(San Francisco, California/Columbia, Missouri) – Catapult Film Fund and True/False Film Fest today announced the selected films and mentors for their eighth annual Rough Cut Retreat, a summer gathering that immerses underserved filmmakers and industry mentors in a deeply creative retreat space. This year’s retreat will take place July 23-27 at Shire in the Woods in McGrath, Minnesota and is presented with support from CMP who share Catapult and True/False’s passion for bold and creative new nonfiction filmmaking.
The 2023 RCR supported films (and attending members of the film teams) are Agent of Happiness (directors Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó), How to Build a Library (co-director Christopher King and editor Michael Onyiego), Mai American (director Kevin Truong), There Was, There Was Not (director Emily Mkrtichian), and Untitled Residential School Documentary (directors Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie).
Mentors are chosen for their ability to guide filmmakers through the final stages of filmmaking, as well as their deep generosity of spirit. This year’s group includes director Steven Bognar (American Factory), editor Fiona Otway (Iraq in Fragments), director Yoruba Richen (The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks), editor David Teague (Life, Animated), and director Stephanie Wang-Breal (Blowin’ Up).
Rough Cut Retreat was born out of Catapult and True/False’s shared vision of supporting filmmakers who lack significant institutional support and feedback networks. These directors often work without access to informed critical feedback about their work, and RCR exists to counteract that marginalization, championing work that pushes boundaries both in its content and aesthetics. The retreat aims to provoke dynamic discussion, providing feedback and guidance at a critical moment in the post-production process.
Each year, five filmmaking teams are matched with mentors that have been hand-picked for their editorial insights and ability to aid filmmakers in realizing their vision. Over an intense four days of screenings and discussion they receive critical, supportive feedback, helping to move films from rough to fine cut with an eye on winter festival deadlines.
Previous RCR projects include: 2023 Sundance premiere Joonam (director Sierra Urich, 2022 RCR participant), 2023 Berlinale premiere Hummingbirds (directors Estefanía Contreras and Silvia Castaños, 2022 RCR participant) Documentary Director Special Jury Mention 2023 Tribeca Film Festival Break the Game (director Jane M. Wagner, 2022 RCR participant) 2022 Emmy Award Winner Mayor (director David Osit, 2019 RCR participant), and 2022 Oscar nominated Ascension (director Jessica Kingdon, 2021 RCR participant).
The 2023 projects are:
Agent of Happiness (directors Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó) A lyrical road movie of Amber, one of the many happiness agents who is working for the Center of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. He travels door to door measuring people’s happiness levels while searching for his own among the remote Himalayan mountains.
How to Build a Library (co-director Christopher King and editor Michael Onyiego) Two tenacious Kenyan women are transforming a dilapidated, junk-filled library in downtown Nairobi into a hub for the city’s citizens and creatives. But first they must wrangle local government, raise several million dollars for the rebuild, and confront the ghosts of a problematic colonial history still trapped within the library walls.
Mai American (director Kevin Truong) A 70-year-old Vietnamese American refugee living in Oregon writes down her life story, indelibly shaped by the War in Vietnam. As she shares her narrative with her filmmaker son, they begin separate but parallel journeys confronting the traumas of their past and the emotional divide in their present.
There Was, There Was Not (director Emily Mkrtichian) The first line of every Armenian fairy tale, There Was, There Was Not tells the collective myth of a homeland nearly lost to war — and four women’s resistance to that loss.
Untitled Residential School Documentary (director Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie) An investigation of unmarked graves at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning in the lives of survivors and their descendants, including the film’s co-director whose father was born—and nearly buried—at the school.
The 2023 mentors are:
Steven Bognar is an Academy Award and Primetime Emmy winning documentary filmmaker based in southwest Ohio. His films include the Oscar-winning American Factory 美国工厂, as well as A Lion in the House, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, and 9to5 – The Story of a Movement, all co-directed with his late partner Julia Reichert. Bognar’s solo films include Personal Belongings, Picture Day, Foundry Night Shift, and Last Reel. Bognar has taught documentary extensively, including guest lectures at Harvard, Yale and Stanford Universities.
Fiona Otway has been editing films for over 20 years. Her work has received numerous awards, including the ‘Best Editing’ award and the ‘Grand Jury Prize’ from Sundance Film Festival, a DuPont Award, a Grierson Award, an International Federation of Film Critics award, nominations for Cinema Eye Honors, Spirit Awards, Gotham Awards, and three Academy Award nominations. Some of the films she has worked on as an editor include: Iraq in Fragments, Sari’s Mother, Hell and Back Again, Drawing the Tiger, The Pearl, Harvest Season, Katrina Babies, and Going to Mars. Fiona has also been a Visiting Artist in Residence for several years at Bard College.
Yoruba Richen is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on multiple outlets, including Netflix, MSNBC, FX/Hulu, HBO and PBS. Her films have won multiple festival awards, as well as a Peabody and Gracie Award, and an NAACP Image Award. Yoruba is a past Guggenheim and Fulbright fellow, she was a Sundance Producers Fellow and Women’s fellow, and she won the Creative Promise Award at Tribeca All Access, and the Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Filmmaker’s Award. Yoruba is the founding director of the Documentary Program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
David Teague is an Emmy-award winning documentary film editor and screenwriter. His recent projects include Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, Cassandro, and Spaceship Earth. He has been an editing mentor with the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, the Tribeca Film Institute Doc Program, the Gotham/IFP Documentary Labs, the Brown Girls Doc Mafia Feedback Loop Program, the Catapult & True/False Rough Cut Retreat, the FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship, and the Sundance Institute CNEX Documentary Lab in China.
Stephanie Wang-Breal is a writer/director who uses film as a tool to subvert the narrative. Stephanie’s films include Wo Ai Ni Mommy, Tough Love, and Blowin’ Up. Her work has won awards from SilverDocs, SFIAAFF and Film Des Femmes as well as garnering an Emmy nomination and a New York Times’ critics pick. Her work has been supported by the Sundance Institute, the Ford Foundation, NYSCA and the Jerome Foundation; she is the recipient of a 2019 Chicken and Egg Artist Award, as well as a 2020 Creative Capital Artist Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a proud member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a mama of two kids in Brooklyn, New York.
For more information about the retreat, please visit https://truefalse.org/rough-cut-retreat/
Catapult Film Fund supports nonfiction filmmakers with critical early-stage funding and mentorship to launch distinctive, story-driven, and cinematic films. For more information, please visit catapultfilmfind.org
True/False Film Fest will take place February 29 – March 3, 2024 in downtown Columbia, Missouri. For more information, please visit truefalse.org.
CMP is a member-based philanthropic community of documentary film lovers who believe in the power of media to bring about social change. For more information, please visit https://wearecmp.org/
Co-Founder, True/False Film Fest
Co-Director and Chief Program Officer, Catapult Film Fund