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Spotlight on SVA at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

As Hollywood continues to reflect on last year’s achievements in preparation for next month’s Academy Awards, cinephiles and major studios alike turn now to the Sundance Film Festival (January 19 - 29) for a look at what’s new and what’s next. Since 1980, the Park City, Utah-based celebration has championed directorial debuts and independent filmmaking; in more recent years, success at Sundance has led to international acclaim and lucrative distribution deals. This year, three films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition were made with the help and creative talents of SVA alumni and faculty (featured below). In addition, SVA will be hosting a panel discussion on how directors can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

On Monday, January 23, SVA Theatre Director Adam J. Natale will host and moderate “Second Feature Frustration,” part of a lineup of programming hosted by Slamdance, a thriving Sundance-alternative festival and organization run since 1995 under the mantra “by filmmakers for filmmakers.” The panel will focus on what happens after the completion of your first feature film—or rather, how to keep up momentum and do it all again but better. Natale will be in conversation with independent filmmakers Jerzy Rose and Halle Butler (Crimes Against Humanity, Neighborhood Food Drive) and Matthew Lessner (The Woods, Automatic at Sea).

Landline is director and screenwriter Gillian Robespierre’s (BFA 2005 Film and Video) follow-up to 2014’s indie hit, and Sundance favorite, Obvious Child. She reunites with star Jenny Slate and co-screenwriter Elisabeth Holm to tell the story of a family in 1995 Manhattan that is thrown into uncertainty by the father’s suspected affair. As in her previous feature, Robespierre mines family bonds and life’s lower-points for the poignancy and comedy that comes from unexpected places. John Mattiuzzi (MFA 2012 Computer Art) also contributed VFX work to the film.

A coming-of-age story in a rarefied setting, Novitiate takes place in early 1950s to mid-1960s, largely inside a convent, as it follows a young nun who begins to question her Catholic faith; depicted is a portrait of the ways in which women love and the struggles therein. Faculty member and alum Danica Parry (BFA 2012 Computer Art, Computer Animation) did VFX work as part of the female-led production; Novitiate also has a female leading cast as well as producer, DP and writer/director, Maggie Betts. Margaret Qualley stars as the novitiate Sister Cathleen and Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother.

Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Iraq War veteran Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds is a war story focused as much on the painful return home for a young soldier after his friend’s disappearance as the intensity of battle that precipitated such a loss. Jesse Speer (BFA 2013 Computer Art, Computer Animation), Jennifer Yiu-Chen Yang (MFA 2012 Computer Art) and Mattiuzzi were part of the team to evoke the haunting, unbearable realities of war for those on the frontline and those left behind. The film features Alden Ehrenreich and Jennifer Aniston.

For more information about the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and the full schedule, click here.

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