I am pleased to announce the recipients of the fifth annual Roger Ebert Fellowship at the Sundance Institute, a workshop that brings together emerging film writers, critics and filmmakers for mentorship jointly by the Sundance Film Festival and RogerEbert.com. This partnership provides an extraordinary opportunity for them to navigate the fast-paced, deadline-driven environment of one of the world's premiere film festivals. They will write reviews and features under the tutelage of Managing Editor Brian Tallerico (@Brian_Tallerico) and Assistant Editor Nick Allen (@nickallen_redux), while networking with industry professionals like directors, actors, film critics, festival programmers, agents, distributors and publicists. This program was established by Sundance Institute Founder, Robert Redford, in honor of my late husband, Roger Ebert, an early supporter and enthusiast of the festival and it's mission.
One of my specific goals of the program is to connect the Fellows with the core values of empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I am ever mindful of Roger's mission of connecting us all to our humanity through the medium of film.
The Fellows for 2017 are Jomo Fray, Brandon Towns and Gary Wilkerson, Jr. This year I was eager to bring the voices of African-American males into the conversational mix. Two of our Ebert Fellows also observe the world through the lens of their cameras. I am hoping that we will not only get print essays about their Sundance experience, but short video essays as well. There is no one monolithic view provided by these Fellows. Jomo, Brandon and Gary will undoubtedly vary in their viewpoints, but in this year of seismic shifts in the nation's politics, it will be more important than ever to hear what they have to say. What does art, filtered through their eyes and ears, say about the future of our place on this planet. You will be able to read their essays and watch their video essays at RogerEbert.com from January 18-28, 2018.
JOMO FRAY is an award-winning cinematographer whose work has been screened worldwide, including such festivals as Cannes, Rotterdam, Sundance, and Tribeca. By utilizing a strong background in cinematography, philosophy, and photography his aim is to create innovative and evocative visual stories. He seeks to build upon a long tradition of experiential storytelling—films that strive to have the viewer not only see the story, but feel it as well.
In working towards these goals, Fray was awarded the 2016 Kodak Vision Award, the 2017 ARRI Volker Bahnemann Award in Outstanding Cinematography, as well as the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards. Along with these honors, he was invited to participate as a cinematography fellow in the Project Involve program with Film Independent. He attended Brown University for his undergraduate education and received his MFA in Cinematography at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
BRANDON TOWNS is an amateur filmmaker from the South Side of Chicago. His films explore relevant themes within the black community such as gentrification, police brutality, and gun violence. His work has been screened at numerous festivals including Cardiff International Film Festival, Global Mixx Aspiring Filmmaker Fest, and many more. He was previously a member of the Columbia Links program (his reviews of the films "The N Word" and "Smile" were published on RogerEbert.com).
Brandon's love of movies grew from the weekly trips to the theater with his father and exposure to the classic cinema at a young age. At the moment, Brandon is attending Bradley University pursuing a degree in Advertising. When he isn't studying, he's an active freelancer within the community.
GARY WILKERSON, JR., received a Master's Degree in Fine Arts from Florida State University. It is one of only two colleges in the U.S. to have an on-campus circus with student performers. As Wilkerson, Jr., worked on his B.A. in English, he learned to perform skating adagio, quartet adagio, clowning, and even flying trapeze in front of huge crowds. "Those five years completely changed who I was," said Wilkerson, Jr. "I went from being shy and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, to slightly less shy and feeling like I could do anything I told myself I could do. It gave me a newfound confidence in myself and my abilities."
Upon graduating, he decided to make a career out of his love for writing, and moved to Los Angeles. He interned at Funny or Die and Gary Sanchez Productions, and just wrapped as the showrunner's assistant on the Netflix series "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency." In his free time, Wilkerson, Jr. is writing comedy pilots, doing improv comedy at The Upright Citizens Brigade, and "generally just trying to navigate the business and find my tribe." Ultimately, he wants to create a TV show in which he will star, just like Issa Rae with "Insecure," Donald Glover with "Atlanta," and Jarrod Carmichael with "The Carmichael Show."