For the third consecutive year, AT&T and Tribeca Film Festival conducted the “AT&T Presents: Untold Stories” film competition.
Filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded the $1 million prize for her project, “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” and will receive mentorship from seasoned industry professionals to develop her pitch into a feature-length film.
To determine the winner, AT&T (No. 1 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list), Tribeca, and the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute, hosted a live pitch event to kick off the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Five talented and diverse filmmakers presented their story ideas and film scripts to a Greenlight Committee.
For the first time in the program’s history, the five finalists were all women. The program is already impacting the future of diversity and inclusion in the film industry.
“First of all, we are just thrilled that the opportunity to actually make a film and get it seen by audiences has been given to two sets of filmmakers,” AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter, a founder of the program, told DiversityInc.
The two films that have premiered are “Nigerian Prince,” the 2017 winner, and “Lucky Grandma,” which won the prize in 2018.
“Most importantly, we also have behind those movies just hundreds of actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, extras, that are getting roles and jobs that they never would have gotten without this program,” Carter said. “So that’s the real human impact where this program makes a difference.”
Staff for “Nigerian Prince” included a Nigerian female producer; a Nigerian-American male producer; a Mexican-American male producer; 22 diverse cast members – men and women with backgrounds ranging from Nigerian, African-American, and Scottish, to Australian and Indian-American; an Armenian-American music producer; and more than 100 extras hired in Nigeria to appear on the set.
“Lucky Grandma” gave work to two female producers; a filming crew where more than half were women, and a third were people of color; a nearly all-Asian and Asian-American cast of 23 people; an Asian-American female film editor; a Salvadoran cinematographer; and 75 Asian and Asian-American extras.
Each year, following the live-pitch session, the winner is announced during a luncheon with the finalists and the Greenlight Committee. This year, joining Carter on the committee were Hollywood actors including Katie Holmes and Kal Penn.
“What struck me at the luncheon was it is allowing these filmmakers, whether they win or not, to actually get in the room with the Hollywood community that cares about them and make connections,” Carter said. “Some of those connections are really bearing fruit.”
Film deals were being made over lunch.
“One of the jurors last year actually optioned one of the movies that didn’t win,” Carter explained. “It’s going to go to production with a genuine celebrity acting in it, and actually a budget of two-and-a-half million dollars. I’m just excited about how the impact is happening on so many different levels.”
Women Filmmakers of Diverse Backgrounds
According to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, there were just 21 women directors among the 167 English-language films from 2017’s top 200 — just 12.6 percent of the total.
The five writers and directors who were finalists in this year’s Untold Stories program are women of diverse backgrounds, a welcome change from the current state of the film industry.
“What struck us all on the Greenlight Committee, was, firstly, how poised and self-confident these writers and directors were,” Carter said. “They had a clear vision of their story.”
“Secondly, they were all writing personal stories that reached out and connected with each of the Greenlight Committee members. And, that’s important because when you connect on that level, you want to see those stories get made. You want to see those movies.”
She continued, “I think ensuring that you’re telling a really unique story that comes from your heart, and that tells a story that’s not been heard before, because it’s coming from a diverse background, is really important and ultimately will be the key that unlocks the opportunity.”
Not only is Carter an advocate for gender equity in the film industry through the Untold Stories program, but her role at AT&T also provides an opportunity to make a difference each day.
“I’m proud to say we’re a company that has always stood for equality,” Carter said. “And I would say on every level, the company is working to ensure that equality becomes the norm, not the exception.”
As the chief brand officer, “I can play a particular role in the way we create advertising. We’re one of the largest advertisers in the U.S.,” Carter explained.
“We know that advertising and media create culture. And we know that culture shapes how women view themselves, and how they view what they can be. So we’re one of the earliest leaders of the #SeeHer movement that’s a collective of advertisers that believe if you can see her, you can be her.
“We are working to ensure that all of our advertising portrays women and girls positively and successfully.”