By Alexis De La Rosa
April Dobbins was given the chance of a lifetime when she was selected as one of four 2017 Sundance Knight Fellows. Recognized for her esteemed work and her upcoming documentary feature, Alabamaland, Dobbins was able to attend the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, mingle with industry leaders, and pitch her ideas to award-winning producers and directors from all over the world. She is earning her M.F.A. in motion pictures at University of Miami School of Communication and is also director of prestigious awards and fellowships in the Office of Academic Enhancement at the university.
During the 2017 Knight Fellowship, Dobbins participated in a five-day residency at the Sundance Film Festival, where she took part in a specially curated program that included meetings with Sundance staff mentors, attendance at screenings and panels, roundtable discussions, and other activities. This exclusive opportunity is only offered to four elite students from select cities across the U.S, who are identified by the Sundance Institute.
A few months ago, Dobbins began a “mysterious process,” when she was selected by the Sundance Institute as a possible candidate for the Sundance Knight Fellowship Program. Dobbins’ documentary, Alabamaland, may have been one of the reasons she was first considered.
The documentary focuses on the Dobbins’ family farm in Alabama. As the older generations are looking to pass on the family farm to their children and grandchildren, the younger generation has other plans for their lives. Alabamaland follows the family dynamic created through the conflict.
Dobbins started working on the documentary in a class taught by Tom Musca, assistant professor of professional practice. According to Musca, Dobbins is one of the most elite students he’s ever had
“April is one of the top graduate students I’ve had in seven years of teaching here. She is the only student I have ever had that I’ve ever told to stop taking my class and go out and launch your career. She’s so evolved as a writer. Her work jumps off the page,” said Musca.
Dobbins’s award-winning work has been featured in publications and screened at festivals all over the world, including the Los Angeles Black Film Festival, Key West Film Festival, and the Gary International Black Film Festival. She has been published in more than 10 publications including, the Philadelphia City Paper, Redivider, and Transition magazine – a publication of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. She is a recipient of the S. J. Weiler Fund Award, which is made in recognition of exemplary artistic achievement and creativity in the visual arts, as well as significant contributions to the arts community.
Dobbins credits the skills she learned through the M.F.A. Motion Pictures program for some of her greatest achievements. According to Dobbins, pitching her ideas so often in Professor Musca’s class made her comfortable communicating her ideas to all different kinds of audiences.
“Pitching so many times in class really helped me. Having pitched my ideas over and over again to different people and different audiences really helped me pitch my ideas to Sundance in a way I was comfortable with,” said Dobbins.
During the festival, Dobbins pitched her ideas to various industry leaders and received feedback from festival mentors, including Dawn Porter, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Trilogy Films.
To Dobbins, speaking with Porter was a once in a lifetime experience.
“Dawn Porter has a career I want to emulate. She comes from the South the same way that I do, and she does the type of documentaries I like to do. So, when I got to have a meeting with her, she connected me with people who wanted to invest in my career,” said Dobbins.