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Giving Voice

Synopsis

August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of "Fences," “The Piano Lesson,” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” is recognized as one of America’s preeminent playwrights, chronicling the African American experience with ten plays - each based in a different decade of the 20th Century.

Every year, thousands of students from twelve cities perform a monologue of Wilson’s in competition for a chance to perform at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway.

Through following this competition, GIVING VOICE examines how Wilson, a singular talent and artist, provides a lens for a new generation to understand the world they live in and inspires them to find their own voice to survive and persevere in their increasingly complicated world.

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The Filmmakers

James D. Stern Director and Producer

GIVING VOICE is James Stern’s seventh documentary that he has directed. He directed the Oscar shortlisted doc EVERY LITTLE STEP for Sony Classics, as well as his most recent film AMERICAN CHAOS. Additionally, Stern directed SPORT IN AMERICA: OUR DEFINING STORIES for HBO, the IMAX film, MJ TO THE MAX, THE YEAR OF THE YAO for New Line and ...SO GOES THE NATION for IFC. 

Stern founded Endgame Entertainment as an independent film company specializing in development, production and financing and has produced more than 35 films, over 20 Broadway shows, and various other entertainment properties. Among the many films Stern has produced, are Rian Johnson’s international hit LOOPER starring Bruce Willis and Joe Gordon-Levitt, Lone Scherfig’s AN EDUCATION, which earned three Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed SIDE EFFECTS, and Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE for which Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe Award and was an Academy Award nominee; and Oliver Stone’s SNOWDEN.

Stern is currently producing Mike Cahill’s new film, BLISS starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek for Amazon Studios. He also produced Fox Searchlight’s THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN, directed by David Lowery starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck, as well as the Netflix hit, MURDER MYSTERY starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston.

Other notable Endgame movies of Stern’s include Charlie McDowell's THE DISCOVERY starring Robert Redford, Jason Segel and Rooney Mara and COME SUNDAY, directed by Joshua Marston and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rian Johnson’s THE BROTHERS BLOOM; HOTEL RWANDA, nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor (Don Cheadle). Additionally, Stern is a two-time Tony Award-winning producer (THE PRODUCERS, HAIRSPRAY).
 

Fernando Villena Director and Producer

GIVING VOICE is Fernando Villena's second feature as a director.

A native of Miami, Villena likes to say that his editing career began when he was fifteen, as he and his friends were watching his Scarface VHS every day after school. One day, using two VCR decks, he took out all the “boring” parts and re-edited Scarface into 45 minutes of violence and awesomeness. It was love at first sight.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida State University, Villena moved to New York and began “cutting everything he could get his hands on”, from commercials and music videos to documentaries and feature films, eventually relocating to Los Angeles. Along the way, Villena worked with a wide range of notable directors including Francis Lawrence, Michel Gondry, Marc Webb, Davis Guggenheim, and Chai Vasarhelyi. His editing credits include The Darkest Hour (2011), Gamer (2009) and Crank: High Voltage (2009).

After 18 years working as an editor, Villena made his directorial debut with the 2019 film, Any One of Us.

Karen Bove Producer

Karen Bove is currently the Director of Development & Production at Endgame Entertainment. Ms. Bove started her career as the production coordinator for the first season of A&E's hit reality series Gene Simmons Family Jewels, where she served as the Associate Producer for the show’s second season. From there, she worked in the production offices of ABC’s Grey's Anatomy, Fox Searchlight’s Our Family Wedding, and Dreamworks’ Eagle Eye. During her time at Endgame, she co-produced the HBO documentary special Sport in America: Our Defining Stories while serving as the company's Creative Executive. After producing Stern's American Chaos, she was promoted to Director of Development & Production. Ms. Bove graduated with a B.S. in Radio-Television-Film from the University of Texas at Austin.

Schoen Smith Producer

Schoen Smith is an actress, producer, and director. Her latest documentary work includes  co-producing the award-winning American Street Kid, directed by Michael Leoni, which won People's Choice Award and Power in Film Award at The Beloit International Film Festival. She was also a Field Producer for American Chaos, directed by Jim Stern and released by Sony Pictures. 

Schoen is the co-founder of Venture Hill Entertainment, LLC, which raises funds for Broadway productions. Credits include Tony Award Winner, The Color Purple Musical, produced by Oprah Winfrey, On Your Feet! produced by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Evita starring Ricky Martin, Driving Miss Daisy starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave in London’s West End, and the National U.S. Tour of Matilda the Musical, among many more. 

She was the Producing Director for award- winning DOMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles and produced the hit show Elevator in the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival. 

Prior to that, she was the Director of Finance for LA CAUSA YouthBuild, a non-profit Charter School in East LA that engages disenfranchised youth in socially relevant curriculum and green building vocational training. She has also served as the Director of Sponsorships and Foundations for The Chicago Fringe Festival and the Director of Development for Collaboraction Theatre Company. 

As an actress she has performed on stage, network television and film in LA, NYC and Chicago. As a director, Schoen most recently directed Kaye Wink's one-woman show Token at Second City (Judy’s Beat Lounge) in Chicago, United Solo Festival in New York City (Best Festival Debut), Upright Citizens Brigade in LA, and Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin, TX. She wrote Hands Up, a spoken word piece, which premiered at Collaboraction’s Peacebook Festival, and directed the short play, Hoods, which also premiered at Peacebook. 

Schoen graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in Finance and Business Economics and is certified from the Commercial Theatre Institute (CTI).
 

Updates

GIVING VOICE awarded the Sundance Festival Favorite Award!

2/4/20

The Festival Favorite Award was selected by audience votes from the 128 features screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Congratulations to director Jim Stern and the entire GIVING VOICE team!

See the Sundance announcement here.

Festivals & Awards

Sundance Film Festival

2020

Winner of the Audience Favorite Award

August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer of Fences, The Piano Lesson, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, is one of America’s preeminent playwrights, chronicling the African American experience with 10 plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century. Now, every year, thousands of high school students from across the country gather in New York City to perform one of his monologues in a riveting, high-stakes competition on Broadway. Giving Voice closely follows the lives of six of these vibrant students as they meticulously develop their individual performances with the hopes of embodying Wilson’s legacy.

Directors James D. Stern and Fernando Villena take us on an emotional journey—equal parts moving and gripping—with these young men and women, utilizing the competition as a compelling framework for young people across the country to deeply connect with Wilson’s ideas. A singular talent and artist, Wilson provides a lens for a new generation to understand their surroundings, inspiring them to find their own voice and persevere in their increasingly complicated world.

+ Festival Website

Reviews

One of the '15 of the Best Films From the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.' This documentary centered on the August Wilson Monologue Competition for high schoolers will raise your spirits and bring a tear to your eye. Observing teenagers as they begin to experience the power of art to change lives is close to thrilling.”

-Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

An invigorating look at African-American playwright August Wilson’s legacy through the eyes of a cohort of hopeful young theater students across the country ... GIVING VOICE is the best kind of 'feel-good' doc: one that organically moves you in a way you didn’t see coming.”

-Beandrea July, The Hollywood Reporter