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AT&T Teams With Tribeca Film Festival to Grant $1 Million to One ‘Underrepresented’ Filmmaker

Variety logo Variety 4/10/2017 Todd Spangler
© Provided by Variety

AT&T, in partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival, is promising an aspiring filmmaker a hot $1 million to turn their dream project into a movie.

The multiyear “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories” program is aimed at discovering scripted film projects from women and minorities — groups that historically have not been well-represented in Hollywood.

Tribeca and AT&T have selected five finalists (listed below) for the inaugural program. The quintet of hopefuls will each have 10 minutes to pitch their ideas in New York on April 18 to a panel of industry judges, which will select the winner of the $1 million award and announce it at a lunch event immediately following.

The winning “Untold Stories” film will be presented as a world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and then distributed — under a five-year license — across AT&T’s video platforms, including DirecTV, DirecTV Now and and U-verse. The funding is intended to help the recipient complete the film, as well as for marketing efforts including awards submissions, qualifying screenings, and advertising and promotion. While distribution will tied up for five years, the filmmaker will retain full ownership of the work.

The judging panel comprises producer-director Lee Daniels; actors Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Mackie; Len Amato, president of HBO Films; producer Frida Torresblanco; Josh Deutsch, chairman and CEO of Downtown Records; and AT&T chief brand officer Fiona Carter.

Tribeca runs a number of different grant programs for content creators, but the AT&T “Untold Stories” is the biggest to date, said Jane Rosenthal, co-founder and executive chair of the Tribeca Film Festival.

“One million dollars can make all the difference for a filmmaker that will help them make their project — and get it seen,” Rosenthal said. All too often, she said, such indie projects suffer “a death by a thousand paper-cuts in applying for grants from multiple foundations.”

For AT&T, which is returning as the title sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival for the fourth consecutive year, the goal is to highlight its evolution from a “dumb pipe” provider to a diversified communications and entertainment company. It acquired DirecTV in 2015, and its $85 billion deal for Time Warner is pending.

“It was important for us to make our sponsorship meaningful — to become a partner that would make a real difference, beyond just having our logo all over the festival,” said AT&T’s Carter. With the expansion of its entertainment portfolio, she added, “We have a unique combination of assets to offer filmmakers.”

The pitches from the five candidates on April 18 will be live-streamed on Tribeca’s Facebook page starting at 9 a.m. ET.

The five projects in contention are:

  • Andres Perez-Duarte, “Forever Even Longer”: After the death of his estranged gay son, an elderly man from a small town in Mexico travels to the U.S. to meet his heartbroken granddaughter and his resentful son-in-law — and confront his own prejudice
  • Lissette Feliciano, “The Hand of God”: Elon Edson is the greatest footballer in the world. On the eve of receiving a lifetime achievement award, he recounts his belief in miracles that carried him from his mother’s death at the hands terrorists through his perilous escape from Nigeria to Europe.
  • A. Sayeeda Moreno, “I’m Not Down”: When a middleage, black punk-rock single dad is served an eviction notice by the greedy new landlord of his New York City tenement, he has to fight for his way of life and save the livelihood of his family, the building’s residents, and the character of his East Village neighborhood that’s in danger of vanishing forever.
  • Faraday Okoro, “Nigerian Prince”: After being sent to Nigeria against his will, a stubborn Nigerian-American teenager joins forces with an internet scammer in order to return to the United States.
  • Ani Simon-Kennedy, “The Short History of the Long Road”: Nola grew up living out of a van with her charismatic father, Clint. When her dad suddenly dies, the teenager must confront the reality of a nomadic life on the road alone — and learn to own her grief, her past, and her new destination.

The five finalists for “Untold Stories” were selected from among about 50 scripts submitted after a call for entries by the Tribeca Film Institute as well as the Tribeca Film Festival. TFI has been supporting underserved filmmakers for 15 years, and “we have a database of people who have impressive submissions but don’t get a grant,” explained executive director Amy Hobby. To be considered, the film projects had to be production-ready, with no financing or distribution attached, she added.

There will be only one $1 million winner instead of, say, the money being spread across the five finalists. That’s because “the idea was, ‘Let’s try to get one person to the finish line,'” Hobby said. However, each of the five participants will still get $10,000 from AT&T.

“Untold Stories” will provide an opportunity that the winning filmmaker may have never received otherwise through regular industry channels, Hobby said. “These are new, unproven directors,” Hobby said, “and when you’re entrusting someone with a million dollars you’re taking a risk.”

On April 19, the first day of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T will launch “AT&T Presents TFI Network,” the start of a three-day networking event for Tribeca Film Institute grantees and other selected filmmakers. One of the panels will focus on “Untold Stories,” with the $1 million recipient alongside AT&T’s Fiona Carter.

Along with the “Untold Stories” program, at Tribeca on AT&T will host the April 26 premiere of World War II drama “The Exception,” directed by David Leveaux, about a German officer who begins a dangerous affair with a young Dutch-Jewish woman. AT&T’s Free Film Friday is on April 28, giving fans the opportunity to see exclusive Tribeca film screenings for free.

Watch the Tribeca Film Festival trailer highlighting “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories”:

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