SIFF New Works-In-Progress Forum announces film teams and mentors

5/30/2017 |
Nina Cates | 817.776.1624 |

Two Documentary Projects and Two Narrative Features Inaugurate One-of-a-Kind Initiative

May 30, 2017—Seattle WA—The 43rd Seattle International Film Festival today announced the participants for its inaugural New Works-in-Progress Forum, taking place June 8th and 9th, 2017. Scheduled during the festival's final premiere week, the initiative invites both film industry and audience into the filmmakers' creative process at a critical stage. Two documentaries and two narrative features have been chosen for the initiative.

"I am excited to launch this new program to celebrate the filmmaking process at all its points of entry," said Artistic Director Beth Barrett. "It means a great deal to us to welcome our New Works-in-Progress Forum Filmmakers into the SIFF family." The Documentary Film Teams chosen for the event are: Jordan Schiele's The Silk and The Flame from China/USA, and Maximilien Van Aertyck and Axel Danielson (of Plattform Produktion) presenting Cecilia Björk's A Good Week for Democracy and Hemen Kurda's Children of Arbat from Sweden.

The Documentary Industry Mentors are Shane Smith, Director of Programming at Hot Docs; David Nugent, Artistic Director for the Hamptons International Film Festival, and Monika Navarro, Senior Manager Content & Initiatives at ITVS.

The Narrative Features chosen for the event are: Alvaro Delgado Aparicio's Retablo from Peru, and Roxy Toporowych's Julia Blue from Ukraine/USA.

The Narrative Industry Mentors are Alesia Weston, Consultant to Independent Filmmakers and Film Festivals, and former head of Sundance Institutes year-round International Feature Film Program; Chelsea Benson, Literary Manager at Echo Lake Entertainment, and Lael Lowenstein, Film Critic-KPCC, LA Film Critics Association.

"Our 2017 New Works-in-Progress Forum filmmakers and mentors comprise an extraordinary freshman class," said Kathleen McInnis, WIP Curator. "We hope relationships begun here have a lasting impact throughout all stages of our storytellers progress."

Designed to nurture emerging voices in world cinema, the New Works-in-Progress Forum highlights SIFF's reputation for discovery of new global film voices and recognizes the festivals' renowned cinephile tradition by bringing both groups together with film industry veterans for a unique mentoring experience. Partnering with the festival to include members of Seattle's Creative Economy in the audience is Washington Filmworks, the non-profit 501 (c)(6) organization that manages the state film and production incentive programs. For more information and ticket details, go to



The Silk And The Flame captures the life of a family with a disabled father and deaf mother in a Chinese village during the lunar New Year. Yao, a successful businessman in Beijing, left home young. Now, middle-aged, he returns to face demons from the past and fulfil his parent's dying wish to settle down and complete the family.

Jordan Schiele was born in Brooklyn and began working on film sets in China. He received an MFA from NYU- Tisch Asia after studying Chinese and Comparative Law in undergrad. His fiction works have premiered at Berlin, Locarno, and New York Film Festivals. His work as a cinematographer has premiered at Cannes, Tribeca and Golden Horse Film Festivals. He has directed several commercial shorts for Louis Vuitton and Estee Lauder featuring Sofia Coppola and supermodel Liu Wen. His first feature Dog Days (San Fu Tian) premiered at Berlinale after being selected for the Residence of Cannes and reaching the semifinals of the Oscars' screenwriting competition. Dog Days is the first entirely Chinese film written and directed by an American to screen theatrically in China. His latest feature script, Across the Valley and Into the Hills, has been selected for the Bridging the Dragon lab.


Both films are presented by Plattform Produktions

A Good Week For Democracy is a sharp, humoristic and unsentimental look at the largest political media event of the year in Sweden: The Almedalen Week. Thousands of people gather on this Swedish island every summer to participate in a unique civics tradition: public discourse. In this political echo chamber, it is as much about being noticed as being heard, and the rules of modern day politics become apparent—everything is political, and all politics is about communication.

Cecilia Björk is a poet and filmmaker born in 1981 in Härnösand in the north of Sweden. She attended the renowned seminar for poetry and prose at Biskops Arnö, and trained as a scriptwriter. Until recently she also served as Communications Manager at Bonniers Konsthall, a venue for contemporary art in central Stockholm.

Her previous short documentary "Blessed" studies how faith becomes manifest at a Chrisitian summer camp, and premiered at the Göteborg Film Festival in 2014. She is a Torino Film Lab alumni, and has served as adviser on several recent Plattform Produktion films, most notably "Ten Meter Tower".

Children Of Arbat is set in Arbat, in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Since 2014 millions of people have been forced to flee their homes because of the Islamic State: Arbat has seen its own wave of immigration, with an estimated 16,000 displaced locals from inside Iraq and Syria seeking shelter. In particular, the youngest children in the refugee camps all carry vivid memories from the atrocities. A refugee himself, Filmmaker Hemen Kurda travels back to his hometown of Slemani, in Iraqi Kurdistan, expecting to use his camera as a tool for the children in the camp to visualize their experiences—recreating their war-related traumas, camera in hand.

Director Hemen Kurda was born in South Kurdistan (Iraq) in the city of Slemani in 1984, in the middle of the war between Iraq and Iran. At home he practiced gymnastics from 1993. He fled to Sweden in 2002 to seek and create a whole new life and future for himself and his dreams.

Currently he is a master's student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gothenburg, as well as a gymnastics coach for children between 7-14 years old in his own association.

Van Aertryck and Danielson together direct and produce both feature length documentaries and short films: their award-winning short films have premiered in the official competitions of Berlin, Cannes, Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. Their recent short film, "Ten Meter Tower", has been seen by millions through the New York Times' website. They are the producers of Cecilia Björk's A Good Week For Democracy and Hemen Kurda's Children Of Arbat, debut feature documentaries presenting 30-minute, work-in-progress segments during SIFF's New Work-in-Progress Forum.

Plattform Produktion, based in Gothenburg, Sweden is one of the most innovative and cutting-edge production companies in Scandinavia. The four co-owners, Ruben Östlund, Axel Danielson, Erik Hemmendorff and Mikel Cee Carlsson, have gained international recognition for producing engaging and auteur-driven films including Ruben Östlund's The Square (Cannes Palm D'Or Winner, 2017) and Force Majeure (2014). Danielson and Van Aertryck collaborate as Directors/Producers within Plattform.


Retablo is a coming of age story of Segundo Paucar, a 14-year-old boy, who wants to become a master story-box maker just like his father to carry on with the family legacy. On his way to a community celebration in the Andes, Segundo accidentally observes his father in a situation that shatters his whole world. Trapped in a chauvinistic environment, Segundo will try to deal in silence with all that is happening to him.

Alvaro obtained a Master's degree in Organizational Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He also holds a Master's in Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He studied film directing at the London Film AcademyIn 2010, he wrote and directed his first short film "¿Me Puedes Ver?" ("Can You See Me?"), which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It won the Audience and Jury award at the Latin American Film Festival.

"El Acompañante" ("The Companion") is his second short film as a writer and director, which won the Peruvian National Short film award and was a finalist at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and Rotterdam International Film Festival. It has been officially selected  in more than 80 film festivals around the world including Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Outfest, San Francisco, Indie Lisboa, La Habana, Miami, Dokufest, among others. Furthermore, it had a Best Director nomination at the World Independent Film Awards, celebrated in Poland.

Retablo is his first feature film as a writer and director and was selected by the Sundance Institute to be part of the Feature Film program. In 2014, Retablo won the National Feature Film Award sponsored by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture. It also has received additional support from the Cinereach project and the New Cinema Network from the Rome Film Festival. Furthermore, it has won the Sorfond award in Norway. Currently, Retablo is in post-production.


Julia Blue follows Julia, a bright university student, as she is preparing for a life abroad. When she meets English, a damaged soldier returning from the warfront in eastern Ukraine, an unexpected romance sparks between the two, as Julia and English fall deeply for each other. From metropolitan Kyiv to a remote Carpathian village, they must decide if they are ready to build a future together in a homeland that is slowly being torn apart.

Roxy Toporowych is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and has worked in Film and TV production for 15 years. Credits include: Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Other Guys, A Most Violent Year, and "SNL". She has worked for Tribeca and Sundance film festivals. Previously, Roxy directed a dance documentary, Folk! In 2014, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Ukraine, where she researched and wrote Julia Blue, her narrative feature-directing debut. She is an IFP Narrative Lab Directing Fellow 2016 and the recipient of the Calvin Klein's Spotlight on Women Directors Live-the-Dream Grant 2016.


Founded in 1976, SIFF creates experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world with the Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF Cinema, and SIFF Education. Recognized as one of the top film festivals in North America, the Seattle International Film Festival is the largest, most highly attended film festival in the United States, reaching more than 150,000 annually. The 25-day festival is renowned for its wide-ranging and eclectic programming, presenting over 400 features, short films, and documentaries from over 80 countries each year. SIFF Cinema exhibits premiere theatrical engagements, repertory, classic, and revival film showings 365 days a year on five screens at the SIFF Cinema Uptown, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, and SIFF Film Center, reaching more than 175,000 attendees annually. SIFF Education offers educational programs for all audiences serving more than 13,000 students and youth in the community with free programs each year.