How Creativity and Risk-Taking Took Center Stage at the Sundance Film Festival

The Egyptian Theatre marquee is seen along Main Street during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
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The Sundance Film Festival had a little bit of everything in 2019. From dramatic films to comedies, documentaries about adventure and the environment, to short films about activism, history, and the American experience, there was something for every kind of film taste. The festival even had Zac Efron playing a notorious serial killer—and sporting a brand-new blonde hairdo at the world premiere.

But that’s not all Sundance had. The festival had an increase in female-directed films from the previous year, jumping up to nearly 50 percent among competition films, while 56 percent of the U.S. Dramatic Feature category were directed by women (stats according to IndieWire.) Stella Artois was at the forefront of that big push this year.

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Stella partnered with the Women In Film‘s Film Finishing Fund, giving $25,000 grants to filmmakers, and at Stella’s Film Lounge in Park City, the location hosted a number of film panels, partnership events, and cast parties of films with female directors and female-led projects. Some of those included Mindy Kaling’s record-setting Late Night, the Chinonye Chukwu-directed Clemency, as well as discussions with female directors and filmmakers in partnership with Women In Film like “#GotStamped: Gender Parity Success Stories” and the Film Finishing Fund panel.

Late Night Panel Mindy Kaling
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Throughout the festival, directors, actors, writers, producers and stars came in and out of the Stella Artois Film Lounge for panels and cast parties to celebrate some of the most well-received movies of the Sundance Film Festival.

Mindy Kaling Makes History With ‘Late Night’

One of the most buzzed-about films of the Sundance Film Festival was Late Night, written by and starring Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project). The film, directed by Nisha Ganatra, stars Kaling as Molly, a female writer hired by a late night TV host (Emma Thompson) who is dealing with low ratings and tries to shake things up by adding Molly to her all-male writers room.

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The film earned strong reviews at the festival and was soon bought by Amazon in a record-breaking $13 million deal. The Stella Artois Film Lounge hosted a panel moderated by Deadline’s Dominic Patten with Kaling and Ganatra, who both spoke about making the film, working with a legend like Thompson, as well as their experiences in the film industry as minority women.

Kaling talked about being the only female writer on The Office for a while, and while she said that her experiences working on that show weren’t negative, it still impacted her being the only female among that group for a time. Ganatra also had some very interesting things to say about breaking into TV directing and that for a while she was stuck in a sort of Catch-22 cycle: She couldn’t get hired on certain jobs because she didn’t have TV directing experience—but she couldn’t get TV directing experience because she wasn’t being hired for those jobs.

Short Films With Big Messages at the Stella Artois & Women In Film: Film Finishing Fund Panel

As part of their work with Women In Film and the Film Finishing Fund, Stella awarded four grants of $25,000 to “documentary films by women that inspire social change,” according to the Women In Film website. At the Stella Artois Film Lounge, the recipients of those grants were in attendance to speak about their films, the impact of the funds, and being connected with the Women In Film organization. The recipients of the grants for this year included the films Decade of Fire, directed by Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vazquez, End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock, directed by Shannon Kring; Rooting for Roona, directed by Pavitra Chalam and Akshay Shankar; and Santuario, directed by Christine Delp and Pilar Timpane.

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At the panel, all of the filmmakers in attendance stressed the importance of being able to tell these stories and how much of an impact the grants made. Like many of the films that come to the Sundance Film Festival, funds can be limited and getting a grant like this can be the difference between finishing a movie and it not making it out there for audiences to see.

Vivian Vasquez Irizarry, Gretchen Hildebran, Pavitra Chalam, Kirsten Schaffer, Shannon Kring, Christine Delp, Pilar Timpane, and Akshay Shankar attend Stella Artois & Women in Film honor the second-annual Stella Artois-Funded Film Finishing Fund grantees at Stella's Film Lounge on January 25, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Stella Artois )
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In Decade of Fire, Vazquez and Hildebran turned their attention to the South Bronx neighborhood where Vazquez grew up with her family. The film documented how in the 1970s numerous fires burned around the neighborhood over decades, destroying housing, businesses and the actual neighborhood itself. The duo wanted to explore why the neighborhood suffered so much damage, how it was rebuilt over time, and who was in charge while it all was going on. Vazquez spoke passionately at the panel about digging in to find out what really happened back then as well as the redlining that was going on for people in the community.

Santuario follows a woman in North Carolina who takes sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation while seeking asylum, while End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock puts a focus on the indigenous women fighting back against the oil pipeline threatening their clean water and land. In the heartbreaking Rooting for Roona, directors Chalam and Shankar follow the story of Roona, a child born with a health defect that leaves her with a large head and numerous health challenges. The film also explores the difficulty that many people in India face with access to proper medical care.

Experiences in the Film Industry at the Stella Artois and Women In Film “#GotStamped: Gender Parity Success Stories” Panel

The Stella Film Lounge also hosted the “Women In Film #GotStamped: Gender Parity Success Stories” panel at the festival, which was moderated by Deadline’s Amanda N’Duka and had director Nisha Ganatra, producer Bruna Papandrea, and producer Cathy Schulman. All three spoke about their experiences in the industry and also about the ReFrame program, which works to bring a “more gender-representative industry” on all levels of filmmaking and production.

Amanda N' Duka, Cathy Schulman, Nisha Ganatra, and Bruna Papandrea attend the Stella Artois & Deadline Sundance Series: ReFrame's '#GotStamped: Gender Parity Success Stories,' Presented by Women In Film at Stella's Film Lounge on January 26, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Stella Artois )
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Ganatra spoke about how some of the crew on productions she’s worked on had never heard a woman say “action” on set before, and that was something she wanted to do because of that anecdote. Schulman and Papandrea both spoke about the ReFrame program and how they’re building partnerships with different guilds in Hollywood and with IMDb, which now has a website where you can go see if films have the ReFrame stamp.

The group also spoke about their #StellaMoments, the moments that stood out to them from their filmmaking careers. Papandrea spoke about her breakthrough, meeting director Anthony Minghella, who gave her a job at 29 years old. She said that he was a “great supporter of female filmmakers” and that when she asked why he gave her a job, he responded: “I thought you were smart.”

The Cast of ‘Clemency’ Gets Emotional at the Stella Artois and Deadline Sundance Series Panel

Another one of the most buzzed-about films from the festival was Clemency, directed and written by Chinonye Chukwu. The film won the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize and held a panel discussion at the Stella Film Lounge in partnership with Deadline that included Chukwu and the cast, including Woodard, Wendell Pierce, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Brooks, Richard Schiff, and Michael O’Neill.

The film follows Woodard’s prison warden character as she connects with a death-row inmate after questioning the toll that those executions have taken on her, her family, and others over the years. By winning the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize, Chukwu became the first black woman to win the award.

Wendell Pierce, Michael O'Neill, Danielle Brooks, Richard Gunn, Bronwyn Cornelius, (Frontrow L-R) Alfre Woodard, Chinonye Chukwu, Aldris Hodge, and Richard Schiff attend Stella Artois & Deadline Sundance Series at Stella's Film Lounge: A Live Q&A with the filmmakers and cast of 'Clemency' at Stella's Film Lounge on January 25, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Stella Artois )
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The cast was passionate while speaking about the film at the panel and at numerous times multiple cast members shed tears speaking about how they prepared for the film and working on emotional scenes, including Hodge, Schiff, and O’Neill. At one point Hodge broke the room into laughter when he held up his hand and said: “Does anybody need a tissue?”

These Buzzed-About Films From Sundance Also Came to the Stella Film Lounge

Fighting With My Family: The film held a Deadline panel at the Stella Artois Film Lounge, with writer-director Stephen Merchant as well as stars Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, and Vince Vaughn, as well as WWE superstar Paige. The film tells the real-life story of Paige, who came from a wrestling family and eventually rose the ranks to become a WWE champion. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also stars in the film, which had a special premiere at the festival.

Them That Follow: The movie follows a group of Pentecostal snake handlers in the Appalachian area and the secrets that bubble up in the community as the pastor’s daughter prepares to get married. The film held a Deadline panel at the Stella Film Lounge with the cast, including Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann, and Lewis Pullman, as well as directors and writers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage.

To The Stars: The film follows a young girl in 1960s Oklahoma who is dealing with a mother suffering from alcoholism and bullying from people in school. She becomes friends with a new girl in town who shakes things up in her life in drastic ways. The film held a Deadline panel at the Stella Film Lounge with director Martha Stephens, as well as cast members Malin Akerman, Shea Whigham, Tony Hale, Jordana Spiro, Adelaide Clemens, Lucas Zumann and Madisen Beaty.

Little Monsters: This comedy-horror film follows a teacher, a man dealing with a breakup, and a children’s TV host that get caught up in a zombie invasion while on a school trip. The movie stars Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England and Josh Gad and had a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

Paradise Hills: In this film, the main character Uma wakes up and finds herself on a mysterious island called Paradise. With Duchess (Milla Jovovich) in charge, the place seems like a fairy tale, but ends up being a bit darker than expected. Starring Emma Roberts, Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Eiza González, Milla Jovovich, and Jeremy Irvine, the film had a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

David Crosby: Remember My Name: This documentary directed by A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe is a portrait of legendary musician David Crosby, who talks about his life, his past, and his work through the decades in the music world. The film had a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

The Sound of Silence: This intriguing drama from director Michael Tyburski was expanded from his short film Palimpsest, which previously was at Sundance in 2013. The film follows Peter (Peter Sarsgaard), who works as a “house tuner” that helps people with the sonic sounds in their homes and helps identify things that are affecting their mood. Rashida Jones plays one of the clients, while Tony Revolori also stars. The film had a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

I Am Mother: This sci-fi/thriller stars Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard and Rose Byrne and follows a teenager (Rugaard) who is being raised by a robot (voiced by Byrne) and is cutoff from the world after a catastrophic event. When a woman (Swank) arrives, it shatters all the thoughts that the girl had about what’s going on in the world above. The film had a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

Judy & Punch: This film stars Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman as a duo who are trying to bring back their marionette show in a strange anarchic town. The film held a cast party at Stella’s Film Lounge.

Sundance Film Festival
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Sundance Film Festival
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Sundance Film Festival
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Sundance Film Festival
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