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Ford Pitch Fest and Producers Grant

SVFF and presenting sponsor Ford Motor Company are thrilled to announce a new grant to support the hardest working folks in the biz: producers. Finalists will pitch their film to a panel of award-winning producers, and one will walk away with a $25,000 Ford Producers Grant to take their project one big step closer to reality.

SPONSORED BY

2020 Winner

Jessica Sanders- Picking Cotton

Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award – nominated, Sundance and Cannes Award – winning director and producer of narrative and documentary films and commercials. Her pilot “Embrace” just won the 2020 SXSW Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Episodic Pilot. She has been passionate about directing “Picking Cotton” since she featured Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson’s exceptional story in her Sundance-winning documentary “After Innocence,” a game-changer in criminal justice reform.

“Picking Cotton” is based on the New York Times bestseller about the riveting true story of Jennifer Thompson, a Southern white college student who was raped at knifepoint and Ronald Cotton, the black man she identified as her rapist.  After spending 11 years in prison Ronald was exonerated and freed, the first case overturned by DNA in North Carolina. The two are now friends and activists for criminal justice reform. In an amazing twist, Ron solved his own case when he realized he was serving time with the real rapist. John Grisham says, “Few stories of wrongful convictions have happy endings, but this one…is far different. It is the powerful account of violence, rage, redemption, and, ultimately, forgiveness.”

2020 Finalists

Ben Edelman - Memphis

Memphis loves Seneca. He’s a millennial with severe cerebral palsy, and he wants to be a filmmaker and travel the world. Seneca’s an aspiring opera singer, living with her mom, deep in oil country. Seneca just wants to be friends. MEMPHIS follows five years of this unfolding relationship as it takes us from Texas to California to Italy and back, and illuminates the turbulent realities facing a young man with a severe disability as he strives toward independence, and of a young woman looking to escape the drudgery of small-town Texas. As financial responsibilities mount and Memphis’ crush threatens their friendship, Memphis and Seneca must forge new identities and attitudes towards sex, family, work, and life itself, clinging to their dreams of a brighter future.

Ben Edelman is an award-winning actor and filmmaker originally from Lower Merion, PA, just outside Philadelphia. He is producing his first feature documentary Memphis alongside director David Zucker. Memphis was chosen as one of 10 IFP Labs Fellows in 2019 and as the winner of the 2019 Derek Freese Documentary Fund, a $35,000 grant awarded to one film every two years. Before Memphis, Edelman co-created Milkman and Samantha Moonley’s Greatest Feeling which both took top honors at NFFTY, the world’s largest film festival for young filmmakers and co-produced Dot (Cannes’ Short Film Corner). As an actor, Ben trains with David Vadim. He most recently acted in Admissions, for which he received an Obie Award and Drama Desk Nomination while performing at Lincoln Center with Jessica Hecht before transferring to London’s West End in 2019. He has also worked on Broadway’s Significant Other, CBS’s Instinct, Braindead, and The Good Wife. He co- founded “The Commonground”, an organization dedicated to introducing artists across disciplines, which now spans 500+ alumni.

Mariyam Mahbub - Foreign

In the summer of 2005 Shayan is uprooted from the only home he’s known, moving around the world with his family from Tehran, Iran to Orange County, California. Once the school year starts, Shayan, a sophomore, finds himself increasingly embarrassed by his inability to fit in with his classmates. His clothes, the food he eats, even the pronunciation of his own name all become a source of embarrassment for him. Despite his earnest attempts to embrace his new American life, he’s unable to make friends, strike up a meaningful conversation with his crush, or avoid racist comments from other students. His relationship with his family becomes strained, especially in the shadow of his sister’s seemingly seamless assimilation, and he finds his parents’ attempts to connect with him increasingly overbearing.

In a last, desperate attempt to fit in, Shayan, despite having a crippling fear of public speaking, joins the mock trial team. Amongst of an eclectic mix of overachievers and misfit intellectuals, Shayan finally finds a place where he belongs. However, at a crucial moment in trial competition, he freezes, ruining the chance of a win for the entire team. Ashamed and embarrassed once more, Shayan quits and goes back to his anti-social and isolating behavior.

This adversity, however, proves an opportunity for emotional growth. After learning that his sister is in fact being bullied at school and not breezily adapting to life in America, Shayan realizes that his own self-obsession was blinding him to connecting and understanding those around him. With newfound empathy, he reconnects with his family, makes amends with the mock trial team, and is welcomed back into their ranks. In the final round of competition, Shayan is able to speak from the heart to give a rousing and moving statement.

Shayan ends the school year with a greater sense of his own complicated identity and finally gains the confidence to correct people when they mispronounce his name. As he tells his new friends, it’s “Shaw-Yawn,” not “Cheyenne.”

Mariyam Mahbub is a producer specializing in underrepresented narratives and social impact stories. Informed by her childhood in Bangladesh, she loves creating work that examines the immigrant experience in America, familial ties, as well as dissecting how we bond with one another. Mariyam was selected as a Fellow in the Film Independent Incubator Lab where she developed an eight-episode web series, Contemporary Mating Rituals, which went on to premiere at the San Diego Latino Film Festival & the International Seoul WebFest. Mariyam is also an alumna of Project Involve, Film Independent’s renowned artist development program where she was awarded the LMU Fellowship grant. Her works from Project Involve have screened at festivals around the globe and were lauded for highlighting topics such as homelessness, creating awareness of toxic masculinity, and shedding light on the modern Muslim American experience. Her short film, Wednesday, was acquired by HBO and is currently available to stream on the platform. In addition to her producing work, Mariyam spent several years working in the international film financing space at IM Global/Open Road as well as the TV development space at Anonymous Content. Mariyam received her MFA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University. She previously studied at Cambridge University in the UK and is an alumna of the University of California, Riverside.

Scott Taylor - Rocket Night

Based on Alexander Weinstein’s short story, Rocket Night, our story follows 12-year old Cora, a quiet girl who has seen all of the children she finds exciting, whose company she values or seeks, rejected and expelled by the community. But this average looking community doesn’t merely shun the outliers, they hold an annual election and blast the least-liked child into space. Suffocated by the repressive system she has inherited, she wishes upon falling stars, longing to set her creative spirit free no matter the consequences.

The arrival of an adventerous (“rebellious”) new student shakes Cora out of her fear and paralysis, and awakens her true self. Defying the forces of authority within her town, her school, and her own family, she channels her newly discovered creativity into the construction of her own rocket, and escapes the constraints of earth on her own terms. Once in space, she joins the thriving celestial community of like-minded cast-offs who no longer fear reprisal for being who they are.

But youth doesn’t last forever, and neither do these rockets, particularly our hero’s homemade ship. But oh was it worth it to be in the rarified air, even if only briefly! Her plummeting rocket becomes the shooting star wished upon by the next wave of suppressed outsiders who don’t feel at home, or even welcome, in this world.

Rocket Night is a Coming of Age fairy tale propelled by practical effects and magical realism. We start in a heightened reality reminiscent of early Tim Burton and contrast the cold, machine-like nature of a soulless life on earth with the wonderful chaos and beauty of the creative community in space: it’s not Gravity, it’s Gondry and Gilliam—hand-painted theatrical backdrops to represent the diversity of the endless galaxy—full of artfully expressive rockets that have been customized by the kids in space.

S.C.V. TAYLOR is a writer and film producer who believes that deep truths can only be understood through stories. He is currently in post-production on Dorie Barton’s psychological-drama WELCOME TO THE SHOW. This summer he will publish “Summer of ’74” a comic book parody origin story of how “Star Wars” really began in a desert truckstop in 1974. His two previous films can be seen on Netflix — the
Christmas comedy HOLLY STAR written and directed by Michael Nickles and executive produced by Edward Burns, and the teen witch thriller THE WITCH FILES written and directed by Kyle Rankin. Taylor began his career in Los Angeles as a writers’ assistant on MR. & MRS. SMITH , a producer on Big Brother and developed a sitcom with Victoria Jackson (SNL). Taylor is the great-grandson of Stanner E. V. Taylor, a writer-director in the Silent Era who wrote over 100 films and pioneered many of the storytelling techniques we use today. S.C.V. Taylor believes he inherited his artistic ambition from him.

Ben Edelman

Ben Edelman

Ben Edelman is an award-winning actor and filmmaker originally from Lower Merion, PA, just outside Philadelphia. He is producing his first feature documentary Memphis alongside director David Zucker. Memphis was chosen as one of 10 IFP Labs Fellows in 2019 and as the winner of the 2019 Derek Freese
Documentary Fund, a $35,000 grant awarded to one film every two years. Before Memphis, Edelman co-created Milkman and Samantha Moonley’s Greatest
Feeling which both took top honors at NFFTY, the world’s largest film festival for young filmmakers and co-produced Dot (Cannes’ Short Film Corner). As an actor, Ben trains with David Vadim. He most recently acted in Admissions, for which he received an Obie Award and Drama Desk Nomination while performing at Lincoln Center with Jessica Hecht before transferring to London’s West End in 2019. He has also worked on Broadway’s Significant Other, CBS’s Instinct, Braindead, and The Good Wife. He co- founded “The Commonground”, an organization dedicated to introducing artists across disciplines, which now spans 500+ alumni.

Jessica Sanders

Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award – nominated, Sundance and Cannes Award – winning director and producer of narrative and documentary films and commercials. Her pilot “Embrace” just won the 2020 SXSW Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Episodic Pilot. She has been passionate about directing “Picking Cotton” since she featured Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson’s exceptional story in her Sundance-winning documentary “After Innocence,” a game-changer in criminal justice reform.

Mariyam Mahbub

Scott Taylor

S.C.V. TAYLOR is a writer and film producer who believes that deep truths can only be understood through stories. He is currently in post-production on Dorie Barton’s psychological-drama WELCOME TO THE SHOW. This summer he will publish “Summer of ’74” a comic book parody origin story of how “Star Wars” really began in a desert truckstop in 1974. His two previous films can be seen on Netflix — the
Christmas comedy HOLLY STAR written and directed by Michael Nickles and executive produced by Edward Burns, and the teen witch thriller THE WITCH FILES written and directed by Kyle Rankin. Taylor began his career in Los Angeles as a writers’ assistant on MR. & MRS. SMITH , a producer on Big Brother and developed a sitcom with Victoria Jackson (SNL). Taylor is the great-grandson of Stanner E. V. Taylor, a writer-director in the Silent Era who wrote over 100 films and pioneered many of the storytelling techniques we use today. S.C.V. Taylor believes he inherited his artistic ambition from him.

2020 Producers Panel

Michael Burns

Michael Burns

Vice Chairman, Lionsgate

Since becoming Vice Chairman of Lionsgate in March 2000, Mr. Burns has played an integral role in building the Company into a multibillion dollar global content leader with a reputation for innovation. In December 2016, he helped spearhead Lionsgate’s $4.4 billion acquisition of Starz, reflecting the studio’s evolution into a diversified global contentplatform.

Lionsgate’s portfolio of businesses features a film slate that has grossed over $10 billion globally over the past six years, driven by the critically-acclaimed La La Land, Knives Out and the blockbuster Hunger Games, Twilight Saga andJohn Wick franchises. One of the largest independent television businesses in the world, Lionsgate has been responsible for such iconic hits as Mad Men, Weeds, Nurse Jackie and Orange is the New Black.

Mr. Burns has also played a key role in the acquisition, production, and distribution of some of Lionsgate’s most successful films, including the Academy Award®-winning Best Picture Crash, the Academy Award®-winning Monster’s Ball and the Oscar®-nominated Precious.

Mr. Burns served for nine years as managing director and head of Prudential Securities’ Los Angeles investment banking office and nine years at Shearson/American Express (now Morgan Stanley).  He has been featured in major media outlets from CNBC to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Burns graduated with a B.S. from Arizona State University and received his M.B.A. from the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA where he serves on the Board of Visitors.  He joined the Hasbro Board of Directors in December2014.

Heather Rae

Heather Rae produced Academy Award nominated Frozen River. She received the Piaget Producers Award and has been recognized as one of Variety’s Producer to Watch.  Rae also produced Netflix Originals Tallulah starring Ellen Page and Allison Janney and Dude from Blacklist script by Olivia Milch, Sundance highlights The Dry Land starring America Ferrera, feminist comedy Ass Backwards and festival darling I Believe in Unicorns from director Leah Meyerhoff.  Rae produced Un Certain Regard film Bull, written and directed by Annie Silverstein. As a director Rae made the acclaimed documentary Trudell, which tells the story of Native American movement leader and poet, John Trudell. Formerly Rae ran the Native Program at the Sundance Institute. And recently Rae began an overall producing deal with Amazon Studios.  As a speaker and social critic Rae is working from both her settler and indigenous heritage to deepen the dialogue of reconciliation and responsibility in the Americas.

Jim Burke

Born and raised in Edina, Minnesota, Jim Burke’s film career spans several genres and range from prestige pictures to wide release films. He is the Academy Award-winning producer of Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The film won 2 additional Academy Awards as well as the Golden Globe for Best Film (Comedy or Musical), the Producers’ Guild Award, the National Board of Review for Best Film and Best Actor, and numerous film festival audience awards across the nation, including the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award.

 

He operates under his Innisfree Pictures banner, which has a first look producing deal at Focus Features. Films in development include Patience, based off the Dan Clowes graphic novel, and Fruitland, to be written and directed be fellow Minnesota native Bill Pohlad.

Prior to Innisfree, he served as President of Production at Focus Features, where he oversaw the production and releases of numerous titles including Darkest Hour, Victoria and Abdul, The Beguiled, and The Book of Henry.

In 2004, Jim, along with Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, created the production company Ad Hominem. In 2011, he received his first Academy Award nomination for The Descendants. In addition to its 5 Academy Award nominations and win for Best Adapted Screenplay, the film won the Golden Globe for Best Film (Drama) and was named Best Film by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Other notable films produced under Ad Hominem include Downsizing, the Academy Award-nominated film The Savages, and Cedar Rapids.

Prior to Ad Hominem, Burke spearheaded Rysher Entertainment’s foray into feature films and oversaw the development, production and release of the company’s motion pictures. Rysher’s diverse slate included the Sundance Audience Award winner Big Night as well as Primal Fear, Kiss the Girls, Private Parts, and The Saint. Burke also co-produced 2 Days in the Valley, Kingpin, and Election

Prior to this, Burke was Vice President of Warner Bros. Television Domestic Distribution.

Effie T. Brown

EFFIE T. BROWN

CEO, Gamechanger

Effie T. Brown is the CEO of Gamechanger, which launched in 2013 as the first film financing fund by and for women and now under Brown’s leadership includes projects by and about people of color, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities as well as its expansion into television and digital content. Brown is also an award-winning film, television, and digital producer known for her highly acclaimed, multi-platform repertoire as well as championing inclusion and diversity in Hollywood, both behind and in front of the camera. Brown has produced several critically acclaimed films and award-winning projects including Real Women Have Curves (directed by Patricia Cardosa) Dear White People​ (2015 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Screenplay), HBO’sProject Greenlight (Executive Produced by Matt Damon & Ben Affleck), among several others. Brown also served as an executive producer on Lee Daniels’ ​STAR ​on FOX and Disney Channel’s ​Zombies. Prior to Gamechanger, Brown founded Duly Noted Inc., a company dedicated to ground-breaking narratives that use genre to challenge and advance our culture in a disruptive way. Brown’s dream is to change the world through film and TV – celebrating our differences while bringing us all closer together.

2020 Pitch Fest Host

Will McCormack

Will McCormack is a writer, producer director and actor. As a writer, Will was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER co written with Rashida Jones. Other writing credits include Toy Story 4 and A to Z on NBC. He’s currently adapting Neal Shusterman’s novel CHALLENGER DEEP for Disney Plus and co-writing the script THE WAR AND TREATY with academy award nominee Craig Borten. Will and his producing partner Rashida Jones produce the hit show CLAWS on TNT, now going into its fourth season. They also produce KEVIN CAN FUCK HIMSELF, a new series coming to AMC in 2020. As an actor Will won a Lucille Lortel award for his performance in Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel’s play  “A LONG CHRISTMAS RIDE HOME”. He’s appeared in dozens of films and TV shows including THE SOPRANOS and BROTHERS AND SISTERS. He recently completed the animated short film IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU which he co wrote and co directed with Michael Govier – a film about parents grieving the death of a child killed in a school shooting. The film will be coming to festivals in 2020 and is produced by LalaLand producer Gary Gilbert.