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Tribeca, AT&T Award $1 Million at Rising Filmmakers Program for Minorities

For the second consecutive year, AT&T in partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute have awarded an aspiring filmmaker $1 million to turn their dream project into a movie.

Director-writer Sasie Sealy and co-writer Angela Cheng garnered the cash prize on Wednesday for their project called “Lucky Grandma,” about an ornery, chain-smoking Chinese grandmother with a small-time gambling habit.

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

“This is a great opportunity for filmmakers,” said Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro at the celebratory lunch held at Tribeca’s Thalassa Restaurant. The actor said that while he isn’t sure if programs like “Untold Stories” will change the entertainment industry in terms of who gets to tell stories, he does think that it will “help move things forward. This is a positive step in the right direction.”

“Lucky Grandma” was one of five projects in contention. Similar in format to ABC’s “Shark Tank,” nine directors, writers and producers pitched their respective full-length narrative scripts to a jury of six that included Alfre Woodard, Griffin Dunne, Ilana Glazer and AT&T chief brand officer Fiona Carter.

“It was really hard to decide on a project,” Glazer said. “We were really engaged and inspired by each one.”

AT&T will give the other four participating filmmakers $10,000 each to achieve their film goals.

The five finalists for “Untold Stories” were selected from among 400 scripts submitted after a call for entries by the Tribeca Film Institute as well as the Tribeca Film Festival. “My team and I narrowed the 400 scripts down to 15,” said TFI executive director Amy Hobby. A committee pared down the 15 to five. To be considered, filmmakers had to have a completed screenplay, a budget, a director’s statement and a clear blueprint for the film’s production.

Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal recalled how “Untold Stories” was conceived at a bar in Las Vegas.

“I had the good fortune of sitting with a group of colleagues from AT&T, which included Fiona (Carter),” Rosenthal said. “She asked me, ‘What can we do to make a difference for independent filmmakers?’ I said: ‘Money. How about a million dollars?’”

Last year’s million-dollar winner, Faraday Okoro, also attended the lunch. His first feature, “Nigerian Prince,” will premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which begins on April 18.

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