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Spotlight On: Sundance Institute Directors & Screenwriters Labs 2017 fellows (EXCLUSIVE)

November 21, 2017
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Everybody has a story to tell, but not everyone has the tools needed to get their story out to a mass audience. Sundance Institute Directors & Screenwriters Lab provides a bridge from screenwriters and directors to the public, shining a spotlight on voices that aren’t often given the amplification that they deserve. Earlier this year, the Sundance Institute announced thirteen new independent feature projects from Cuba, Chile, Kenya, the UK and the U.S.

The Director’s and Screenwriters Lab are part of the Institute’s year-round support of emerging independent artists. Feature Film Program Founding Director Michelle Satter said, “Our Lab brings together a community of artists from the U.S. and around the world to learn, discover and take risks in a pure workshop environment. These 13 artist-driven projects will advance through our year-round support system, with the June Lab as a centerpiece of our program. Each artist brings a personal voice, unique worldview, and deep humanity to their work, creating an exchange of ideas and distinctive storytelling that resonates profoundly in today’s world.”

Shadow and Act spoke with four of the fellows, Radha Blank, Colman Domingo, Reinaldo Marcus Green and Tayarisha Poe. We discussed their selected projects, influences, and what they took from the Lab.

Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It scribe Radha Blank’s The 40-Year Old Version tells the story of a down-on-her-luck New York playwright who decides that the only way to salvage her artistic voice is to become a rapper…at age 40.

The film is Blank’s first feature which she aims to begin filming in 2018. This would be a massive feat in itself, but she’s also writing, directing and starring in it as well. She said, “ is loosely based on my life as Playwright in New York. And so yes, I am nuts.” For Blank, the Lab was an opportunity to explore the tone of her screenplay. “I got to experiment with improvisation as well as with storytelling that wasn’t on the page, “ she explained. “I’m coming from working as a playwright where dialogue is the force that propels a story forward, but at the Lab, I was reminded how powerful images and silences are in expanding my storytelling beyond dialogue.”

The daughter of a New York cinephile, Blank was influenced by Sidney Lumet, Hal Ashby, John Cassavetes, Spike Lee and Shmoody Shmallen. “I’ve always wanted to see a New York comedy where the New Yorker at the center of the storytelling looked, felt and sounded like me and my friends, “ she said. “Not sure I’ve seen it so maybe I make it?”

Continue reading at Shadow and Act.