Nena Rodrigue has been chosen as head of programming for Sundance Channel, Sarah Barnett, the network's new president and general manager, said Tuesday.
In her new capacity, Rodrigue will develop and oversee Sundance's original productions, a slate that currently includes the network's first wholly-owned original scripted series "Rectify," which premieres April 22, and the miniseries "Top of the Lake," which kicks off March 28.
Rodrigue — whose official title will be senior vice president of original production and development — will report to Barnett, and will be based in New York.
In her most recent position as executive vice president and executive producer at Wolf Films, Rodrigue was responsible for growing the "Law and Order" franchise, and oversaw development for "Conviction," "Trial by Jury," "Lost and Found" and "Law and Order: Los Angeles." Her career also includes a stint as the executive vice president of Imagine Television, supervising development and productions on series such as "Felicity" and Sports Night."
“Nena is a huge talent and I couldn't be more thrilled to welcome her to Sundance Channel,” Barnett said. “Her deep experience, especially in dramatic television, will serve us well as we continue our strategy of bringing audiences scripted series of the highest quality as well as fresh, unscripted worlds.”
When it comes to the minuscule percentage of women directing films, the numbers are less depressing within the independent film scene.
But a new study shows that little progress was made in 2015, and that a disturbing disparity between men and women directors in the space has continued in the past year.
Women accounted for 28 percent of directors whose films screened at top U.S. film festivals last year, according to the annual study “Women in Independent Film” released on Thursday. While still far from reflecting 50-50 parity, the number is markedly better than the 9 percent of women directors who helmed major-studio films in 2015.
Led by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the study focuses on women’s representation at 23 U.S. festivals, including AFI Fest, SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival.
“The findings indicate that while women fare better in independent films, particularly documentaries, than in studio features, they are not close to achieving parity in the independent realm,” Lauzen said in a statement.
Indeed, 35 percent of documentary directors working the festival circuit last year were women. Compare that with the mere 19 percent of women directors who worked on narrative features.
When crunching the numbers on directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers as a group, women made up 25 percent of those working on U.S. festival circuit films — a figure that has not changed significantly since 2008-09, when Lauzen’s team began its study.
“Women’s representation on independent films is stagnant,” Lauzen said. “In spite of the increasing dialogue about this issue, the numbers have yet to move. We are not seeing year-to-year growth.”
Relativity Media announced on Tuesday that it has picked up the rights to "Silver or Lead," a screenplay by Piers Ashworth, which tracks the manhunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Enrique Urbizu is attached to direct the story of how General Hugo Martinez risked his life as the head of the elite task force responsible for bringing the godfather of the Medellín cartel to justice for his crimes. The film's title is derived from the antagonist's famous phrase, "Plata o Plomo," meaning take his silver or take his lead.
Relativity, which will produce in partnership with Atmosphere Entertainment MM, has already secured Martinez's life rights, as well as those of DEA agent Joe Toft, who was also involved in the pursuit, capture and death of Escobar in 1993.
Simon Strong's award-winning book “Whitewash: Pablo Escobar and the Cocaine Wars" was acquired by Relativity to provide the source material for Ashworth's script, which he developed from an original draft by Michael Kane.
Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and president Tucker Tooley will serve as producers on their project with Mark Canton, Donald Kushner and Leigh Ann Burton. Atmosphere’s David Hopwood will co-produce.
“Relativity is proud to attract such a dynamic team to help tell Pablo Escobar’s life story. We have been fans of Enrique’s award-winning work and Piers’ powerful script and are thrilled to have them on board," Tooley said in a statement. "This has been a long coveted project and we look forward to working with people who are as passionate about the story as Mark, Donald, and Leigh Ann.”
This is the second Escobar-related feature film of late to come to fruition. Benicio Del Toro is attached to play portray the infamous criminal in writer/director Andrea di Stefano's "Paradise Lost," which stars Josh Hutcherson as a young surfer who falls for Escobar's niece.
“Amour” was always the clear favorite in the Oscar foreign-language category, and its win on Sunday was one of the least surprising parts of a generally unsurprising ceremony.
But if Michael Haneke’s drama hadn’t been in the mix, there’s a good chance that Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” would have emerged as a serious contender for the prize.
The film is the wrenching story of a teenage girl who becomes a child soldier in an unnamed African country – and then, because she can see the dead, the “witch” of the gang of rebels.
Starring the remarkable Rachel Mwanza, who won the best-actress award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it will receive a post-Oscar release from Tribeca Film on Friday in New York and March 8 in Los Angeles.
Born in Montreal to a Vietnamese father and a French-Canadian mother, Nguyen has made four features. He was able to secure a visa for Mwanza and bring her to the Oscars.
How did you hit upon the story?
I was hunting for good stories, and I just found this amazing story about Johnny Htu, who was a Burmese child soldier. Johnny was nine years old, and he woke up one day and said he was the reincarnation of God. He became a kind of half God. He was forbidden to walk on the soil, because they were afraid it would soil his visions, so he was carried around all day. And he would smoke cigars every day.
As a storyteller I thought his story had power and humanity and all the elements that make a good film. And slowly I got pulled into the child-soldier element.
Did you meet with child soldiers while writing the script?
I went to Burundi to meet ex-child soldiers. What I saw in Africa was this complete superimposition of these heavy, intense, war-ridden countries where the love stories are the same as here. You still have boyfriends and girlfriends, and the girlfriends that are jealous because the boyfriend came home late last night. It's very simple. I find that odd and beautiful at the same time, and I wanted to try and convey that.
The story has its supernatural elements – but did you feel pressure to accurately convey a world of child soldiers in which truly horrifying things have happened?
Absolutely. And for me, the way to get it right was not to try to make the characters symbols for any political point of view. In fact, for many drafts we were so worried that we wouldn’t give the right message that we weren’t telling a good story. In the end, that was the greatest gift that this film has given me: to accept brutal honesty and truth.
In what way?
The best example is the rebels forcing children to kill their own parents. It’s not a generalized way of indoctrination, but it’s quite frequent. We kept trying to make it so maybe the [lead character] didn’t really kill her parents. Maybe she got slapped and lost consciousness, and the general put his finger on her finger, and we keep thinking that she did kill them but she didn’t. And it didn‘t work. In the end, we just had to say, “No, this is how it is.”
Where did you find your lead actress, Rachel Mwanza?
Well, I was really fearful that we weren’t going to find the right actress, because in this case I wouldn’t have a movie. One of the reasons we chose to shot in the Congo is because there was great amazing natural talent there. I guess it‘s from the heritage of verbal storytelling, you know?
And so we did an open call for actors. We already had the intuition that kids from the street could be pretty amazing, because of their rawness and their fearlessness. And it turned out to be pretty true. In the cases where these people could project their own personal lives onto the screen, it was just amazing. And Rachel was the best of them. She had this nonchalance. I guess when you live in the streets and you sleep on the side of the road, you don't care anymore about what people think. You're just there. And that's an amazing tool for an actor.
Was she living on the streets?
She was living on the streets. But as soon as we cast her we established a reinsertion program. She has a caretaker and she has a place to live, and she's back in school. But at the time she was still living on and off the streets.
Does she want to act more now?
She does. I'll have to be honest, there's a long way before she can work. She doesn’t know how to read yet. She’s learning, and she’s getting better. And she has her Facebook page so we can contact her. But she’s still a long way from understanding the subtleties of dialogue. I thinking there’s at least five to 10 years of work.
So Uncle Kim, which is what I am, tells her that she should learn another trade. But she hates me for doing that. She’s a teenager. [laughs] We bought Rachel a phone, and she said, “Kim, I can't put music on this.” There wasn't an MP3 reader and she couldn't take pictures, so she wanted a better phone.
How could she act in your film if she couldn’t read?
Because we work in such a different way. The actors never read the script, and we filmed in continuity. Every day it was like directed improvisations. All of the script and the dialogue was written, but the idea was to direct the improvisation in such a way that the dialogue would appear even though they never read it. And what's strange is that it did. Maybe 85 percent of what is on the page is there on the screen, and the rest is better.
How did you hit upon that process?
I had seen “Fish Tank,” and Andrea Arnold's work method was a huge inspiration. It blew me away in regards to performances. For me, that's my mantra: everything for authentic performances. You don't have a film, for me, if you don't have those performances.
I think Andrea Arnold is really influenced by Cassavetes, and their approach really echoes what I want to do from now on: organize everything so the actors are projecting their own selves on the screen. It makes it really real and raw.
It it hard to get financing when the process is that unconventional?
It was for a while. But Canada has a funding system that is quite organized and specific, and we were fortunate that the script had the strength to convince script analysts that it should be done.
The hardest part was convincing people that there shouldn‘t be Caucasian actors in the film. I’ve seen a lot of films where Africa gets saved, symbolically, by North America. And I wanted to give a voice to the real heroes in the stories.
You’ve made several other films, but “War Witch” was your first to get an Oscar nomination and receive this kind of attention. What was different this time around?
I do feel that “War Witch” was a breakthrough for me, where I was rediscovering my initial impulses to do film. The first three films, they’re my babies and I love all of them. But I did feel that when I did the one before this, “City of Shadows,” I had reached a kind of wall where the pressures of funding institutions, producers, co-production deals and all of that put a kind of varnish over the film that. It wasn’t raw and I didn’t feel that my hand was at the heart of the actors, in a way. I let down the actors because I didn’t push them to where they should have gone.
But in a way, I guess you have to do these films and scrape your knees and stand up.
So what did you do differently?
The big thing was not overpreparing, oddly enough. You prepare in a different way. You prepare in the way of understanding the characters, understanding the people, getting drunk with people in Kinsasha and understanding their lives. It’s not storyboarded anymore. It’s more like, we look at what’s happening and where the actors want to go and we bend our method to what they’re doing on the set. Very different from the previous films.
Sundance Selects has acquired the North American and Latin American rights to Alexandre Moors’ "Blue Caprice," the company announced on Tuesday.
Moors' directorial debut investigates the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the two killers, John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.
Isaiah Washington stars as Muhammad; Tequan Richmond plays Malvo.
The drama, set to open Film Society of Lincoln Center and MOMA’s 2013 New Directors/New Films Festival later this month, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
April Yvette Thompson, who has a brief part as Malvo’s mother, summarized the film's hypothesis by telling the audience at Sundance that "killers aren’t born, they’re made."
R.F.I. Porto wrote the screenplay for the film; it was produced by Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O’Carroll, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham.
"Alexandre Moors has made one of the most distinct and haunting American independent films of the year featuring unforgettable performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond," Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to be able to release this and look forward to working with the producers and Cinetic to make this a big success.”