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Sundance Screenwriters Intensive Alumni: A-Ian Holt and Tani Ikeda

July 26, 2018

This spring, writing team A-Ian Holt and Tani Ikeda were among 12 screenwriters chosen as fellows for the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive.

The two-day program, which launched in 2013, gives emerging screenwriters the opportunity to hone their craft and develop feature-length screenplays under the guidance of experienced filmmakers.

To apply, Holt and Ikeda submitted their script, Sealskin Woman. It tells the story of a young girl who goes to live with her grandparents in Japan after her mother dies, and discovers that when the people who are supposed to protect her can’t, she must rely on her own magic to save herself.

The writers penned Sealskin Woman to illuminate and amplify the power of women’s resilience in a world with systems that seek to silence them. All forms of their art — both women have always been creators, poets and visual artists — reflect women’s existence, and Holt and Ikeda find belonging among others who cite women as consistent activators of their creative work.

“We feel part of a legacy of powerful femme filmmakers and filmmakers of color. These communities have shaped and sustained us,” they said.

Ikeda learned filmmaking from shadowing a cousin at a young age and later went to film school. Holt began her creative journey as a poet and playwright, writing her first screenplay at the encouragement of a friend as a remedy for heartbreak. The duo submitted Sealskin Woman to the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive a prior year and they were not selected, proving patience pays off.

They applied to the intensive because they wanted to dive deep into a process that would allow them to discover who they are both as collaborators and individual artists.

“We knew we needed a community that was process-driven and women-centered. Sundance was that community,” Holt said.

“Sundance is a champion for diverse voices and being part of that family continues to create a sort of safety around entering into the film industry and creating within it.”

Ikeda and Holt describe the program itself as a generous, safe and supportive process, while also being a rigorous one.

“The results of that time have informed and transformed the way we work,” Ikeda said.

Coming into the intensive, Sealskin Woman was undergoing what she described as “deep revisions,” which only reinforced what was already an intimate connection between the script and its writers.

“The project was touching some very personal and historical traumas,” Ikeda said.

“The intensive provided a great container to interrogate and explore such sensitive material. We created some beautiful moments during that time, and grew so much as a team.”

Another takeaway from the program for the two was community.

“Oftentimes creative pursuits can feel so isolating. Sundance is a network of artists working in community. This has been the most incredible thing to experience,” they said.

While working on Sealskin Woman, Ikeda and Holt continue to create and collaborate in the Bay area and Los Angeles.

Ikeda also works with the nonprofit she co-founded, imMEDIAte Justice, which educates and equips high school girls to tell their stories through film.

“If we want to see more women behind the camera; I believe we must begin by investing in our young girls, especially young girls of color,” she said.

 

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