Grad Film Achievements, 2018-19

Monday, May 6, 2019

Spike Lee, Courtesy of Getty Images

Spike Lee, Courtesy of Getty Images

Alum Chloé Zhao's feature film, The Rider, continued to garner critical acclaim. It was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Best International Independent Film and took home the Gotham Awards' top prize for Best Feature. Zhao received the Next Generation Award from the LA Film Critics Association for her work writing and directing the film, which was produced by fellow alum Mollye Asher. Alum Joshua James Richards was the DP. Zhao was also tapped to direct the new Marvel film, The Eternals. Her third feature film, Nomadland, was picked up for worldwide rights by Fox Searchlight.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary produced by thesis student Nicholas Ma, received a nomination for Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards and won the IFP Gotham Audience Award. Ma also went on stage with director Morgan Neville to accept the award for Best Documentary at the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards. The film is now the top-grossing biodoc of all time, the top-earning documentary in the past five years and the 14th biggest of all time.

Artistic Director and faculty member Spike Lee's film BlacKkKlansman earned a whirlwind of rave reviews. It received, amongst other honors: five BAFTA nominations, four Golden Globe nominations, six Oscar nominations and seven NAACP nominations. Professor Lee took home a BAFTA and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was also chosen to receive the Career Achievement Award at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF). Professor Lee was not the only one who attended the 2019 Oscars—faculty member Donna Gigliotti served as the 91st Academy Awards' lead producer. 

Along with his accolades for BlacKkKlansman, Professor Lee produced alum Stefon Bristol's debut feature See You Yesterday, which is based off of Bristol's short thesis film. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on May 3 and will be available on Netflix on May 17.

Alum Thelma Schoonmaker was honored with the BAFTA Fellowship for her renowned work editing over 20 of Martin Scorcese's films in the past 50 years.

Alum Debra Granik's film Leave No Trace was nominated for Best Feature, Best Director and Best Female Supporting at the Independent Spirit Awards, where she accepted the prestigious Bonnie Award, given to recognize a mid-career female director. She was also awarded Best Director by the LA Film Critics Association.

Alum Tamara Jenkins was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Gotham Awards and Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards for her film, Private Life.

Third-year student Raed Alsemari wrote and directed "Dunya’s Day," which won Sundance's Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction at Sundance. It was the first Saudi film to ever premiere at Sundance. Fellow third-year student Olivier Theurillat was the DP.

Alum Kirill Mikhanovsky wrote and directed the comedy Give Me Liberty, which was selected for the NEXT section at Sundance and chosen to screen at the prestigious 51st Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.

Late Night, directed by alum Nisha Ganatra and with alum Matthew Clark as its DP, hit major headlines when Amazon Studios bid a record-breaking $13 million for the comedy after it premiered at Sundance. The feature is the only bid to have ever reached eight figures for a U.S.-only deal at the festival.

Alum Kimberly Parker executive produced The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which was selected for the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance. The film, which will be released by A24 this June, won both the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award and the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration.

Sundance honored many other Grad Film members. In the U.S. Dramatic Competition were Before You Know It, which was produced by alum Joshua Hetzler, and Luce, which alum Julius Onah wrote, directed, and produced. Luce was sold to Neon and Topic Studios directly from the festival. Chosen for the NEXT category were Premature, which alum Rashaad Ernesto Green wrote, directed, and produced, alum Laura Valladao was DP for, and alum Kiara C Jones was producer for; and Selah and the Spades, which alum Jomo Fray was DP for. In the U.S. Narrative Shorts section were alum A.V. Rockwell's "Feathers," which alumni Marttise Hill and Julius Pryor produced; alum Nikyatu Jusu's "Suicide by Sunlight;" and alum Mary Evangelista's "Fran This Summer," which thesis students Elegance Bratton & Alex Wallace produced, alum Ines Gowland served as DP, and thesis student Alan Wu edited. Alum Darius Clark Monroe directed Black 14, which screened as part of the Documentary Shorts section. Alum Desiree Akhavan, whose film The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize in 2018, served as a juror this time around.

Alum Shevaun Mizrahi's new documentary and first feature film Distant Constellation premiered in theaters. It also screened at Locarno Film Festival (winning Special Jury Mention Award), the Viennale (winning the FIPRESCI Critics Prize), Seville (winning the best non-fiction Award), Jeonju (winning Best Picture Prize), IDFA (screening in "Best of Fests"), and was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and included on Film Comment's list of "Best Undistributed Films of 2017." Mizrahi was awarded the 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on the film. The film was produced by alumni Deniz Buga and Shelly Grizim.

Grad Film finished Tribeca 2019 with a number of awards in various competitive categories. In the International Narrative Competition, the coveted honor of Best Screenplay went to Noah Land (Nuh Tepesi), which alum Cenk Ertuk wrote and directed. In the Short Film Competition, faculty member Carol Dysinger took home the honor for Best Documentary Short for "Learning To Skateboard In a Warzone (If You’re A Girl)." Thesis student Yuchao Feng earned a Special Jury Mention for the Student Visionary Award for "Pearl (Zhen Zhu)." In its inaugural Queen Collective, Tribeca saw the world premiere of alum B.Monét's "Ballet After Dark" and thesis student Haley Elizabeth Anderson's "If There Is Light," which was produced by thesis student Swetha Regunathan. 

Other work celebrated at Tribeca included psychological thriller Swallow, which alum Carlo Mirabella-Davis directed and wrote, and alum Mollye Asher produced, and Stray Dolls, which alum Charlotte Rabate wrote and produced. Alum Sasie Sealy also screened Lucky Grandma (辛運的奶奶), which was written by alum Angela Cheng. Alum Lyle Vincent served as cinematographer for Dreamland, which had a successful run as part of the Spotlight Narrative category. In its N.O.W. program, Tribeca highlighted alum Yvonne Michelle Shirley's webseries Frame by Frame.

Faculty, students and alum also triumphed at SXSW 2019, with Narrative Shorts from alumni Zamarin Wadhat, Ben Kallam and Ines Gowland and students Maria Altamirano, Farida Zahran, Kristin Kouke and Leah Chen Baker; Episodic Pilot Rainbow Ruthie from alumni Ruthie Marantz and Arlen Konopaki; and Festival Favorite Her Smell from adjunct professor Alex Ross Perry.

A number of alum have also been invited to screen their work at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Alum Kirill Mikhanovsky's comedy Give Me Liberty has been chosen to screen at the prestigious 51st Directors' Fortnight. Alum Danielle Lessovitz's debut feature Port Authority will premiere in the Un Certain Regard competition. Alum Cris Gris' short film "San Miguel," for which alum Sheldon Chau served as DP, was invited to screen as part of Cannes' La Semaine de La Critique. Alum Jonas Carpignano will be a judge for the program. Cannes' Opening Night Film is alum Jim Jarmusch's highly anticipated The Dead Don't Die, for which cinematography professor Fred Elmes served as the DP. 

Alum Kiara C Jones was one of five women selected for the inaugural IFP/Blackhouse Producers Lab sponsored by HBO. 

Four of the five projects selected for the Tribeca Through Her Lens Women's Filmmaker Program were from Grad Film alums: Francesca Mirabella, Jennifer Suhr, Shruti Ganguly and Maryam Keshavarz.

Thesis students Haley Anderson and Elegance Bratton both had films honored with grants at the 16th annual Tribeca All Access program, which amplifies stories from underrepresented voices.

Professor Tony Jannelli’s animated documentary The Velvet Underground Played At My High School has been in over 55 festivals. The film was co-directed and co-produced by alum and adjunct faculty member Robert Pietri.

Thesis student Stephanie Bollag won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Shore Scripts Screenplay Competition for her short script, Esther In Wonderland.

Professor Kasi Lemmons is directing Harriet, a biopic about Harriet Tubman from Focus Features that stars Cynthia Erivo.

Alumni Jomo Fray and Charlotte Wells were both named on of the list of "25 New Faces in Independent Film 2018" by Filmmaker Magazine.

Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, a third-year student in Graduate Film, was awarded the prestigious Kodak Vision Award.

Professor Kasi Lemmons’ film Eve’s Bayou and alum Ang Lee’s film Brokeback Mountain were selected by The Library of Congress for the National Film Registry.

Alum A.B. Shawky’s film Yomeddine was selected as the official Egyptian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Yomeddine was also picked up for distribution in North American theaters in early 2019. Shawky will also receive the Variety MENA Talent of the Year Award.

Thesis student Raven Jackson had great success with two of her recent films. Her feature project, all dirt roads taste of salt, won the New Orleans Film Festival pitch contest, South Pitch, and one of the Fall 2018 SFFILM Rainin Grants. Thesis student Maria Altamirano is producing the film. Jackson’s short film "Nettles" was selected for the Narrative Shorts program at Slamdance and was one of 14 films selected for the San Sebastian International Film Festival Nest program.

Third-year student Rashad Frett won a prestigious Director's Guild of America (DGA) Student Film Award for Best African-American Student Filmmaker in the East Region for his second year film, K.I.N.G.

Film Independent's list of 2019 Project Involve fellows includes alumni Lorena Durán, Mary Evangelista and Enrique Unzueta.

Thesis students Haley Anderson and Laurel Parmet were two of 11 inidividuals selected as Sundance Screenwriters Intensive Fellows. They participated in Sundance's 7th annual Screenwriters Intensive in Los Angeles, which is designed to "advance the art and craft of their work under the guidance of experienced filmmakers and in collaboration with Institute’s Feature Film Program."

Four out of ten fellows selected for this year's BET Network/Blackhouse Fellowship Program are Graduate Film students: Sontenish Myers, Kristian King, Rashad Deshawn Frett and Aisha Ford. 

Sundance Institute launched its fourth FilmTwo Initiative, and five of 13 FilmTwo Fellows this year were from Grad Film: alumni Atsuko Hirayanagi, Shawn Snyder, Kirsten Tan and Shirlyn Wong; and second-year student Jason Begue.

At Slamdance, alum Joseph Sackett’s short "Dominant Species" was selected for the Anarchy section, and alum Michael Matthew’s film Lost Holiday was selected for the Narrative Features section.

The NAACP recognized alum Dee Rees for her directorial role in the episode “Kill All Others” from the science-fiction series, "Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams."

Alum Cary Fukunaga’s new show Maniac premiered on Netflix to rave reviews. Fukunaga was also tapped to direct the newest James Bond film in the franchise, currently being referred to as James Bond 25.

Alum Shawn Snyder's To Dust, which premiered at Tribeca in 2018, was released theatrically in February.

Alum Desiree Akhavan’s new show The Bisexual premiered on Channel 4 and Hulu to much acclaim.

Alum Marco Coppola’s debut feature The Nearest Human Being won Best Narrative Feature (Romance) at the Manhattan Film Festival. The film was produced by alumni Kiara C Jones and Eric Hsiao, filmed by Chananun Chotrungroj and edited by alum Christopher Broe.