Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award – nominated, Sundance and Cannes Award – winning director and producer of narrative and documentary films and commercials. Jessica’s commercial career was launched when Steve Jobs handpicked her to direct Apple’s iPad launch campaign. Jessica won the coveted Cannes Young Director’s Award for her “Sony Make.Believe” film which also won an AICP award.
Jessica is currently directing “Picking Cotton” a feature film based on the New York Times best-seller and a story from her Sundance-winning documentary “After Innocence,” a game-changer in criminal justice reform. “Picking Cotton” is being financed and produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, producers Sidney Kimmel and John Penotti (Crazy Rich Asians, Hell or High Water). Jessica was awarded the Sloan Science Foundation Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Discovery Award at Los Cabos Film Festival to develop the film. “Picking Cotton” is the riveting true story of Jennifer Thompson, a Southern white college student who was violently raped at knifepoint, and Ronald Cotton, the black man she mistakenly identified as her attacker in a lineup. After spending 11 years in prison, Ronald was exonerated and freed by DNA evidence. The inspiring story is about forgiveness as Jennifer and Ronald forge a deep friendship and together are activists for criminal justice reform.
Jessica directed and produced her latest narrative short film “End of the Line” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The visual effects heavy short film is based on a short story by acclaimed writer Aimee Bender about a lonely man who goes to the pet store and buys a tiny man in a cage, exploring themes of power and its abuse. Staring Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory, Florence Foster Jenkins) and Brett Gelman (Stranger Things, Lemon), for Refinery29 and TNT's Anthology Shatterbox film series. The film won Best International Short Film at the Molise Film Festival in Italy and the Jury's Choice Award at London's Discover Film Festival.
Jessica’s first feature documentary film “After Innocence” which she directed, wrote and produced tells the moving story of innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and exonerated after DNA testing proved their innocence. The film won the Sundance Special Jury Prize and numerous festival awards before being released theatrically by New Yorker Films and premiering on Showtime. It was shortlisted for the Academy Awards and became a game changer in criminal justice reform, bringing awareness and change for the wrongfully convicted.
Jessica was nominated for an Academy Award for “Sing!” a documentary short that tells the universal story of how squeaky-voiced 8 year olds learn to sing and become amazing choristers with the LA Opera, LA Phil, Placido Domingo and other maestros. Jessica also directed “March of the Living,” a feature documentary which she wrote and directed. The film, a Brazilian Production filmed in five languages, features Jewish teenagers from around the world accompanying the last generation of survivors to the sites of the Holocaust in Poland, in an act of remembrance. Theatrically released by FilmLand & Conspiracao Films in Latin America and the US, the film resonates with global genocides today and the need to “Never Forget” as the last generation of Holocaust survivors pass.
Jessica directed “Bunion” a short romantic comedy starring Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Michaela Watkins (SNL, Casual) and Avi Rothman. The film had a successful festival run and film critic Elvis Mitchel curated it for LACMA’s Young Director Series. She is currently in production on “I Want to Feel Fun” an improvised feature comedy with Little Esther, Simon Rex, Avi Rothman and others.
Experimenting with the short film form influences Jessica’s approach to directing feature length films. These include “George & Brad In Bed” and “George & Brad Live Long & Prosper” about actor, Trekker George Takei and his husband Brad Altman; “SONY Make.Believe,” which received the Cannes Young Director Award and led to Steve Jobs selecting her to direct Apple’s iPad launch campaign; “Sing Opera” a documentary short about the world renowned Los Angeles Children’s Chorus mounting the new opera Keepers of the Night, based on Midsummer’s Night Dream ; ”Elizabeth,” about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
As an award-winning commercial director, Jessica has directed campaigns for Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Honda, Toyota, Procter & Gamble and many others.
Jessica studied film at Wesleyan University under Professor Jeanine Basinger and graduated cum laude in English and Film Studies. She is an alumna of the Film Independent Producers & Screenwriters Lab and the Tribeca All Access Program. In 2015 she was selected as a director fellow for 21 Century Fox and Fox Audience Strategy Program, which showcases the talents of women directors. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, DGA and is represented by United Talent Agency.
Best Documentary Short Film
Best Documentary Short Film
Cannes Young Director Award
Molise Film Festival Italy Best International Short Film
London's Discover Film Festival Jury's Choice Award
George & Brad in Bed
Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival Best Short Film
LA Shorts Fest
International Family Film Festival Best Short Documentary
Sundance Film Festival - Special Jury Prize
Seattle Film Festival - Women in Cinema Lena Sharpe Award
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Content + Intent = Change Award
Independent Film Festival of Boston, Audience Award
Newport Beach Film Festival, Special Jury Prize
Nantucket Film Festival, Best Storytelling in a Documentary
Best Short Student Film
Chicago International Film Festival
Best Short Film, New Orleans Film Festival
Best Cinematography, Hi Mom Film Festival