Dispatch from Sundance: Producers Institute Alum Continue to Shine

Posted on: Monday, January 28 2013

By Kim Bender, BAVC Development Director/Sundance Correspondent

My last 24 hours at Sundance were packed with great films, but it was especially nice to end my time in Park City by focusing on these BAVC Producers Institute alums:

American Promise has received a lot of buzz. Directed by BAVC alums Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster, the doc took 13 years to make, and intimately chronicles two middle class black families as they struggle to educate their sons in New York City. When the film starts, the two boys are in Kindergarten, and we stay with them until they start college in Fall of 2012. The boys lived with cameras documenting their every triumph and heartbreak, from basketball games to new girlfriends: all-in-all, over 800 hours edited down to two. The usual pressure these parents felt to do the best job they could for their sons was made even greater by their commitment to overcome the black male achievement gap. The burden was palpable, and the families coped with it in different ways. The extraordinary candor of all participants provides a unique glimpse into their lives. The film will be aired on PBS along with the release of a parenting book in 2013. It was no surprise that the film was garnered the U. S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking.

When I Walk directed by Jason DaSilva is a very personal, funny, moving story of Jason's journey with primary progressive MS, a currently "uncurable" form of the disease that affects motor function and vision. We watch as Jason, a successful, award-winning, world-traveling doc filmmaker, first discovers he has the disease and decides to make a film about himself as he experiences increasing mobility issues. Completing the film itself becomes a big part of his struggle. He meets his future wife Alice at an MS support group (her mom has MS), and she becomes a key ally in actually finishing the film, since toward the end, editing is a huge struggle. Jason and Alice were both in attendance for the screening at Yarrow, and received a long standing ovation for their courage in overcoming so many obstacles to share their intimate, inspiring story. Jason and Alice didn't just make a movie, they developed the mobile AXS Map so that variously-abled people can determine in advance whether businesses around the world (from restaurants to financial services) are truly accessible. They worked on the AXS Map at BAVC's 2011 Producers Institute in New York, and have received funding for this massive project from Google, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Tides Foundation and The Fledgling Fund. Check out the AXS Map and add info to this growing database about accessibility.

The Coral: Rekindling Venus installation/exhibition the New Frontier Dome is a full-immersion experience of being underwater surrounded by living coral and sealife. Artist Lynette Wallworth imagines connecting viewer/participants with coral on a deep level: "My intent is to leave the audience with a sense of wonder for the complexity of the coral community and a deep-felt longing to see it survive." For this 45-minute journey in the small dome (also screened at the planetarium in Salt Lake City and soon, at planetariums around the world), this gorgeous project transports and connects us to coral as a living, breathing, integral part of the earth. The photography is spectacular. Wallworth's augmented reality application called In Plain Sight, a companion piece to Coral: Rekindling Venus, is on display at BAVC's Rhostoff Gallery in SF. The set of seven extraordinary poster images of coral specimens (which you can download here) are activated by the RKV Corals Augmented Reality app downloadable onto mobile phones. The posters open a virtual portal to coral reefs including a data feed to current coral hotspots around the world.