2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: GIVING VOICE

GIVING VOICE | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jonathon Narducci

GIVING VOICE
James D Stern and Fernando Villena explore the impact of playwright August Wilson through an annual monologue competition for high school students.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of FENCES, THE PIANO LESSON, and JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE, is one of America’s preeminent playwrights, chronicling the African American experience with 10 plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century. Now, every year, thousands of high school students from across the country gather in New York City to perform one of his monologues in a riveting, high-stakes competition on Broadway. GIVING VOICE closely follows the lives of six of these vibrant students as they meticulously develop their individual performances with the hopes of embodying Wilson’s legacy.

Directors James D Stern and Fernando Villena take us on an emotional journey – equal parts moving and gripping – with these young men and women, utilizing the competition as a compelling framework for young people across the country to deeply connect with Wilson’s ideas. A singular talent and artist, Wilson provides a lens for a new generation to understand their surroundings, inspiring them to find their own voice and persevere in their increasingly complicated world.

Some Background:

Directors/Producers:

  • James D Stern
    Past Sundance docs:

    LINSANITY (2013, executive producer)

    The Tony-winning and Emmy-nominated Stern also previously produced or executive produced Sundance alumni fiction features COME SUNDAY, THE DISCOVERY, JOBS, AN EDUCATION, and 35 MILES FROM NORMAL.

  • Fernando Villena
    Past Sundance docs:

    RIZE (2005, editor)

    This marks Villena’s sophomore feature as director, following the SXSW-premiering HBO doc ANY ONE OF US. He has previously produced or edited other projects by Stern.

Producers:

  • Karen Bove

    Bove is a creative executive at Stern’s Endgame Entertainment, where she produced two of his previous documentaries.

  • Schoen Smith

    Smith is a film producer, theatre director/producer, and actress. This is her first Sundance credit.

  • Craig Piligian

    Piligian is an Emmy-winning television producer and the president/CEO of Pilgrim Media Group. He has produced or executive produced several other feature docs but this marks his first at Sundance.

Executive Producers:

  • Viola Davis

    Davis won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her performance in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s FENCES, and is playing the lead role in the upcoming adaptation of his MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM. She previously won a Tony for her performance in the 2010 revival of FENCES and in 2001 for Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II. Davis has acted, produced, and executive produced several past Sundance fiction feature, most recently last year’s TROOP ZERO.

  • Julius Tennon

    Tennon previously executive produced Sundance alumni fiction feature LILA & EVE and fiction short NIGHT SHIFT alongside Viola Davis, who is also his wife.

  • John Legend
    Past Sundance docs:

    ASHE ’68 (2019, VR)
    THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (2012)

    Legend won a Tony for co-producing August Wilson’s JITNEY for Broadway in 2017. The Oscar winner also executive produced Sundance alumni fiction features MONSTER and SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU, through his Get Lifted Film Co shingle.

  • Mike Jackson & Ty Stiklorius
    Past Sundance docs:

    ASHE ’68

    Jackson and Stiklorius are partners with Legend in Get Lifted Film Co.

  • Dan Cogan
    Recent past Sundance docs:

    SHOOTING THE MAFIA (2019)
    BISBEE ’17 (2018)
    OF FATHERS AND SONS (2018)
    OUR NEW PRESIDENT (2018)
    WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR (2018)
    BENDING THE ARC (2017)
    DINA (2017)
    ICARUS (2017)
    STEP (2017)
    TROPHY (2017)
    UNREST (2017)

    Cogan, the Oscar-winning co-founder and chairman of Impact Partners, has recently launched Story Syndicate, his own production company in partnership with acclaimed filmmaker Liz Garbus. He also serves as executive producer for fellow 2020 Sundance titles SPACESHIP EARTH and US KIDS, in the US Documentary Competition; EPICENTRO, in the World Cinema Documentary Competition; and UNTITLED KIRBY DICK/AMY ZIERING FILM, and ASSASSINS, in Documentary Premieres.

  • Jenny Raskin
    Recent past Sundance docs:

    SHOOTING THE MAFIA
    BISBEE ’17
    OF FATHERS AND SONS
    OUR NEW PRESIDENT
    WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
    BENDING THE ARC
    DINA
    ICARUS
    STEP
    UNREST

    Raskin is the executive director of Impact Partners. She also serves as executive producer for SPACESHIP EARTH, US KIDS, and EPICENTRO.

  • Geralyn White Dreyfous
    Recent past Sundance docs:

    ALWAYS IN SEASON (2019)
    THE GREAT HACK (2019)
    SHOOTING THE MAFIA
    306 HOLLYWOOD (2018)
    GENERATION WEALTH (2018)
    BISBEE ’17
    OF FATHERS AND SONS
    OUR NEW PRESIDENT
    WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
    BENDING THE ARC
    STEP

    The Oscar and Emmy-winning co-founder of both Impact Partners and Gamechanger Films also has produced several Sundance fiction and VR alumni projects and has served as a creative advisor for Sundance’s Catalyst Forum. For the 2020 festival, she also serves as executive producer for SPACESHIP EARTH, US KIDS, ASSASSINS, UNTITLED KIRBY DICK/AMY ZIERING FILM; as well as THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS in the World Cinema Documentary Competition; AGGIE in Documentary Premieres); BORN INTO BROTHELS in From the Collection; and executive producer/key collaborator for the New Frontier exhibition PERSUASION MACHINES.

  • Gretchen Stockdale

    Stockdale is COO and general counsel for Pilgrim Media Group.

  • Nicholas Caprio

    Caprio is chief content officer for Pilgrim Media Group.

Co-Executive Producer:

  • Jonah McMichael

    McMichael is VP of production at Pilgrim Media Group.

Editors:

  • Rose Corr, Wes Lipman, & Alex Hadden

    This is the first Sundance credit for all three editors. Corr and Hadden previously cut projects for Stern and Villena.

Why You Should Watch:
The August Wilson Monologue Competition attracts diverse students interested in developing their acting skills and engaging with the work of the revered playwright. In their inspiring film, Stern and Villena have selected a handful of particularly engaging and talented teens from around the country to showcase, capturing them as they learn to embody Wilson’s powerful and resonant words on stage.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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