UNCSA alumni work will be screened at Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals

Alumni of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts worked on 15  films that will be screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, including “To the Stars,” directed by Martha Stephens (’06). Additionally, two films chosen for the alternative Slamdance Festival have UNCSA connections. Both festivals take place in Park City, Utah. Sundance is Jan. 24 through Feb. 3, and Slamdance is Jan. 25-31. See the complete list, below.

“If you are a maker of independent films, you want your work to be seen at Sundance or Slamdance,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the School of Filmmaking. “These festivals celebrate the unique voices and vision of independent filmmakers. Sundance, in particular, is where important distribution deals are made, vastly expanding the potential audience for projects. Having a film screen in Park City is a significant achievement.”

Ruskin will attend the festivals along with Assistant Dean Lauren Vilchik and 17 film students chosen to participate in the Sundance Ignite program, which provides filmmakers ages 18-25 with discounted screening tickets and access to events that are specially curated for emerging filmmakers. Participating students will have opportunities to connect with festival filmmakers and the film industry, explore the evolving landscape of financing and distribution and learn about Sundance Institute artist programs and services.

If you are a maker of independent films, you want your work to be seen at Sundance or Slamdance. These festivals celebrate the unique voices and vision of independent filmmakers.

Film Dean Susan Ruskin

UNCSA alumni from the School of Filmmaking, the School of Drama, and the School of Design and Production (D&P) worked on or appear in nine of the 16 films screening in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category at Sundance, which offers the world premieres of narrative feature films representing groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.

Stephens previously wrote and directed—along with fellow alum Aaron Katz (’04)—“Land Ho!” which was nominated for an Audience Award at Sundance in 2014 and won the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award in 2015. In 2010, her debut feature film, “Passenger Pigeons,” earned her the Gamechanger Emergent Woman Director Award at South By Southwest Film Festival, where it was nominated for an Audience Award.

For the third consecutive year, Film alumnus Zach Seivers (’06) has multiple projects screening at Sundance.

Additionally, Film alumna Rebecca Green (’01) worked with Sundance Institute to create the new Talent Forum, an invitation-only curated program introducing new work by artists in Sundance Institute’s development labs to film industry insiders attending the festival. Green also collaborated with the institute to create an online guide to distribution for independent filmmakers.

"To the Stars" will screen at Sundance

Film alumna Martha Stephens directed "To the Stars," screening at Sundance. / Photo courtesy of Sundance

Green, who was manager of producing initiatives for the Sundance Institute for three years, has produced two films that premiered at Sundance: “It Follows” in 2014 and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” in 2015. She was a Women at Sundance Fellow in 2017 and she participated in a Sundance panel discussion in 2016.

Undergraduate Film students who will attend the festivals include Stacia Bohnert, Billy Costello, Ellie Emfinger, Chris Griggs, Thatcher Johnson-Welden, EmilyAnn Marsh, Ashley Miller, Eric Randolph, Katie Sanderson and Brian Sheehan. Graduate Film students attending include Dan Mercer, Abby Nichols, Pree Nayak, Kat Reeves, Antonio Riggins, William Totten and Yunzhi Wang.

Sundance films with UNCSA connections (according to information available at press time) include:

U.S. Dramatics Competition

“Before You Know It”
Jenn Lyon (Drama ’03) plays Susan. In addition, Mandy Patinkin, who received an honorary doctorate in 2001, plays Mel.

“Brittany Runs a Marathon”
Elise Clark-Johnson (Film ’16) is art department coordinator.

Jada Pinkett-Smith (Drama) is executive producer.

“Honey Boy”
Lucas Hedges (Drama) plays Otis Lort.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
Jonathan Majors (Drama ’12) plays Prentice.

Alex Bickel (Film ’04) is digital intermediate colorist.

“Native Son”
Stephen McKinley Henderson (Drama ’72) plays Mr. Green.

“The Sound of Silence”
Tori Lancaster (Film ’15) is art director.

“To the Stars”
Directed by Martha Stephens , with Andrew Reed (Film ‘06), cinematographer; Nathan Whiteside (Film ’06), editor; Will Files (Film ‘02), supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer; Kenneth Neil Moore (Film ‘02), additional photography second unit; and Lauren Wilde (D&P ‘13), makeup department head.

"Brittany Runs a Marathon" will screen at Sundance

Film alumna Elise Clark-Johnson is art department coordinator for "Brittany Runs a Marathon," screening at Sundance. / Photo courtesy of Sundance

U.S. Documentary Competition

The U.S. Documentary Competition presents the world premieres of nonfiction feature films that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

“Mike Wallace is Here”
Zach  Seivers, re-recording mixer and sound supervisor.

“Where Is My Roy Cohn?”
Seivers, re-recording mixer and sound supervisor.

Documentary Premieres

Documentary Premieres showcases nonfiction films about far-reaching subjects by renowned directors.

“Ask Dr. Ruth”
Seivers , re-recording mixer and sound supervisor.

"Ask Dr. Ruth" is screening at Sundance

Film alumnus Zach Seivers is re-recording mixer and sound supervisor for "Ask Dr. Ruth," a documentary that will be screened at Sundance. / Photo courtesy of Sundance


This category offers pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling.

“The Death of Dick Long”
Michael Abbott Jr. (Drama ‘00) plays Zeke Olson; Melodie Sisk (Drama ’04) is producer and unit production manager.

“Light from Light”
Rhoda Griffis (Drama ’83) plays Rita.

“The Wolf Hour”
Jennifer Ehle (Drama ‘88) plays Margot.


This category presents highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.

“Velvet Buzzsaw”
Billy Magnussen (Drama ’07) as Bryson.


This category is for horror flicks, bizarre comedies and works that defy any genre.

Produced and edited by Kern Saxton (Film ’03).

"Mope" will be screened at Sundance

Film alumna Kern Saxton produced and edited "Mope," screening at Sundance. / Photo courtesy of Sundance

Slamdance is a showcase for raw and innovative filmmaking, self-governed by filmmakers, for filmmakers. The Slamdance organization provides year-round support for new and emerging artists, filmmakers and storytellers. Two films with UNCSA connections will screen at Slamdance. They are:

Narrative Features

“A Great Lamp”
Saad Qureshi (Film ’15) director, screenwriter and producer; Donald Monroe (Film ’15) screenwriter, producer and cinematographer; Max Wilde (Film ’15) screenwriter and editor; Spencer Bang (Drama ’15) screenwriter and plays Howie; Steven Maier (Drama ’15) screenwriter and plays Gene; Jake Bellew (Film ’15) sound mixer. In addition, Film faculty member Julian Semilian plays Julian, and his wife, Laura Ingram Semilian (Music ’97) plays Laura.

Narrative Shorts

“Butt Fantasia”
Mohit Jaswal (Film ’13) director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer and editor; and Nathaniel Hendricks (Film ’14) screenwriter and producer.

by Lauren Whitaker

January 15, 2019