PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 22: (L–R) Javier Ambrossi, Nzingha Stewart, Adam Montgomery, Javier Calvo, and Mel Eslyn attend the Episodic Pilot Showcase at Library Center Theater at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Salvador/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Stephanie Ornelas
By the time the Episodic Pilot Showcase concluded at 2024 Sundance Film Festival, audiences had burning questions, with one Festivalgoer asking, “Where can we watch and support you all?”
Three Episodic film teams took the stage at The Library Theater in Park City, Utah, on January 22 to talk about their captivating episodes and answer questions from delighted audience members.
In La Mesías, co-directors Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi leaned into their own experiences growing up. Their film centers on the dark childhood of siblings Enric and Irene as they explore tragic memories and a toxic relationship with their mother.
“It was a journey where we could put all our traumas and our fears into images. It was beautiful to work with the kids, and it was beautiful to really portray the feelings of childhood and the darkness of adulthood,” says Calvo. “I’m very happy and, hopefully, you can watch the whole show.”
“This show has been a three-year journey. It was a very intense and profound journey,” adds Ambrossi. “It’s based on a true story, and I believe everyone on the team put something personal into this show. And you can tell it’s special because of that. I think this show healed us a little bit.”
The directors of Me/We took the stage next to answer questions from the audience about their episodic, which follows a feisty teenager with a passion for dance who tries to convince her overprotective brother to let her walk to school with her first crush.
“[Co-writer] Keonna [Taylor] really had a vision of honoring all of these people we see on the news that we’ve lost to some form of systemic racism — and doing it as a celebration of life. Not showing the worst moments, but the best moments so that the next time you hear something like this on the news, you realize that’s a person who had a mother or sister or a brother or a crush,” explains co-director Nzingha Stewart.
“It’s a human being, and it lands with you. Each episode is going to be like the first one, where it’s a beginning, the middle, and the end all in one,” continues Stewart. “You see the whole story, and each one is a different genre film. The next one is going to be a horror movie, then there’s a film noir and a romantic comedy, and so it really tells these great little stories, and then it’s at the end where you find out these are real people who are no longer with us. But it’s always rooted in something they love. [For example,] this is a musical because the real Amaria loved to dance.”
Penelope screenwriter Mark Duplass came to Sundance 21 years ago with his short film Scrabble, which he made for $3 in his kitchen. Since then, he has always had the mentality to never wait for anyone to start creating — even if it’s a movie.
“And then we got to a point where we thought, ‘We don’t really have to do this anymore. There are companies who want to give us money,’ and when we wrote Penelope, we were like, ‘We’ve got the goods, man.’”
The episodic centers on a 16-year-old who begins forming a new life for herself after being drawn into an unknown wilderness.
“We took it around, and people were like, ‘It’s cool, it’s kind of got that Norwegian flow, but if you speed it up a little bit, we might want to make it.’ And we said, ‘No, we’re going to do this the way we want to it. So, we wrote all eight episodes, and Mel [Eslyn] took over and directed them all.”
“It was just [about] this feeling that we were having for a long time — that a lot of us just don’t feel OK. We just feel off. And the way Penelope tries to explain what’s wrong and what’s going on with her is a lot of how we feel. And so we just took her out to the woods and explored it.”