman. She was selected for the 2020 Sundance Institute Intensive for Indigenous Artists as well as the 2020 WIF x Sundance Institute Financing and Strategy Intensive.
Malika Zouhali-Worrall is a British/Afro-Arab filmmaker based in New York. An Emmy Award-winning director, her directing credits include the feature-length documentaries, Call Me Kuchu (Berlinale, Netflix, BBC World, 2012) and Thank You For Playing (Tribeca, POV/ITVS, News & Television Emmy Award, 2015), the web series Earn A Living (ARTE, IDFA, 2018), and the PBS American Masters short film, Strange Grace: The Art of Amyra León (2020). In 2021, Malika completed her fifth short, Video Visit, which will be released by Field of Vision, and screen at BAM Cinemafest and Blackstar. Malika was a 2020 Sundance Institute Momentum Fellow.
Supporters of Women at Sundance include The David and Lura Lovell Foundation and The Harnisch Foundation. Additional contributors are: Paul and Katy Drake Bettner; Barbara Bridges; Abigail Disney and Pierre Hauser — Like a River Fund; Hollywood Foreign Press Association; Suzanne Lerner; Cristina Ljungberg; Susan Bay Nimoy; Ann Lovell; Zions Bank; The Female Quotient; Pat Mitchell and Scott Seydel; Jenn Lee Smith; Kimberly Steward; Brenda Robinson; and an anonymous donor.
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