Films with UNCSA connections will screen at Sundance

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts will again be representing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the “place to be for independent filmmakers,” according to Film Dean Susan Ruskin. Alumni of the School of Filmmaking and the School of Drama were involved with at least ten films scheduled to screen during the festival, which takes place Jan. 18-28 in Park City, Utah.

Among the selections, “Hearts Beat Loud,” written and directed by Brett Haley (Film ’05) is scheduled in the coveted slot of closing night film. In recent years, UNCSA alumni and students have become consistent Sundance participants.

“Young independent filmmakers benefit tremendously from having their work screened at Sundance because it can open the door to lucrative deals and successful partnerships,” said Ruskin, who will attend the festival, along with seven fourth-year students. “For students who will soon enter the profession the networking and learning opportunities at Sundance are significant.”

For example, Ruskin said current producing student Abe Bengio of Quebec, Canada, will attend the festival as assistant to the producer of “Hearts Beat Loud” after serving as intern and assistant when it was filmed in New York over the summer.

Hearts Beat Loud

Film alumnus Brett Haley wrote and directed "Hearts Beat Loud," the closing night film at Sundance Film Festival. / Photo: Jon Pak, property of Hearts Beat Loud, LLC

“We can’t offer that kind of experience on our campus, but we can make the connections with alumni and others in the industry,” said Ruskin, who annually hosts a dinner for alumni and students at the festival. “Abe will graduate this May with professional experience already in his toolkit. You cannot overestimate the value of that in the highly competitive landscape of the film industry.”

Five students will participate in Sundance’s Ignite program, which identifies and supports new voices and talent from the next generation of filmmakers and fosters fresh audiences for independent storytelling. The participants are Riley Fitchpatrick of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Jack McLain of Woodbridge, Va.;  Chris Mathews of Youngsville, N.C.; Trent Spivey of Gastonia, N.C.;  and Charlie Witosky of Holly Springs, N.C. Grant Conversano of Concord, N.C., also will attend Sundance.

Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud” will screen in the Premieres category for highly anticipated narrative films. It is Haley’s third film to screen at Sundance, after “The Hero” which was nominated for Grand Jury Prize last year, and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” in 2015.

“This is quite a coup for Brett,” said Ruskin. “He is establishing his voice as a filmmaker whose movies resonate with audiences and critics. We’re thrilled for his continued success.”

Drama alumni Michael Abbott Jr. (’00), Quincy Dunn Baker (’05), Linda Lee McBfide (’06), Jesse Patch (’05), Kim Ramirez (’07), Alek Reznick (’05) and Will Rogers (’04) appear in the film, alongside Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner and Toni Collette. Tiffany Little Canfield (Drama ’00) was casting director. Film alumni who worked on the film include Dustin Bricker (’06), script supervisor, and Zach Seivers (’06), re-recording mixer, sound designer and supervising sound editor.


Film alumnus Danny McBride produced and appears in "Arizona," screening at Sundance.

Other films with UNCSA connections that will screen at Sundance include:

“An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin” in the Next category for pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. David Gordon Green (Film ’98) is executive producer and Cody Beke (Film ’01) performed New York casting.

“Arizona” in the Midnight category for unruly films from horror flicks and bizarre comedies to works that defy any genre. Film alumni include Danny McBride (’99) as producer who also appears as Sonny; Jeff Seibenick (’98), editor; Richard A. Wright (’99) as production designer; and DeVoe Yates (’98) as music supervisor.

“Madeline’s Madeline” in the Next category. Lisa Tharps (Drama ’97) appears.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition offering groundbreaking new voices in American independent film. Jennifer Ehle (Drama ’88) appears.

“Monster” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Ehle appears.

“Nancy” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Zoe White (Film ’04) was cinematographer.

“The Rider” in the Spotlight category, a tribute to the cinema we love, with films that have played throughout the world. Alex Bickel (Film ’04) was digital intermediate colorist.

“Studio 54” in the Documentary Premieres category. Seivers was re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor.

“susaneLand” in the Indie Episodic Program. Travis Coles (Film ’08) appears.

"An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin"

“An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin” - David Gordon Green (Film ’98) is executive producer and Cody Beke (Film ’01) performed New York casting.

As announced in October, 2006 Film alumnus Alan Van Dyke is a fellow in Sundance’s fourth annual Episodic Lab. He is the writer of the series “The Wasteland Survival Handbook,” currently in development as part of the lab at the Sundance Institute. It could be chosen to screen in the future in the festival’s new Indie Episodic category.

For the 2018 Sundance Festival, 121 feature-length films were selected, representing 29 countries and 53 first-time filmmakers, including 30 films in competition. These films were selected from 13,468 submissions including 3,901 feature-length films and 8,740 short films.

by Lauren Whitaker

January 10, 2018