Cine Qua Non Lab – Creative Paradise for Screenwriters

Imagine two full weeks where creativity is your only priority.
Then, picture yourself in a majestic location, surrounded by writers from
around the world, where you are supported by a generous staff and brilliant
mentors to help you tell the best version of your story possible. And… you’re
eating epically delicious food.

The view from paradise, a.k.a. the Cine Qua Non Lab International Screenwriter’s Workshop

It sounds too amazing to be real, yet this only begins to describe the Cine Qua Non Lab International Screenwriter’s Workshop. Located in Tzintzuntzan, a small gem of a town in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Michoacán, Mexico, this lab gives screenwriters the opportunity to work intensively on feature-length narrative scripts in an environment structured to foster professional collaboration and high-caliber
script development. I was lucky enough to be one of ten writers from around the world in the 2015 Lab last month, which included artists from Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the United States.

The workshop sessions are held in English, and led by the brilliant Christina Lazaridi, a professor at Columbia and Princeton Universities as well as an accomplished screenwriter, whose many accolades include an Academy Award Nomination (Best Live Action Short). Artistic Director Jesús Pimentel Melo, an internationally celebrated filmmaker, co-founded the lab with Christina, Ladimer Haluke, Sarita
Khurana and Lucila Moctezum, who are all filmmakers that are passionately committed to supporting fellow artists. Jesús and Ladimer set a tone of unparalleled hospitality by opening their beautiful home to participants for delicious meals and inspiring writing spaces, all of which overlook the beautiful Lake
Pátzcuaro. My favorite spot is aptly nicknamed the “VIP Lounge,” a shady pavilion that is a writing space by day, where writers are periodically brought coffee, cookies and melon water… until the daily pre-dinner cocktail hour… when wine and appetizers are served, and occasional guest artists give talks while the sun sets over the lake. In all cases, writers are treated like VIP’s – and everything that happens there is in service to the creative process.

“The VIP Lounge,” Debra’s favorite writing spot at the retreat.

The workshop and living spaces are each down the road from the house, a beautiful walk along the lake away. But the experience begins at home, a few weeks ahead of the lab, when participants read each other’s work. We are introduced to each other’s projects before we meet in person. Our backgrounds are so diverse, but we share a common passion for film, and when we come together, we are already excited about each other’s scripts. Christina balances her own wisdom about story and structure with her unique
ability to lead the group in comprehensive discussions about each project. Her methods help each writer reconnect with what first made him/her passionate about the project, which is inevitably where the magic of each story lies.

Each participant has three opportunities to present work, meaning that script becomes the group’s focus for a full hour. Everyone works hard to give each other the best feedback possible. This in-depth approach to the scripts that begins in the workshop continues in spontaneous conversations every day – at meals, on walks to and from the workshop, and in small self-created “mini-workshops.” We develop a shorthand to discuss our characters, stories and writing challenges. This became a unique way to get to know each other as people and to develop intense friendships.

In addition to the group sessions, each participant has two one-on-one meetings with Christina to work through questions, focus on points brought up in the workshop, and to create an action plan to take the project to the finish line. Each writer also has a good amount of independent writing time and numerous beautiful indoor and outdoor workspaces to choose from for quiet, peaceful inspiration.

Like every Cine Qua Non Lab class before us, on our last day we planted an olive tree.  Jesús explains the tree represents our hard work, and that when it bears fruit, our projects will come to fruition. He encourages us to return to visit our tree, which marks our spot, and solidifies our lifelong connection to this place and to each other. Artists leave with more clarity about how to bring their scripts to their full potential and with a reinvigorated drive to bring these projects to life.

2015 Cine Qua Non Lab participants

Cine Qua Non Lab was founded in 2010. Recent alumni success stories include La Jaula de Oror, by writer/director Diego Quemada-Díez, which premiered in Cannes in 2013, and won numerous awards at Cannes and around the world, including multiple Ariel awards in Mexico in 2014, and is currently playing select theaters in the United States; as well as writer/director Maris Curran’s Five Nights in Maine, which will premiere at Toronto this year, and stars Dianne Wiest and David Oyelowo.

I encourage my fellow NYWIFT members to apply and experience this dedication to craft and professional development. Each year, ten filmmakers from around the world are selected to participate. Applicants must have completed feature film scripts that are ready for the revision process, and should be developing their first or second feature film. To learn more, please visit http://cinequanonlab.org/

– Debra Kirschner is a New York based writer/director and NYWIFT member, who
workshopped her script, Mallwalkers, at Cine Qua Non Lab in August 2015.

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