Sundance Institute Native Lab Returns to Santa Fe

Indigenous filmmakers tackle intensive chance to further their craft

Utah’s Sundance Institute announced Monday a return to in-person curriculum for its annual Native Filmmakers Lab in Santa Fe after two years running the program virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re excited to be back in Santa Fe and on pueblo lands,” the Institute’s Indigenous program director, Adam Piron (Kiowa/Mohawk), tells SFR. “Given the city’s history and place within Native art, it’s always been important to host our lab and fellows here to not only extend the inspiration that comes from this place, but also to reinforce the value of their work as Indigenous artists.”

Sundance founded its Native Filmmakers Lab in 2004 and has matched burgeoning Native filmmakers with industry experts for a series of writing, directing and technical workshops. Native Sundance alumni include House Made of Dawn director Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblo) and Taika Waititi (Maori), though they were part of broader programs without a specific Indigenous focus.

Of the eight filmmakers chosen for this year’s cohort, five are already relatively established and have worked on projects including Rutherford Falls, Residential and Positions. The remaining three are part of the program’s Full Circle Fellowship for younger creatives between 18 and 24 years old. All are directors, screenwriters or both, and fellows are encouraged to sharpen their creative and tech skills in an environment where Indigenous expression is the cornerstone of filmmaking rather than something that might merely be assimilated and presented through a colonial lens.

This year’s fellows include Taietsarón:sere ‘Tai’ Leclaire (Kanien’kehá:ka/Mi’kmaq); Daniel Pewewardy (Comanche); Tiare Ribeaux (Kānaka maoli); Justin Ducharme (Métis); and Tim Worrall (Ngāi Tūhoe, Maori). The three Full Circle Fellows are Kymon Greyhorse (Navajo/Tongan/2 Spirit); Anpa’o Locke (Húŋkpapȟa Lakota/Ahtna Dené); and Zoë Neugebohr (Odawa-Ojibwe).

Mentors include Sundance alums Patrick Brice and Bernardo Britto, along with Native alums Shaandiin Tome (Diné, Nat Geo’s First Native Congresswoman Elected in America) and Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga, In the Turn).

Actor-director Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute and its accompanying film fest in 1981, and the resultant offerings have proven critical in getting small-budget projects off the ground. Recent success stories include the Oscar-winning doc Summer of Soul (Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) from first-time director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; Boys State from director Amanda McBaine; Sorry to Bother You from director Boots Riley; and recent Best Picture-winner CODA from director Sian Heder.

“My team and I are beyond thrilled to be supporting this latest cohort of artists for our lab,” Piron said in a statement Monday. “We come from storytelling cultures millennia older than film and television themselves and this year’s selection is a vibrant testament to our artists celebrating and expanding those traditions across genre, artistic approaches and formats. The work speaks for itself. If the past few years have proven anything within the film, TV and art world, it’s that Indigenous artists have been pushing the envelope by telling their own stories on their own terms.”

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