Five of Our Favorite Producing Lab Success Stories—Apply by Friday to be Next!
Ask any independent producer and they’ll tell you: making movies is a piece of cake. Scouring the Earth for viable, quality material? Wrangling, gracefully, volatile talent egos? Raising stupid amounts of capital and wearily securing every stray element of physical production? Delegating responsibility, absorbing crew complaints and mallet-flattening nonstop whack-a-mole near-disasters? Shrewdly navigating distribution in a broken marketplace and finally—if you’re very lucky!—appropriately proportioning revenue shares under perpetual threat of litigation for the duration of your fleeting mortal existence? Like we said. Easy.
Just kidding. This is some of the hardest goddamn shit you’ll ever try to do. But for 30 years Film Independent has been doing all it can to support filmmakers across every discipline and career level. In theory, of course, producers are everyone else’s best resource—the adult in the room solving problems and providing steady leadership. But who watches the watchmen produces the producers? Well, around here it’s the Film Independent Producing Lab.
To celebrate this very special anniversary year, we’re looking back at five of our favorite Film Independent Producing Lab success stories—and reminding would-be 2023 applicants that the final Member deadline is this Friday, May 19.
Producing Lab Fellow: Apoorva Charan
Where to Watch: Theaters (limited)
Why We Love It: In addition to securing this year’s Film Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film, director Siam Sadiq’s emotional queer romance—about the youngest son of a traditional Pakistani who becomes infatuated with a trans burlesque performer—was in part birthed by producer and Film Independent Fellow Apoorva Charan at the 2020 Lab, which, thanks to that year’s unprecedented global pandemic (pesky!), happened entirely online. The socially distanced nature of that year’s cohort didn’t prevent the film from getting made, however, eventually washing up on the beaches of southern France to premiere at Cannes in 2022. There, it won the Caméra d’Or for best debut feature. As critic Anthony Lane writes in his New Yorker review: “Sadiq is not lecturing us or trading in types; he is taking us by sensory surprise, and the tale that he tells is funny, forward and sometimes woundingly sad.”
Producing Lab Fellows: Chester Algernal Gordon, Valerie Steinberg
Where to Watch: SVOD rental, all platforms
Why We Love It: Released by indie juggernaut A24 and nominated for three jagged pewter seagulls at this year’s Spirit Awards, filmmaker Elegance Bratton’s deeply autobiographical narrative debut tells the story of a of young, gay Black man who joins the Marines, desperate for a support system the fill the void left by his mother’s cruel rejection. Producers Chester Algernal Gordon (Bratton’s partner) and Valerie Steinberg brought the project to Film Independent in 2019. Three years later the movie has its US premiere at the 2022 Film Independent Forum, following its successful debut at TIFF. In her review of the film for Vulture, Alison Willmore writes: “Bratton, who has an eye for compelling framing and unexpected beauty, has made something more complicated than a treatise against the power structures enshrined in the military, though he’s very aware of them.” The Inspection’s Spirit Award nominations included Best Supporting Performance (Gabriella Union), Best First Feature (Bratton, Gordon) and Best Lead Performance (Jeremy Pope).
Producing Lab Fellow: Huriyyah Muhammad
Where to Watch: Kanopy
Why We Love It: For her efforts, Farewell Amor writer/director Ekwa Msangi took home the coveted Someone to Watch Award at the 2020 Spirit Awards. The film, about the awkward reunification between an Angolan immigrant in the US and his wife after a 17-year estrangement, had previously climbed through the Film Independent transom in the form of a 2019 Producing Lab-supported project under the shepherding of Fi Fellow Huriyyah Muhammad. In 2022 the film entered the prestigious Criterion Collection for its home video release. In his review for The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern praised the film. “One of [the film’s] great strengths is its intimacy, the sense it conveys of three people close together—yet emotionally distant—in a small, narrow Brooklyn apartment. Another strength, and a huge one, is Mr. [Ntare Guma Mbaho] Mwine’s performance of Walter.”
SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME
Producing Lab Fellow: Angela Lee
Where to Watch: Kanopy, MUBI
Why We Love It: Songs My Brothers Taught Me didn’t just put Chloé Zhao on the career path to a Best Picture Oscar, it also gave Film Independent its own current reigning Director of Artist Development, Angela Lee, who first brought the project to Fi as a Producing Lab Fellow in 2011. Shot on location on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the thoughtful drama follows an indigenous family’s travails after the death of their patriarch and incarceration of its oldest sibling. Songs premiered at Sundance and was released in North America by Kino Lorber. Empire Magazine’s Ian Freer wrote of the film, “A striking debut from a blistering talent. What it lacks in narrative oomph it makes up for in beautiful imagery, natural performances and a worldview all its own.” No wonder Chloé messaged “I Heart Film Independent” in her Nomadland Spirit Award win!
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY
Producing Lab Fellow: Jim Young
Where to Watch: Tubi, Kanopy, Pluto TV
Why We Love It: An early Producing Lab project, brought by Fi Fellow Jim Young, director Matt Brown’s 2015 historical drama tells the story of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, based on 1991 Robert Kanigel biography of the same name. Starring Dev Patel—hot off Slumdog Millionaire—the movie also received a Film Independent Sloan Foundation grant for its studied depiction of scientific life. As critic Calvin Wilson wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The multiplexes are full of films that promise little more than a forgettable good time. The Man Who Knew Infinity is just as entertaining, but far more substantial.” Filmed at Trinity College in Cambridge, the film was released by Warner Bros. in the United Kingdom and by IFC Films in the US.
For more information on any of our Artist Development Labs or the projects that have been developed in them, please contact us. Additional information can be found at filmindependent.org. 2023 marks 30 years of Film Independent Artist Development.
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(Header: The Inspection)