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Jan. 13, 2014/For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Lauren Whitaker, 336-734-2891, whitakerl@uncsa.edu



 Additional film featuring alumni efforts will screen at Slamdance alternative festival


WINSTON-SALEM – At least 10 films with connections to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) will screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and five fortunate students from the School of Filmmaking will participate in the festival’s Film School Program, with access to films, panels and events.

Additionally, a film with UNCSA connections will premiere at Slamdance, the alternative film festival. Both festivals open later this week in Park City, Utah.

Alumni and current students in the School of Filmmaking worked on 10 films screening at Sundance (Jan. 16-26), including CAMP X-RAY, THE SKELETON TWINS and HELLION in the U.S. Dramatic competition; DIFRET in the World Cinema Dramatic competition; LIFE AFTER BETH, LITTLE ACCIDENTS and RUDDERLESS in the Premieres category; LAND HO!, in the Next category; THE GUEST in Park City at Midnight category, and I AM A MITZVAH in the Short Films Competition. 

Five Film School alumni worked on THE REPUBLIC OF RICK, screening at Slamdance (Jan 17-23).

In addition, School of Drama graduate Dane DeHaan (2004, 2008) appears in LIFE AFTER BETH, screening in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition, and Dylan Arnold, a sophomore in Drama, appears in LAGGIES, screening in the Premieres category at Sundance.

Both the Sundance Festival and the Slamdance Festival highlight independent films. Sundance was founded in 1981 by actor/director/producer Robert Redford. Slamdance was created in 1995 by four filmmakers whose films were not chosen by Sundance, and is the only film festival in the world entirely run and organized by filmmakers.

“Our students and alumni contribute to some of the finest independent films,” said UNCSA Film Dean Susan Ruskin. “The state of North Carolina has invested tremendous resources in our film program, and we can all be proud of the school’s accomplishments.”

From top to bottom, CAMP X-RAY, LAND HO! and THE REPUBLIC OF RICK

Ruskin, who will host a reception at Sundance for UNCSA alumni and industry professionals, said exposure at important festivals around the world is key to recruiting top-notch faculty and students. “To have such representation in Park City by a school that is only 20 years old is truly remarkable.”  UNCSA’s School of Filmmaking enrolled its first students in 1993.

CAMP X-RAY is written and directed by School of Filmmaking alumnus Pete Sattler (2001) with alumni David Gordon Green (2001) and Greensboro native Emmy Ellison (2002) as executive producers, Richard Wright (1999) of Charlotte as production designer and second unit director, Adam Stone (1999) of Charlotte as second unit director of photography, Alex Bickel (2004) as colorist, and Jim Pierce (2001) as title designer. In the film, a young woman joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small-town roots. Instead, she ends up as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay, where her mission is far from black and white. The Wall Street Journal named CAMP X-RAY one of its highly-anticipated films at Sundance.

DIFRET, with sound designers Zach Seivers (2006), who is from Mount Airy, and Justin Davey (2008), is a film from Ethiopia. Three hours outside of Addis Ababa, a bright 14-year-old girl is on her way home from school when men on horses swoop in and kidnap her. The brave Hirut grabs a rifle and tries to escape, but ends up shooting her would-be husband.

Jennifer Haire (2002) is additional photography production coordinator for THE GUEST. Still struggling over the loss of their oldest son, Caleb, to the war in Afghanistan, the Peterson family finds some solace when an unexpected visitor knocks on their door. David, a steely eyed and charismatic soldier who was recently discharged, is welcomed into their home when he comes to fulfill a promise he made to his fallen comrade.

Jeff Nichols (2001) is executive producer for HELLION. Thirteen-year-old Jacob is spiraling out of control. The motocross-obsessed teenager’s delinquent behavior pushes his family to the brink of collapse. All hell breaks loose when Jacob enlists his younger brother, Wes, as a partner in crime. It was named to the Wall Street Journal’s list of highly-anticipated films at Sundance.

Sing Howe Yam (2008) is cinematographer for the short film I’M A MITZVAH. A young American man spends one last night with his deceased friend while stranded in rural Mexico.

LAGGIES is the story of 28-year-old Megan, who clings to her job as a sign flipper for her father’s accounting company as her high school friends get married and advance their careers. When her high school boyfriend proposes unexpectedly, Megan panics and forgoes attending a professional-development retreat to hide, at least … temporarily, at the home of her new 16-year-old friend, Annika, and her attractive, single dad.

LAND HO! is written and directed by Aaron Katz (2004) and Martha Stephens (2006) with Katz as editor. Feeling disenchanted with life after retirement, Mitch, a brassy former surgeon, convinces mild-mannered Colin, his ex-brother-in-law, to holiday with him in Iceland. The pair set off through Reykjavik ice bars, trendy spas, and adventurous restaurants in an attempt to reclaim their youth, but they quickly discover that you can’t escape yourself ... no matter how far you travel. David Gordon Green (2001) is executive producer, Andrew Reed (2006) who is from Winston-Salem is cinematographer, Dylan Conrad (2010), also from Winston-Salem is first assistant camera, “A” camera, Alex Bickel (2004) is colorist, Nathan Whiteside (2006) of Wilmington is digital imaging technician, and Ryan Billia, a 1996 high school graduate of the School of Dance, worked in the sound department. Karrie Crouse, a 2004 Film graduate from Lewisville, appears in the film.

M. Ryan Traylor (2003) is assistant director for LIFE AFTER BETH, and Taylor Nickonovich, a student in the School of Filmmaking who is from Waxhaw, was an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) intern on the film. Zach is devastated by the unexpected death of his girlfriend, Beth. When she miraculously comes back to life, Zach takes full advantage of the opportunity to experience all the things he regretted not doing when she was alive. However, the newly returned Beth isn’t quite the way he remembered her, and before long, Zach’s world takes a turn for the worse.

LITTLE ACCIDENTS is produced by Summer Shelton (2008) of Mount Airy, who was the first recipient of the prestigious Bingham Ray Producing Fellowship at last year’s Sundance Festival. Matt Verschelde (2008) is key grip, Clint Smith (2002) of Hillsborough is supervising dialog editor, and Matt Walkowski (2011) of Winston-Salem is production assistant. When a mining disaster tears at the fabric of an Appalachian coal-mining town, the lives of three very different inhabitants become inexplicably tangled in a web of secrets.

Matthew Skala (2005) is cinematographer for REPUBLIC OF RICK, and Dylan Gravley (2012), who is from Mount Airy, is second assistant director, Andrew Gorrell (2005), is key grip, Keenan Jackson (2010) is line producer, Walker Forshee (2013) of Raleigh is assistant editor, Lucas Taylor (2010) of Murphy is key grip and gaffer, and Jon Maynard (2009) is sound mixer. Ambassador of the Republic of Texas club, Rick spends his days at Alamo reenactments and haranguing U.S. mail carriers to get off Texas soil. But when he takes things too far, he's jailed and kicked out of his beloved club. Out on bail and a warrant on his head, he manipulates a group of paranoid eccentrics to protect him from the hand of the "oppressive government." Rick must confront what it takes to be a true leader, as a modern day Alamo unfolds on national television.

RUDDERLESS, co-produced by Tyler Jackson (2005), is the directorial debut by Academy Award-nominated actor William H. Macy. Sam is a former high-profile advertising executive whose life has been torn apart by the tragic death of his son. Off the grid, living on a docked sailboat, he drowns his pain in alcohol. When Sam discovers a box filled with his son's demo tapes and lyrics, his own child’s musical talent is a revelation for him, a grieving father who felt he’d been absent from his son’s life. RUDDERLESS holds Sundance’s coveted position of closing night film.

Film students Jeremiah Cullen (who is from  West Jefferson), Kesleigh Jones and Zach Turner, and 2013 alumni Alisha Gaskins of Lewisville and Gabie Lui of Shelby worked as AMPAS interns on THE SKELETON TWINS, with Gilana Lobel (2005) as production coordinator and  Zach Coker (2012) as assistant to the director. Living separate lives on opposite sides of the country, estranged siblings Maggie and Milo are at the end of their ropes. But after a moment of crisis reunites them, Milo goes to spend time with Maggie in the small New York town where they grew up.

Making the trip to Park City for Sundance’s Film School Program are students Caitlin Hemm of Jamestown, Auggie Heschmeyer, Christene Hurley of Wilmington, Preston Jeter of Charlotte and Tay Nikonovich. They received emerging opportunities grants from the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, and will have opportunities to network with filmmakers, industry professionals, and peers from other universities.


As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.