Land Ho!

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Last September, it was announced that a new film fund would be launching with the goal of financing narrative feature films directed or co-directed by women. The fund was called Gamechanger Films, and it is very aptly titled, because if successful, this fund could truly be a game changer in increasing the number of women directors of feature studio films. I am a proud investor in this fund, serve on their advisory board, and I was thrilled when it was announced that the first film to be financed by Gamechanger Films, Land Ho!, would be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.  (I am also a Board Member of The Sundance Institute but we have no involvement with film selections)

Co-directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, Land Ho! is a rowdy road trip film that follows two retirees on a trip through Iceland, during which they reflect on their lives, past loves, and what the future has in store.  The setting for the film was particularly meaningful for me as I had just travelled to Iceland and thus understood how the location could really contribute to the narrative of the film. And it is very unusual! Have you ever seen a film set in Iceland before? Starring Paul Eenhoorn, a working actor whose face you will immediately recognize but you can’t quite place him, and Earl Lynn Nelson, an unknown who stole the show, Land Ho! is the first completed film to emerge from the Gamechanger initiative, so needless to say, we all had high hopes for its Sundance debut.

Thankfully, those hopes were realized with the announcement that Land Ho! had been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. When you see the film you will understand why this was likely an easy decision for them. I attended a screening during the later half of the festival, and not only was the theater totally sold out, but people were laughing hysterically. To me, Land Ho! represents the best of independent film by being very character driven, using relatively unknown actors, emerging directors, and being a perfect film for an audience that gets little attention – old folks!

For the first film out of the Gamechanger gate to find such success at Sundance gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction and getting there quickly, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this ride.  This fund was created to bring capital to talented women filmmakers, and make money for the investors in the process.  To me this in an outstanding example of Gender Lens Investing, and there will be many more examples to come.

Gamechanger Films’ goal is to finance a slate of films over the next three years in a variety of genres . For more information please check out their website.

Photo from Sundance 2014 – part of the Land Ho! team including Director Martha Stephens on my right and Mynette Louie of Gamechanger on my left.

 

Celebrating 30 Years of The Sundance Film Festival

120de0fThe past 10 days have seen Park City, Utah play host to the Sundance Film Festival, one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States. For 10 days, I have been seeing films, attending premieres, going to events, and meeting dozens of incredible filmmakers, producers, writers, artists, and film lovers. (Photo with the talented actor Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad who was the lead in Hellion) This year the festival was particularly celebratory, as 2014 was Sundance’s 30th anniversary, and a retrospective short film shown prior to each screening only served to reinforce just how influential this festival has been over its 30 year history. This year’s festival ended yesterday, and so now it’s time to look back on not just the past 10 days, but also the past 30 years, to get a sense of the success of Sundance and its extraordinary legacy.

The Sundance Film Festival began as an initiative to celebrate American filmmaking, and to give exposure to independent films and showcase their potential. From its humble roots three decades ago, when 86 films were screened at just two cinemas, to its peak attendance of 52,849 in 2006, to this year’s 186 films screened at nine different theatres, Sundance has come a long way. While there will always be critics claiming that Sundance has become a victim of its own success and that the festival has gone too mainstream, it is important to remember that beyond all of the glitz and glamour, Sundance truly is a showcase for independent filmmaking, and this year alone, there where 54 first time filmmakers premiering their feature films.

This is not surprising, because Sundance has a long history of championing up and coming voices in cinema, and the festival has launched the careers of many of Hollywood’s most in demand directors, including Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Popular films that have debuted at Sundance over the years include Clerks, Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Reservoir Dogs, The Blair Witch Project, Winter’s Bone, and El Mariachi. However, it is the festival’s success in the documentary field that makes Sundance stand apart from other festivals. As festival founder Robert Redford claims, the documentaries are key to Sundance’s success and impact. As Redford says, “I wanted to use the Sundance Festival to create a platform for documentaries and then elevate that and just keep pushing and pushing, because I believe that documentaries would one day begin to almost compete with feature films”.

I couldn’t agree more, because the slate of documentary films that premiere each year at the festival are astonishing. From the mainstream success story of Hoop Dreams in 1994, to Waiting For Superman, The Invisible War, Blackfish, and The Queen of Versailles in recent years, the documentaries that are shown at Sundance are always thought provoking, conversation starters, and socially relevant. This year was no exception with the incredible film The Green Prince winning the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. It was also my personal favorite. Additional festival winners included Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for US Dramatic Film, Rich Hill, which won the Grand Jury Prize US Documentary, and Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, which won the Audience Award for US Documentary. A full list of winners can be found here.

Ultimately, Sundance is all about stories, and the range of groundbreaking, important, and fascinating stories that have been told at Sundance throughout the years is the true legacy of this film festival. It used to be that the only way people could see these stories was to attend the festival and/or hope that the film they wanted to see got picked up for distribution. Today, the technology of digital distribution, VOD, and even Netflix makes it easier than ever for people to have access to the wealth of films that premiere at Sundance. With many films already picked up for distribution this year, audiences across the country will have a chance to experience these stories; to delight in them, to learn from them, and to be moved by them. This is the essence of what the Sundance Film Festival has been doing for 30 years. That’s something to celebrate.

Jacki Zehner ( A proud board member of The Sundance Institute and supporter of independent films through Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films) and Laura Moore

Sundance 2014 – It’s here!

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Tomorrow kicks off day ONE of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival! This year is the 30th Anniversary of the Festival, and for a look back at the festival’s history, check out this great interactive timeline- 30 Years of Sundance. Just when you thought the line up of films couldn’t get any better, the Institute just announced this year’s hand picked films, and let me tell you, they all look incredible!

I have completely PACKED my schedule with films, panels, parties, and events! 27 films and 21 events (that I know of!) in 10 days, means that I don’t plan on sleeping or sitting down to eat until the festival is over. Can it be done? Likely not, but I am always up for the challenge! It is an honor to serve as a Board Member of the Sundance Institute, as well as on the Utah Advisory Board, so part of my job is to try and make sure that everyone is having a good time! While the Festival itself is so important and exciting, it also provides the necessary funding to support the work the Institute does all year long, and that is supporting talented artists and independent storytelling.

Below is a list and brief description of the 27 films I am intending on seeing over the next week and half. Follow me on twitter @JackiZehner and join the conversation using #Sundance2014 and #SundanceWomen as I tweet my way through the Festival.  I will also be attending some amazing events, including the Artist at the Table Fundraiser,  Women at Sundance, a fundraiser for the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media ( yes Geena will be here), and a screening with Eve Ensler of her short film on the BILLION RISING movement ahead of the film Private Violence. Did I mention rocking with FLEA from the Chili Peppers at Sundance House? Yes, that’s happening.

As they say in Hollywood, “Lights, Camera, ACTION!” In the order I hope to be seeing them…

Whiplash (Director & Screenwriter: Damien Chazelle) Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons. DAY ONE FILM (Twitter: @Miles_Teller, #Whiplash The opening night film! 

The Green Prince – Germany, Israel, United Kingdom (Director: Nadav Schirman ) This real-life thriller tells the story of one of Israel’s prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people for more than a decade. Focusing on the complex relationship with his handler, The Green Prince is a gripping account of terror, betrayal, and unthinkable choices, along with a friendship that defies all boundaries. DAY ONE FILM (Twitter: #TheGreenPrince) 

Camp X-Ray (Director & Screenwriter: Peter Sattler) A young woman is stationed as a guard in Guantanamo Bay, where she forms an unlikely friendship with one of the detainees. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, J.J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch. (Twitter: @CampXRayMovie, #CampXRay)

God’s Pocket (Director: John Slattery, Screenwriters: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf) When Mickey’s stepson Leon is killed in a construction “accident”, Mickey tries to bury the bad news with the body. But when the boy’s mother demands the truth, Mickey finds himself stuck between a body he can’t bury, a wife he can’t please, and a debt he can’t pay. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro.

Laggies  (Director: Lynn Shelton) Laggies is a coming of age story about a 28-year-old woman stuck in permanent adolescence. Unable to find her career calling, still hanging out with the same friends, and living with her high school boyfriend, Megan must finally navigate her own future when an unexpected marriage proposal sends her into a panic. Cast: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin, Mark Webber. (Twitter: @Laggies_Movie, @KeiraKnightly1, @ChloeGMoretz, #SamRockwell)

E-TEAM (Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman) E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field. (Twitter: @ETeamFilm) I am investor in this film through IMPACT PARTNERS.

I Origins (Director: Mike Cahill) Ian Gray, a PhD student studying molecular biology with a specialty in eye evolution and his lab partner, Karen, make a stunning discovery with profound existential implications. He must risk his life’s work and his family to travel across the world to find the truth behind what he has found and what it may mean. Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi. (Twitter: @IOriginsMovie, @_mikecahill, @britmarling)

Return to Homs – Syria, Germany (Director: Talal Derki) Basset Sarout, the 19-year-old national football team goalkeeper, becomes a demonstration leader and singer, and then a fighter. Ossama, a 24-year-old renowned citizen cameraman, is critical, a pacifist, and ironic until he is detained by the regime’s security forces. (Twitter: @ReturnToHoms) So excited about this one. 

Young ones (Director: Jake Paltrow) Water is running out. Land has withered into something wretched. The dust has settled on a lonely, barren planet. Not long from now, the hardened survivors of the loss of Earth’s precious resources scrape and struggle. Ernest Holm, played by Michael Shannon, lives on this harsh frontier with his children, Jerome and Mary. He defends his farm from bandits, works the supply routes, and hopes to rejuvenate the soil. But Mary’s boyfriend, Flem Lever, played by Nicholas Hoult, has grander designs. He wants Ernest’s land for himself, and he means to get it. Cast: Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee. (Twitter: @YoungOnesMovie)

Low Down (Director: Jeff Preiss, Screenwriters: Amy Albany, Topper Lilien) Based on Amy Jo Albany’s memoir, Low Down explores her heart-wrenching journey to adulthood while being raised by her father, bebop pianist Joe Albany, as he teeters between incarceration and addiction in the urban decay and waning bohemia of Hollywood in the 1970s. Cast: John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Flea. (Twitter: @LowDownTheMovie) My neighbor in Park City is one of the producers of this film.

A Most Wanted Man (Director: Anton Corbijn) Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s psychological novel follows German spy Gunther Bachmann as he tracks down Issa, a suspicious Chechen-Russian immigrant on the run in Hamburg. Pressured by his German and American colleagues to capture and interrogate his suspect as a Muslim terrorist, Bachmann instead asks for more time to carefully track Issa’s movements and his relationship with his German immigration lawyer, Annabel Richter. Using his secret contacts and keen skill, Bachmann uncovers a connection between a world-renowned Muslim philanthropist and a terrorist group, and devises a plan to use Issa and Annabel in a brilliant ploy to expose the scheme. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright. (Twitter: #AMostWantedMan)

Locke (Director: Steven Knight) Ivan Locke has crafted a nearly flawless life. Professionally, he is an obsessive perfectionist, respected by his coworkers and loved by his bosses. He cherishes the bond he shares with his two sons and the unshakeable partnership he has developed with his wife. This is the life he always imagined, an ideal existence built with painstaking care.
Hours before the biggest day of his career, Locke receives a phone call that threatens to destroy the life he has worked so meticulously to create. As he struggles to keep his world intact, he is forced to confront his imperfections and the fractured foundation where they are rooted. Cast: Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland, Bill Milner

Watchers of the Sky (Director: Edet Belzberg) Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew born in 1900, who saw and could not abide the universal human capacity to perpetrate unimaginable harms against “the other.” As a young lawyer galvanized by the extermination of the Armenians, he invented the term “genocide,” which became an indispensable instrument for mobilizing international law to address such crimes, laying the groundwork for the Nuremberg trials and the International Criminal Court (ICC). (Twitter: @WatchersOfSky)

Song One (Director & Screenwriter: Kate Barker-Froyland) Estranged from her family, Franny returns home when an accident leaves her brother comatose. Retracing his life as an aspiring musician, she tracks down his favorite musician, James Forester. Against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s music scene, Franny and James develop an unexpected relationship and face the realities of their lives. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield

The Skeleton Twins (Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriters: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman) Estranged twins Maggie and Milo coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting them to reunite and confront the reasons their lives went so wrong. As the twins’ reunion reinvigorates them, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship. Cast : Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason. (Twitter: @SkelTwins) 

Dinosaur 13 (Director: Todd Miller) On August 12, 1990, in the badlands of South Dakota, paleontologist Peter Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute unearthed the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found. It was the find of a lifetime—the world’s greatest dinosaur discovery. They named their dinosaur Sue. Two years later, when the FBI and the National Guard showed up, battle lines were drawn over ownership of Sue. The U.S. government, world-class museums, Native American tribes, and competing paleontologists became the Goliath to Larson’s David as he and his team fought to keep their dinosaur and wrestled with intimidation tactics that threatened their freedom as well. (Twitter: #Dinosaur13)

Lock Charmer (El cerrajero) / Argentina (Director & Screenwriter: Natalia Smirnoff) — Upon learning that his girlfriend is pregnant, 33-year-old locksmith Sebastian begins to have strange visions about his clients. With the help of an unlikely assistant, he sets out to use his newfound talent for his own good. Cast : Esteban Lamothe, Erica Rivas, Yosiria Huaripata.

Viktoria / Bulgaria, Romania (Director & Screenwriter: Maya Vitkova) — Although determined not to have a child in Communist Bulgaria, Boryana gives birth to Viktoria, who despite being born with no umbilical cord, is proclaimed to be the baby of the decade. But political collapse and the hardships of the new time bind mother and daughter together. Cast: Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Dimo Dimov, Georgi Spassov.

Life Itself (Director- Steve James) Documentary about Roger Ebert based on his memoir, “Life Itself.” recounts Ebert’s fascinating and flawed journey—from politicized school newspaperman, to Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, to Pulitzer Prize winner, to television household name, to the miracle of finding love at 50, and finally his “third act” as a major voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak. (Twitter: @EbertMovie)

Web Junkie / Israel (Directors: Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia) — China is the first country to label “Internet addiction” a clinical disorder. Web Junkie investigates a Beijing rehab center where Chinese teenagers are deprogrammed. (Twitter: @WebJunkieMovie) Impact is also a funder of this one. 

Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars / Denmark (Director: Berit Madsen) — Sepideh wants to become an astronaut. As a young Iranian woman, she knows it’s dangerous to challenge traditions and expectations. Still, Sepideh holds on to her dream. She knows a tough battle is ahead, a battle that only seems possible to win once she seeks help from an unexpected someone. Of course I would pick this one.

Fishing Without Nets / U.S.A., Somalia, Kenya (Director: Cutter Hodierne, Screenwriters: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey, David Burkman) — A story of pirates in Somalia told from the perspective of a struggling, young Somali fisherman. Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim. (Twitter: #FishingWithoutNets, @MyNameIsCutter)

Land Ho! / U.S.A., Iceland (Directors & Screenwriters: Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz) — A pair of ex-brothers-in-law set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites. This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road comedies, as well as a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke, Emmsjé Gauti. (Twitter: @LandHOMovie) The first film from GAMECHANGER a feature film fund for Women Directors for which I am an advisory to and an investor.

Rudderless (Director: William H. Macy) Sam is a former high-profile advertising executive whose life has been torn apart by the tragic death of his son. Off the grid, living on a docked sailboat, he drowns his pain in alcohol. When Sam discovers a box filled with his son’s demo tapes and lyrics, his own child’s musical talent is a revelation for him, a grieving father who felt he’d been absent from his son’s life. Communing with his deceased son’s dashed dreams, Sam learns each song and eventually musters the will to play one at a local bar. When Quentin, a young musician in the audience, is captivated by the song, the unlikely duo form a rock band that becomes surprisingly popular and changes both of their lives. Cast: Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy. (Twitter: @Rudderlessmovie) The big second weekend film. What a cast!!

They Came Together (Director: David Wain) relates the epic love story of Joel, a corporate executive for Candy Systems and Research, a mega candy store chain, and Molly, the owner of a small sweet shop called Upper Sweet Side. When Joel is tasked with shutting down Molly’s mom-and-pop operation, the unlikely lovers find themselves hurtled into a whirlwind romance. From quaint bookstores and coffee shops to neurotic family members and psychotic ex-lovers, Joel and Molly must face some harrowing obstacles on their path to true love. Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Christopher Meloni. 

Wish I Was Here (Director: Zach Braff) Aidan Bloom, a 35-year-old struggling actor, father, and husband, is still trying to find purpose in his life. In coming to terms with the death of his father, Aidan and his family unite to discover how to turn the page onto the next chapter. Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Joey King. (Twitter: @WIWHFilm, @ZachBraff)

Love is Strange (Director: Ira Sachs) After 39 years together, Ben and George finally tie the knot in an idyllic wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan. But when news of their marriage reaches the Catholic school where George works, he is fired from his longtime job and the couple can no longer afford their New York City apartment. As a temporary solution, George moves in with the two gay cops next door, while Ben moves to Brooklyn to live with his nephew Eliot, Eliot’s wife, Kate, and their teenage son. As Ben and George struggle to secure a new apartment, the pain of living apart and their presence in two foreign households test the resilience and relationships of all involved. Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson. (Twitter: @loveisstrangemv)