HIFF 2018 Screenwriters Lab Participants + Mentors

HIFF is proud to announce the mentors and screenwriters for the 18th Annual Screenwriters Lab, which takes place April 6-8 in East Hampton and Sag Harbor. The Lab pairs up-and-coming screenwriters with established screenwriters, directors and producers for a series of one-on-one mentoring sessions.


The three selected screenplays for 2018 are Esra Saydam’s THE MESOPOTAMIAN, Anu Valia’s WE STRANGERS, and Aemilia Scott’s BIRTHDAY SUIT. Full bios of all Lab participants are included below. For the first time ever, all of the selected lab participants are women.

This year’s mentors include Sabrina Dhawan, Golden Globe®-nominated screenwriter of MONSOON WEDDING; James V. Hart, whose films include HOOK, CONTACT, and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA; and Alec Sokolow, who received an Academy Award® nomination for TOY STORY, and whose other credits include CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and EVAN ALMIGHTY.

“We make it a priority to support new writers in establishing their careers with the guidance of experienced storytellers from the industry,” said David Nugent, Artistic Director of the Hamptons International Film Festival. “We are thrilled to once again guide fresh voices and continue to diversify the narratives coming to the screen every year. We are even more proud that for the first time ever we have three female screenwriters who will participate in the Lab.”

CONTACT 2 650HIFF will once again feature a screenwriting Master Class, open to the public, with acclaimed screenwriter (and 2018 mentor—see bio below) James V. Hart (CONTACT). Hart will take participants through all the stages of the creative process, from the writing phase to script changes to the final edited picture. Hart will use clips and personal experience to detail all that goes into writing a script for every type of audience. This is a special opportunity to hear from one of the most talented writers working in film today. The Master Class will take place at 6:00 pm on Saturday, April 7 at the Ross School in East Hampton. The public is invited! Tickets are on sale now.

This year’s Lab will once again enjoy the support of the Melissa Mathison Fund, which is focused on fostering female writers in the industry and their continued development. After the lab, one screenwriter will further develop her connection to key industry contacts through a selected screenplay reading (by established actors) at an exclusive event later this year.

“The HIFF Lab continues to serve as a significant launching pad for writers looking to start a promising journey with their narratives, as evidenced by recent alumni,” said Anne Chaisson, Executive Director of the Hamptons International Film Festival. “As always we are extremely grateful to the Melissa Mathison Fund for their support of the Lab’s mission and encouraging new voices in the industry.”


Without further ado, we’re delighted to announce the projects selected and introduce this year’s mentors. The three selected screenplays for 2018:

Esra Saydam 400The Mesopotamian

Screenwriter: Esra Saydam

THE MESOPOTAMIAN follows two EMT partners, Ela and Marco, as they navigate an otherwise unseen New York City that is both intimate and lonely. Together, they begin to ‘heal’ their seemingly loveless, metropolitan lives, which at times, feel more alienating than their previous war experiences on the other side of the ocean.

Bridging the oceanic divide between her hometown Istanbul and New York, Esra Saydam is a filmmaker with an MFA degree in Columbia University Graduate Film Program. Her first feature film, ACROSS THE SEA (2014), co-directed with Nisan Dag won multiple awards in her home country as well as at many international festivals like Slamdance and Milano Int. Film Festival. After its screening at other prestigious festivals like Florida, Raindance, Istanbul and Warsaw, the film had its theatrical distribution in Turkey and later became available on Amazon Prime in USA. Esra’s next projects in development have been recognized and invited by renowned programs like EAVE’s Ties That Bind, Istanbul (!f) Sundance Screenwriters Lab, Meetings on the Bridge, IFP Film Week and Cine Qua Non Lab. In 2018, Esra was the participant of Berlinale Talent Program as a U.S.-based filmmaker, and WHEN I’M DONE DYING, a feature film she co-wrote, was selected for Berlinale Coproduction Market. Besides feature film projects, she currently develops also a TV mockumentary within her production company, Sand & Snow Films. Esra is the recipient of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Fellowship, fluent in four languages and a certified EMT in the State of New York.

Anu Valia 400We Strangers

Screenwriter: Anu Valia

WE STRANGERS follows Rayelle “Ray” Martin, who is a commercial cleaner for a company that sends her to clean foreclosed homes and commercial spaces. While on the job, she meets a dentist who invites her to become his personal housekeeper for a substantial amount of money. Ray accepts the job, and she unwittingly enters a whole new world of the rich Northwest Indiana elite.

Anu Valia is an Indiana-born, New York-schooled filmmaker whose award-winning short films have screened across the country and abroad. Her most recent short film, LUCIA, BEFORE AND AFTER, won the Jury Prize for US Fiction at Sundance Film Festival. It was also an official selection at festivals around the world including South by Southwest, Hong Kong International Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, and Seattle International Film Festival. LUCIA was a recipient of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology grant. Her previous short film, DRIFTERS, was a Special Jury Mention for Narrative Shorts at New Orleans Festival, and won Best Experimental Short at Aesthetica Short Film Festival. And her NYU thesis film, FIGS, was a Student Academy Award Semifinalist, a National Board of Review Grant Finalist, and an NYU Wasserman Award Finalist. Anu is the Director and Executive Producer of SOFT FOCUS WITH JENA FRIEDMAN, a comedic interview series that premiered on Adult Swim in February 2018. She is also part of New York Film Festival’s 2017 Artist Academy, and was an artist resident of SPACE at Ryder Farm. She’s most proud to be an ambassador for the American Film Showcase, a U.S. film diplomacy program promoting arts involvement and education abroad.

Aemilia Scott 400Birthday Suit

Screenwriter: Aemilia Scott

On the eve of her 55th birthday, Elaine realizes that she is becoming invisible to her husband, her family, and her town. So she decides to take a radical step to be seen: she takes her clothes off, and she does not put them back on.

It all started with a viewing of L’AVVENTURA in a broom closet in college. Or maybe it began when her brother showed her Stan Douglas’ video art at 13. For Aemilia Scott, it hasn’t always been about filmmaking, but it has always been about film. She didn’t go to film school, but rather studied History and Photography at Columbia University, studying under street photographers Thomas Roma and Dana Hoey. In Chicago she came up as a comedian, training and eventually performing at Second City, iO and Annoyance. After years writing sketch comedy, she began writing longer and sadder things, which turned into her first short films. For Aemilia, filmmaking unites the skills of image-making, writing and performance. Comedy and art are both pursuits of truth, and once she actually made a film of her own, she never looked back. Her first film, BEST IF USED BY, won a number of awards, including a premiere at Clermont Ferrand, a BAFTA award at Aspen Shortsfest, honorable mentions at REGARD Quebec and USA Dallas, and best short of 2013 at Newfilmmakers LA. Her next film, FOR A GOOD TIME, premiered at Aspen Shortsfest. She has two films on the festival world right now: SHOT, which premiered at Chicago International Film Fest and which won Best Short at Minimalen Film Festival Norway, and HOW YOU ARE TO ME, which won best drama at Short Sweet Film Fest.


This year’s mentors are another eclectic and talented group:

Sabrina Dhawan headshot 400Sabrina Dhawan

Sabrina Dhawan grew up in Delhi. She has received her BA from Delhi University, an M.A. from Leicester University, England and an MFA in Film from Columbia University. Her student short SAANJH – AS NIGHT FALLS won ‘Best of the Festival’ at the Palm Springs Film Festival; ‘Most Original Film’ from New Line Cinema; and the ‘Audience Impact’ Award at Angelus Awards; and was nominated for a Student Academy Award.

Sabrina’s debut feature as screenwriter, MONSOON WEDDING, won the ‘Leon D’Oro’ at the Venice Film Festival and received a Golden Globe nomination, amongst other awards. She was the bookwriter on the stage musical adaptation of the film, which premiered at Berkeley Rep (CA) in the summer of 2017. It was extended three times because of demand for tickets and went on to become the most lucrative show in the history of Berkeley Rep.

Sabrina’s other produced screenplay credits include KAMINEY and RANGOON by Vishal Bharadwaj; ISHQIYA, directed by Abhishek Chaubey; 11.9.01, directed by Nair; and Cosmopolitan for PBS. She served as co-producer on Bollywood Hero, a mini-series for IFC. The studios and production companies Sabrina has been commissioned to write for include UTV, 20th Century Fox, HBO, Disney, Fox-Star, Killer Films, ABC Family, and Fox Searchlight. Sabrina has taught at filmmaking labs and been on film juries around the world, including India, Uganda, Tanzania Singapore, Qatar and across the continental USA. Sabrina is a Professor of Dramatic Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.

James V Hart headshot 400James V. Hart

James V. Hart (J.V.) was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas, on drive-in movies and Saturday matinees. His writing/producing credits include HOOK, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on an idea by Hart’s then 6-year-old son Jake; BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, directed by Francis Ford Coppola; MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Brian Henson; and CONTACT, directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Other writing/producing credits include MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, TUCK EVERLASTING, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK: THE REAL STORYSAHARA, LARA CROFT: TOMBRAIDER – THE CRADLE OF LIFE, AUGUST RUSH, EPIC, and the TV series Crossbones. Hart has served on the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate Film program, and served as mentor and advisor at the Austin Writer’s Ranch, Sundance Film Labs, and the eQuinoxe-Europe Writing Workshops for over 20 years in 11 countries. Hart has also conducted the Puglia Experience for writers and producers, held in the Puglia region in Italy.

Hart is a co-founder of the Peter Pan Children’s Fund, a non-profit that fosters youth philanthropy supporting Children’s Hospitals, has served on the Meadows School of the Arts board at SMU, is a founding member of the Writer’s Guild Initiative board, and founded Lionfish University, a non-profit dedicated to reef preservation and conservation. His renowned story mapping tool app, The Hart Chart, was launched online at the 2015 Austin Film Festival.

“Go with Gravity” is Hart’s primary mantra for the writing life.

Alec Sokolow headshot 400Alec Sokolow

Alec Sokolow has worn many hats in his career as a professional writer, a career in Hollywood that has taken him from staff writing in late-night TV comedy to having written some of the most memorable studio films of our time to writing the story for a top video game series.

His credited film work has topped one billion dollars in worldwide Box Office receipts, including TOY STORY (1995, Disney Animation, Pixar), for which he received an Academy Award® nomination and won an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Writing, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (2003, 20th Century Fox), GARFIELD (2004, 20th Century Fox), EVAN ALMIGHTY (2006, Universal), GOODBYE LOVER (1998, Warner Brothers), MONEY TALKS (1996, New Line Cinema), and I AM JANE DOE (2017, Producer).

Learn more about the HIFF Screenwriters Lab