Monika Moreno-Lapp – 2015 Spirit of Windrider Recipient
“I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today without Monika’s unwavering belief in me. Sometimes that’s all that it takes.”– Barbara Stepansky, filmmaker; Angelus Award winner
Disruptor. Change Agent. Innovator. Nurturer. Mentor. Touchstone. All of these could be considered Monika Moreno’s monikers, according to those with whom she has collaborated or those whom she has guided along their journeys in the film world. These roles, and the qualities that are their underpinnings – commitment, passion, courage, innovation, creativity and tenacity – are what make Monika the very deserving recipient of the 2015 Spirit of Windrider Award.
Currently in its 11th year, the Windrider Forum at the Sundance Film Festival has grown into a distinct community of seekers, scholars, and visionaries, equal parts cinema and Socratic dialogue, over an unparalleled weeklong experience of screenings, seminars and celebratory events. A collaboration between The Priddy Brothers, Fuller Theological Seminary and numerous undergraduate film schools, the Windrider Forum brings together graduate and undergraduate film and theology students, in the immersive environment of one of the world’s premier film festivals.
One centerpiece at the Windrider Forum each year has been an evening showcase of award-winning student films, curated by Forum producers together with Monika, former director of the prestigious Angelus Student Film Festival.
“When it comes to Monika Moreno, I am admittedly biased — probably because she has been such an ardent, consistent and thoughtful supporter of my work and career ever since she saw Earano, a film I made in my second year of grad school at NYU. Since then, Monika and the Angelus Student Film Festival have been the guardian angels over my still-young career. Angelus gave my thesis film, God of Love, its top prize in 2010. And when the film was nominated for an Academy Award, Monika hosted a party for my cast, crew, friends and family at the Family Theater offices in Los Angeles the night before the ceremony. It was a generous and valuable gesture that I’ll never forget. Monika is a kind, intelligent, strong leader and I congratulate her on her well-deserved Spirit of Windrider Award.”
– Luke Matheny, Oscar-winning writer-director of “God of Love” and the feature film Lovesick, starring Matt LeBlanc and Chevy Chase.
If you’re a student filmmaker, or know anyone who is, you’ve probably heard many a horror story about the festival submission process, or even about attending festivals. In the mad rush to be discovered, many young filmmakers find themselves shipping their precious, blood-sweat-‘n-tears-soaked oeuvre off to a slew of festival programming offices, only to later receive formulaic rejection letters, or worse, to have their submissions mailed back, the shrink-wrap package tellingly unopened.
Not so Angelus, in its 15+ years. With a mission of honoring and showcasing student films that respect the dignity of the human person, the Angelus Student Film Festival grew from several dozen submissions in its inaugural year of 1996 to more than 5,000 by 2011, with more than 50 countries worldwide represented. Each year, a handful of those films – narrative, animation and documentary – were presented at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, with cash and prizes among the most generous in the industry. Despite its exponential growth, Monika remained integrally involved, from shepherding the films through each round of voting, to convening the jury of entertainment executives and artists, to producing and emceeing the DGA screenings in an evening that offered a glimpse of the film industry’s next generation of filmmakers.
“Simply put, the Angelus Student Film Festival is the kind of festival that filmmakers dream of when pouring their heart, soul, and money into creating their cinematic masterpieces. I believe Festival Director Monika Moreno is a key force in what made Angelus evolve into the diverse, strongly programmed and crowd-inspiring showcase it is today. Monika’s passion for superior storytelling and her support of the filmmakers has produced a family atmosphere that keeps past winners coming back to current Angelus events,thus ever expanding the ‘family’ network and Angelus’ positive reach.”
–John Arlotto, writer-director of Deface, winner of the Angelus Production Design Award.
Five Oscar nominees in five consecutive years. This phenomenon brings to a total of seven Oscar nominees and two winners among Angelus alumni – a noteworthy accomplishment. Monika’s exceptional talent and considerable passion for storytelling and film propelled the Angelus Student Film Festival into the #1 preferred international student film festival among 180 colleges and universities, garnering household name recognition status among the young Hollywood demographic. Subsequently, Monika fielded invitations worldwide to speak and advise young filmmakers, including teaching a writing course on short filmmaking at the Universita del Santa Cuore, Milan, Italy and has lead other seminars and panels across the globe.
An accomplished, award-winning screenwriter herself – her work has resulted in several options and awards, including First Place awards in the Santa Catalina Film Festival, Blue Cat Screenplay Competition and HBO Montage. Other awards include the Big Bear Film Festival, Long Beach Film Festival, UCLA Diane Thomas Award and Telluride Indiefest. Her radio plays were also produced and translated to Spanish, The Midget and the Music, Ship of Hearts and Final Season, and eventually went on to receive recognition from the Communicators Awards and The Gabriel Awards. Monika has a flair for detecting stories that are compelling in both their ability to evoke particular times and places, as well as to transcend cultures, borders and languages to touch hearts and minds everywhere.
“Monika doesn’t just support the film, she supports the filmmaker. Monika has been there championing me during the development of my career. She truly cares about you in your endeavor to create something worthwhile. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today without her unwavering belief in me. I’m very grateful that I could call Monika my guide, fan and friend. I couldn’t think of a better person to honor.”
– Barbara Stepansky, winner of the festival’s top honor, the Patrick Peyton Award, recipient of the Mary Pickford Foundation Scholarship and the Franklin J. Schaffner AFI Fellow Award as well as the Academy’s Nicholls Fellowship in Screenwriting.
And it isn’t just positive affirmation and visibility for their work that Monika offers these emerging artists; there is practical, career-making advice and mentorship. From introductions to potential executive producers and investors, to exposure to agents and managers, to creating an arena in which future collaborations among filmmakers can flourish, Monika has, over more than 15 years, had a hand in fostering many a film and launching more than a few on their paths in the industry.
“It was following the screening of my film The Replacement Child at the 2008 Angelus Film Festival that I met two producers who were taken with my work enough to want to produce and finance my first feature film, Girlfriend. The deal for Girlfriend was solidified during Windrider Forum at the Sundance Film Festival, where my short film got to play as part of the group of Angelus winners, the Angelus festival itself is hands-down one of the most important for any student filmmaker to be accepted.”
– Justin Lerner, winner of the Angelus Director’s Choice Award
Of course, one screening at the DGA does not a film career make; but Monika and her Angelus team were not content to let the story end there. Together with John and Ed Priddy, they pioneered “An Evening of Angelus at Windrider Forum,” affording some of the winning filmmakers another opportunity to screen their films in Park City against the backdrop of the Sundance fest, a convergence of filmdom’s key players and influencers. Attendance at Windrider Forum grew steadily each year, with participants debating, dialogue-ing and ultimately, drawing inspiration from the Angelus screenings.
“Monika Moreno is the heart of the Angelus Awards. She was there at its birth and helped shape its vision, guide its growth and always fought diligently for protecting its independent status. As Angelus grew, Monika spent much of the year in administrative, creative and promotional roles, but she was always true to her passion for film and filmmakers. “
–David Buelow, President of Film and Televison, Envision Media Arts, and Angelus co-founder, who produced the festival hit and Sony Pictures Classics release Celeste & Jesse Forever, starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg.
Monika subsequently brought similarly programmed “evenings of Angelus” – and these filmmakers – to the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, as well as to international screenings hosted by prominent organizations and film schools in Prague, Rome, Milan, and London, comprising a kind of “Angelus on the Road” series. Each stop along this trajectory added immeasurably only to the individual filmmakers’ experience and development, but to a burgeoning cultural dialogue, with cinema as the medium and artistic advancement as the currency.
“The journey through Angelus Student Film Festival and the exposure we received was absolutely amazing and came along with a great guidance and support from Ms. Moreno. The contribution of the Angelus festival to promote me and my film has been far beyond any other film festival in which I have participated. As an Israeli filmmaker, to receive the grand prize for my film demonstrates the vision of the Angelus Student Film Festival which ignites dialogue that respects the dignity of the human person, and stories from all cultures, faiths and backgrounds.I am therefore grateful to the Angelus Student Film Festival and to its director, Ms. Monika Moreno, for her support and many contributions to promote young filmmakers and cultural exchange and debate through film.”
–Khen Shalem, writer-director of the narrative film The Road to Tel Aviv and winner of the Angelus top prize, the Patrick Peyton Award.
“Monika is not only deserving of this award, but it is indeed long overdue, as evidenced by the vast impact she has had on young and emerging filmmakers. We are delighted to honor her at Windrider 2015. and stay tuned for an exciting announcement for the new student film festival that Monika will be leading,” Priddy brothers, John and Ed, Windrider Forum co-founders.
“I’m incredibly humbled to be honored with the Spirit of Windrider Award, and feel blessed to be recognized for doing what I love to do: explore storytelling through film and champion those stories that deserve – in fact, need – to be heard. To have this honor from an organization, founded by courageous, creative individuals with so much artistic integrity that I respect so deeply, makes me doubly grateful,” states Monika. “Can’t wait for the next chapter to begin, and it is fitting that it will begin at Windrider Forum this January.”