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Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe
CONTENTS VOICES Conversations between Sundance Institute program directors and Sundance artist alumni yield insights into the creative processes of these artists.
10 Jonas Carpignano Interviewed by Michelle Satter
30 Brie Larson Interviewed by John Cooper
38 Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe Interviewed by Tabitha Jackson
60 Heather McIntosh Interviewed by Peter Golub
68 Blackhorse Lowe Interviewed by N. Bird Runningwater
82 Dominique Morisseau Interviewed by Christopher Hibma
IT ALL BEGINS WITH GLASS
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Dreams of Dust
CONTENTS SOURCE MATERIAL 21 Through words and pictures, production designer Inbal Weinberg shares
the ideas and influences that culminate in spaces that appear on screen.
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR 46 Eight distinct film stills offer a world tour through cinema.
TEN YEARS OF NEW FRONTIER 66 Looking back at a decade of looking ahead.
A MIDNIGHT RETROSPECTIVE 72 Twenty-five years of the wildest spectacles on Sundance screens.
A standing ovation for Bloodline.
Photo courtesy of The Moorings Village & Spa
Thank you to KZK Productions, Sony Pictures Television and Netflix for filming in The Florida Keys. Such a bright, sunny place for so many dark family secrets. For details, go to filmkeys.com, call 305-293-1800 or email email@example.com ISL KEY W EST
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MCTFC-1446 2016 Radar (Sundance Institute) • LO1 • Annual ‘16
R A DA R
THE MAGAZINE OF SUNDANCE INSTITUTE l 2016
701 North West Shore Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609 Tel: 813.639.1900 www.faircount.com www.defensemedianetwork.com EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham RADAR Editorial Director: Nate von Zumwalt Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Contributing Editor: Bridgette Bates DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director: Robin K. McDowall Project Designer: Daniel Mrgan Designer: Kenia Y. Perez-Ayala Ad Traffic Manager: Rebecca Laborde ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Steve Chidel Account Executive: Andy Moss OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Business Development: Damion Harte Financial Controller: Robert John Thorne Chief Information Officer: John Madden Business Analytics Manager: Colin Davidson PUBLISHER: Ross Jobson
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Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film and theater artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. sundance.org
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JONAS CARPIGNANO interviewed by Michelle Satter
Writer/director Jonas Carpignano’s masterful debut feature Mediterranea follows a young Burkina Faso man as he takes a treacherous land-and-sea journey to Italy in search of a better life. Instead of finding a new world of promised opportunities, he discovers the intolerant society facing many immigrants today. Carpignano, whose mother is African-American and whose father is Italian, grew up in New York and Rome and has long been interested in the experience of the black population in Italy. Inspired by the 2010 Rosarno race riots that shook Italy, Carpignano made the award-winning short film A Chjana. In 2012, he attended Sundance Institute’s Directors and Screenwriters Labs to expand A Chjana into the feature-length Mediterranea. After continued production support and mentorship from the Institute’s Feature Film Program, Mediterranea premiered at Cannes in 2015 to critical acclaim. As Europe faces one of its worst migrant crises in history, Michelle Satter, the founder and director of Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, recently spoke to Carpignano from his home in Italy about the timeliness of Mediterranea’s sensitive subject matter.
Satter: We discovered your work when we saw your very accomplished short film A Chjana. Your first feature, Mediterranea, is an extension of the short. Can you talk about what inspired you to tell this story?
Carpignano: Making that short film was a way for me to explore race relations in Italy. It’s a thing I’ve always been very, very sensitive to because of my background. My mother is African-American and my father is Italian. It obviously had a big effect on me that my mother was always the only black person in our social circle while living in Rome. And I think that made me very sensitive to race relations in Italy. I certainly felt the difference between what was happening in the Bronx and what was happening in Rome. So when I started making or wanting to make films in Italy, I started to think of stories that I had never seen told and that I felt a connection to. The more I thought about it, the more I realized
that no one in Italy was really making anything from a black perspective. There were definitely not a lot of African-Italian filmmakers and even [fewer] African-Italian protagonists. There was a riot in 2010 when the African population in a small town in southern Italy revolted against the way they were being treated. And it ended up being a very violent protest in response to the violence against their community. To me, it felt like the perfect time to make a film about the African community in southern Italy. I felt that if this was the first time that they were going to speak up for themselves in such a forceful way and say, “We’re here, what’s happening to us is unacceptable,” [then] for me, it was a perfect time to find someone in that community to tell the whole story. I had originally just wanted to make a film about that riot. I thought, “OK, I’m going to go down, do some research, and see what I can do, see if I can get people in Italy and the world to
Doha Film Institute is an independent, non-profit organization established in 2010. Its platforms include funding and production of local, regional and international films, educations programmes, film screenings, the Ajyal Youth Film Festival and Qumra, a gathering of international industry.
Doha Film Institute, Qumra 2016 4–9 March Doha, Qatar
A space for new voices in cinema
Qumra is an initiative that seeks to provide mentorship, nurturing and hands-on development for emerging filmmakers from Qatar and around the world.
Qumra Master Classes:
Master Classes with acclaimed actors and filmmakers. The first edition of Qumra featured Master Classes with Gael García Bernal, Elia Suleiman, Cristian Mungiu, Abderrahmane Sissako and Danis Tanović.
Films at various stages of production are selected to benefit from the experience of international film industry experts in bespoke mentorship and business meetings.
A series of screenings featuring films by international masters and recipients of support from the institute.
For more information, please visit www.dohafilminstitute.com
Connect with us:
DohaFilm @DohaFilm DohaFilm #Qumra16
feel closer to this community that has almost no representation.” The short film was very much about trying to expose a situation. And I think that what happened to me when I was making that film – and ultimately what I think changed the direction of the kind of film I wanted to make – is that when I went down there to do the research, I met a single person who ended up being the lead actor in the short film and also the lead actor in the feature film Mediterranea. And when I met him, I knew that we could do something bigger, that I didn’t necessarily want to make just a short film of that situation, that I would rather talk about a specific individual, hoping that we could have a closer emotional connection to the whole life of a migrant.
I know having worked with you at the Sundance Labs that you love directing. You’re very alive and dynamic as a director on set and it was exciting to watch you work. Can you talk about what you love about directing with a focus on the collaborative element that feeds you as a director, as I know – especially on Beasts of the Southern Wild (directed by Benh Zeitlin) – you’ve worked in different capacities in production. It’s a lot of things. In terms of when I’m directing and I’m on set, I find that I like to feel that I am on the same page with people and that we’re creating something together. One thing that was amazing about Sundance, because that community was so small and tight-knit, was that acclimation period – where it takes a while to get to know someone – immediately disappeared. So you can find an actor from Utah who shows up on your set, and within three hours, it feels like you’ve known her for three months. I think that the really intense proximity you feel with someone, that shared desire to create something, is what I really, really thrive on. It’s almost like the world dissolves, and for a couple of moments, everyone is on the same page trying to create the same thing. When I was an assistant on bigger movies and I was working in Italy, I never really felt that kind of thing. I felt like everyone had a different job and they were creating a product – almost like factory workers on an assembly line. But then I
“IT’S ALMOST LIKE THE WORLD DISSOLVES, AND FOR A COUPLE OF MOMENTS, EVERYONE IS ON THE SAME PAGE TRYING TO CREATE THE SAME THING.” – Jonas Carpignano
worked on Beasts of the Southern Wild, [and] I remember I had this feeling of everyone being part of the same thing. Of course, people had specific jobs, [but] everyone had one main goal, which was to make the film good, whereas with bigger productions I felt like everyone’s main goal was to do their own specific job well. And that distinction is slight, but to me it’s really important, and it’s what really makes me thrive when you feel like you’re a team with everyone around you and the common goal is to create something that is special.
Talk about the process of making Mediterranea – what were your biggest challenges and your most joyful moments? The toughest thing was getting it together, and making it take off. The hardest moments for me were those moments where I had been telling everyone for so long in the community down here that we’re going to make a film, and then there were those moments when it felt like the plug got pulled on us. Everyone had been counting on it, everyone really wanted to tell their story in some way, shape, or form in this small town, and all of a sudden there were moments we felt like it might not happen. That sense of disappointment was something that was very, very hard for me to take. I didn’t want to disappoint people. I wanted to keep people’s enthusiasm for making the movie going, which was a hard thing to do for four straight years – especially since making the film wasn’t guaranteed. In the end it was a blessing though; the people who stayed with the film were
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really, really committed, and that commitment is what made the film what it is now. Once we actually started making the film, once the shooting started happening, all of a sudden, even though a lot of the things we were doing seemed very difficult on paper, everyone was willing to try because we all believed in the story we were telling. We all felt that this project was a big part of our lives and that gave us the energy to face any and all challenges head on. There were still challenges because we were used to making short films – we had made two short films before. Then all of a sudden came this feature film and we had kind of an infrastructure, kind of a baby-sitter, so to say – we had a line producer baby-sitter from Italy who was making sure we were eating our vegetables and being home on time, which is not something we were used to. So that simultaneously gave us our biggest challenges, meaning we had to work in a way that we weren’t
necessarily used to working, but at the same time there was that excitement of being kidsstaying-out-past-curfew sort of thing – this way of us deciding that we wanted to make this film the way we wanted to even though there were some sort of rules. So that “being bad” together collectively, it’s what gets teenagers excited. And that excitement that we were able to create because there were so many of us trying to do the same thing on set was really special.
Mediterranea, Jonas Carpignano’s timely feature-length debut, explores the immigrant experience in southern Italy and expands upon the short film A Chjana.
What was your casting process, specific to the two lead actors, knowing your passion for creating authenticity and working with non-actors? I know one of the actors you discovered in casting the short film, but can you also talk about finding Koudous Seihon, who you cast as Ayiva? To me it’s when I meet someone in life who is particularly charismatic, who really draws my
FILMMAKING Susan Ruskin, Dean
B.F.A. CONCENTRATIONS Animation; Cinematography; Directing; Picture Editing and Sound Design;
Producing; Production Design; Screenwriting
Coming Fall 2016 M.F.A. CONCENTRATIONS Creative Producing; Screenwriting; Film Music Composition
INTERVIEW LOCATIONS On campus; by Skype or phone for applicants outside of U.S.
Your passion today. Your profession tomorrow.
“THERE WAS, ON A VERY SIMPLE LEVEL, THE PERSON WHO ALWAYS WANTED TO LOOK IN THE CAMERA, OR THERE WAS THE PERSON WHO ALWAYS WANTED TO TURN ON THEIR ACTING SKILLS ONCE THE CAMERA WAS ON.” – Jonas Carpignano attention, who is someone I like to observe. So Koudous was one of those people. When I first met him, he had such a magnetic draw. And I thought to myself, “OK, if that same energy in some way could be put on the screen, I feel like the audience would also be attracted to it.” So for me, casting meant finding these individuals in this town where I’m living who had a commanding presence – not always the most confident – but they had something magnetic, something that I’m drawn to to have them as friends and also as people on the screen. I would look at them and say, “OK, you are someone that is easy to relate to. You are someone who lets someone in with the way you act, with your look, with something.” And that magnetic presence was what made me choose them. The challenge after that was getting them used to acting. Each person posed a different challenge. There was, on a very simple level, the person who always wanted to look in the camera, or there was the person who always wanted to turn on their acting skills once the camera was on. And working with non-actors, each non-actor has their own thing, each person has their own set of blocks that they need to get past to feel more natural on the screen.
What are you hoping will resonate for audiences who see Mediterranea, which recently opened in the U.S. and has played at multiple festivals and around the world? I think the thing that audiences have been responding to is the fact that people for the first time actually feel emotionally engaged with something that for most people is just a big news topic. That to me is the biggest compliment. It’s also what we always wanted to accomplish. At this moment in time, we’re saturated with this information – the saturation of images, of statistics, news stories – all telling us the same thing. But I feel when people are spoken at – like that newspaper format or in that televisual news format – people sort of turn
off. They see it, and they take it or leave it, but there is no real emotional resonance to those stories when every single day you’re going to hear it again. But what people respond to in this film, and what I’m particularly proud of, is that at the end of this film, you don’t feel like you necessarily understand immigration better. But you feel like you know this one specific immigrant very well. And you understand his choices and you’re heartbroken by things that happen to him. And that’s all we can ask for: that you stop thinking of immigrants as immigrants and realize that they are people who have emotions that we can also relate to. And to me, that’s the biggest reward. People ask me how is Ayiva doing now, because people are genuinely curious about what he is doing now. If he were just an African immigrant, that would be less of a question.
My last question: What is your next project? After having spent so much time down here and getting to know so many people, there are so many more stories that I’m trying to tell, so I’m making a film now about that little boy in the film, the one who buys the mp3 player and steals the champagne bottles. He’s part of the gypsy community, the Romani community in southern Italy. And it’s a coming-of-age film about him and his relationship with Ayiva. So a lot of the characters from Mediterranea will be back, even though the focus has been shifted to this little boy and his coming of age.
So is this a trilogy coming? Maybe. I’ve got to survive Number 2 first. l Jonas Carpignano is the director and writer of Mediterranea, which was developed at the 2012 January Screenwriters Lab, the 2012 June Directors and Screenwriters Labs, the 2012 Creative Producing Summit, and the 2014 Catalyst Forum. Carpignano is also a recipient of a 2013 Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, an Indian Paintbrush Fellowship, and a Feature Film Fund Grant.
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Entries due July 1, 2016
SOURCE MATERIAL From a dreary household on the outskirts of Pennsylvania to a rebel camp in the verdant Ghanaian jungle, production designer INBAL WEINBERG has shaped some of independent filmâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most captivating environments. Through words and pictures, she shares the ideas and influences that culminate in the spaces that appear onscreen.
Israeli-born, New York-based production designer Inbal Weinberg's first feature as a production designer was Hal Hartley's The Girl From Monday, which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. She continued her involvement with Sundance-supported projects by designing Courtney Huntâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Frozen River, Dee Reese's Pariah, Lance Edmands' Bluebird, and Derek Cianfrance's Academy Award nominated Blue Valentine (above left) and The Place Beyond the Pines. Inbal's recent projects include Beasts of No Nation (above center), directed by Sundance alum Cary Fukunaga, and Indignation (above right), directed by James Schamus and premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. 21
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR 3
BLUE VALENTINE Dean & Cindy Periera house
Though briefly featured on screen, the Periera House was an essential set for director Derek Cianfrance and actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. It was the director’s intent to create a fully functioning home in which the actors could rehearse and spend time prior to shooting. We shot Blue Valentine in two parts – past and present – and in between took a one-month hiatus during which the actors transitioned from their roles as budding lovers into young parents living in a suburban home. As part of their rehearsals, they celebrated holidays, went grocery shopping, grilled on the porch, and made home movies. The Periera House was therefore designed to be an authentic, personal representation of the characters, their daily lives, and family dynamics. 22
1. After much scouting in small towns outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, we settled on this isolated ranch house. 2. The house was empty and had been put on the market to be sold. 3. After speaking to the actors about their roles and learning of Ryan’s love for music, we filled the house with records, cassettes, and musical instruments. 4. We gave Ryan and Michelle Polaroid cameras to take photos of the family around the house, which we later used as set-dressing. 5. This photo taken by our set photographer during the rehearsal period shows the house dressed and messy from daily activities. 6. The actors had to clean the house and wash the dishes themselves during the rehearsal period, since Derek believed that the burden of daily chores added to the tension of married life. 7. During the camera test, we photographed paint samples to see how they react on camera and decide what colors to use in the house. 8. We shot a camera test on location to try out different film stocks and lenses. 9. Drafting the floor plan and furniture placement helped the director and DP during shot-listing, and was also used by the set-dressers when placing furniture on set. 10. We drew inspiration and references from various sources – films, photography, and personal images such as this photograph taken by Derek at one of the houses we scouted. 11. The actors after a long day of rehearsals. 12. The house had to be completely functional – we hooked it up to cable, Internet, and phone, and even got the family a Gmail account. 13. Authenticity was required down to the smallest details, like Dean’s driver’s license, fabricated by our propmaster. 14. A photograph I took at Derek’s family’s house in Brooklyn was used as reference. PHOTOS BY DAVI RUSSO, DEREK CINAFRANCE, AND INBAL WEINBERG
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
PATH TO ROAD COMMANDANT
COMMON SOLDIER RINGS
SUPPLY HUT KITCHEN SUPPLY
PATH TO INITIATION HQ TREE SHADE CANOPY
COMMANDANT SPEECH AREA
GATE SHEER CLIFF GUN PLACEMENTS
NDF CAMP 5/23
BEASTS OF NO NATION National Defense Forces Rebel Camp
In creating the NDF rebel camp, we were faced with various challenges – research and references were hard to come by, the terrain was an overgrown jungle, and the location, in Ghana’s Eastern Region, isolated. But director Cary Fukunaga’s vision prevailed, and the camp, once populated with our cast of hundreds of child soldiers, became a reality so natural to its surroundings that it seemed it was indeed built by a rebel army.
1. During one of our scouts, director Cary Fukunaga spotted a distant exposed ridge, which offered a cinematic vista for the NDF camp. After surveying the spot, which was surrounded by thick brush and overgrown vegetation, we decided to clear the area and create our camp on the ridge. 2. Scouting with Cary and the team. 3. In order to clear the large camp area, we hired a team of 20 cassava farmers from a nearby village. They worked with the art team for about two weeks to remove the brush. 4. In order to build the camp’s intricate cane shacks, we hired a group of cane furniture makers from the capital city, Accra. We lodged the cane artists on location for two weeks while they worked on the various structures. The sourcing of large amounts of cane, palm fronds, and thatch from the entire region was a complex task and we relied heavily on our local team for negotiation and coordination. 5. Our floor plan for placing the various huts and camp structures. 6. Authentic references for rebel camps were scarce, but our military advisor, Sparo Tarawalley, a former rebel leader himself, shared with us his personal experience and photos. 7. A view of our props room, complete with skulls and severed hands … 8. One of our characters, “the Controller,” at the camp. 9. The camp structures differed in look depending on their function and their inhabitants’ hierarchy in the camp. 10. Our team during the last day of building at the camp.
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR 12
11. A view of the camp from afar. 12. The commandant’s cabin was the largest hut at the camp, and even featured a minifridge run on generator power. 13. The bittersweet end: The camp was burned on camera by the rebel army as it moved on to other territories. Off camera, whatever was intact was left to the cassava farmers to use as supplies and shelter. PHOTOS BY GLENN OEHLSEN, MILES MICHAEL, MUHAMMAD “SPARO” TARAWALLEY, AND INBAL WEINBERG
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
NOTES CEILING 10'-2" TO DROP CEILING ENTRY DOOR 7'W X 2'11"H
PLAN VIEW SCALED TO FIT SET # 107 LOCATION:
SET: INT MESSNER'S KOSHER BUTCHER
CATALPA AVE/WOODWARD ST. QUEENS, NY
Messner’s Kosher Butcher Shop Based on Philip Roth’s novel Indignation, the film takes place in 1951 and centers on Marcus Messner, the son of a Kosher butcher from Newark, New Jersey. Designing the butcher shop required meticulous period research, including consulting period photographs, films, and publications. It was important to director James Schamus that the shop feel authentic, down to the cuts of meat and their prices, to help us understand Marcus’ character and relationship with his father.
1. We scouted for period storefronts in Brooklyn and Queens, and found an empty corner store with period aluminum siding. 2. We found the interior had been renovated and the windows covered. The place had been empty for a while and filled with construction debris. 3. We researched period Kosher butcher shops, specifically looking at signage, fonts, and use of Yiddish words. 4. Interior photos helped determine the types of meats displayed, furniture, and tools used. 5. A floor plan for the shop, including a freezer, backroom, and front counter area. 6. A photoshopped picture of the exterior showing the proposed sign, awnings, and window signage. I used this picture to communicate with our graphic designer, art director, and scenic painters. 7. Our scenic crew handpainting the Yiddish letters on the front windows. 8. We visited local butcher shops searching for meat and chicken that was appropriate for the time period and for a Kosher business. All meat displayed in the film was real and came from local butchers, which was a complicated logistical challenge. 9. On the day of shooting, the set is filled with period cars. 10. Sourcing all the items needed for a butcher shop was a complicated task, and included shopping in flea markets and out of state. We were lucky to find the contents of a defunct NYC butcher shop at a local antique store, and used several pieces. 11. Shooting an interior scene in the finished space. PHOTOS BY ALISON ROSA, STEPHEN GRIVNO, DEREK WANG, AND INBAL WEINBERG
BRIE LARSON interviewed by John Cooper
Cooper: You have such an interesting career path. It seemed like you had drive from a very early age.
Larson: Yeah, it’s weird because my interest in film and in acting is [from] before I had real solidified memories. So it seems like it’s been this bizarre guiding force in my life since before I can even remember. I was a super shy kid – painfully shy – and had a really hard time talking with other kids in the class. If my parents had friends over, I would hide in my bedroom. At 6, I told my mom that I’m supposed to be an actor. She thought that I must be just repeating something I had heard on TV, because there was just no way that this child wanted to do that. So she kind of laughed it off at first. And she was encouraging me to do all sorts of other artistic ventures that I was also interested in, like drawing. And I became really interested in that. And I did a storyboard for all of Lion King. It was like 300 pages long. I don’t really know what I was thinking, because obviously Lion King had already been made. They didn’t need
me to make stick-drawing storyboards. But I made one, and I didn’t tell my mom that I was making it because I knew we had an upcoming trip to Disney World. And when we got to visit the animators’ section at Disney World, I asked her if she had brought my storyboards. That was, I think, when she knew that I was a weird combination of artistic and perfectionist, which can work really well or it can work against you, depending on your ability to let go of that perfection and control. So because I wouldn’t stop talking about acting, she said if I took acting lessons once a week for a year that she would think about getting me an agent. By the time that year had expired, I was doing monologues and performing in the local theater company and was doing these performances every night in plays. But still, if my parents had friends over, I still would hide in my bedroom. So it was an odd dichotomy of being really comfortable with a large group of people and a performance setting but being very shy when it came to one-on-one social interactions.
At age 6, Brie Larson told her mother she wanted to be an actress. Twenty years later, Larson gleams in the Hollywood spotlight for her critically acclaimed performance in the gripping drama Room. Early in her career – long before this award-buzzy role in which Larson plays a resilient mother held prisoner in a tiny shed with her son – the actress learned to say no to roles that did not personally speak to her. Through her discerning “yeses,” she’s built up a dynamic body of work. From indie favorites like The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12, to blockbuster hits like 21 Jump Street and Trainwreck, Larson has weaved what she affectionately calls a “tapestry of weird.” Larson recently spoke with Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper about the contradictions and complications, the bliss and epiphanies of navigating a pathway of creativity.
RADAR Brie Larson and co-star Jacob Tremblay at the Los Angeles premiere of Room on Oct. 13, 2015.
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And once you made it out of your bedroom, you’ve bounced so much between television, independent films and blockbusters at the same time. Is that just following your nose through that or did you have some divine plan? I think it’s a little bit of both. I realized early on that the only power that I had was to say no. And I got very comfortable with saying no. I just didn’t want to do things that didn’t feel real to me. There were certain things that I knew I definitely didn’t want to do. I didn’t always know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. So my agent and manager have joked that I have used the word “no” far before I was technically allowed to. There’s this idea that you’ve just got to take what you get. And I never believed in that, so it actually took me a whole lot longer, I think, to get to where I am because I didn’t just try and slap my face on everything possible. But I was always very pointed in what it was I wanted to do. I know that I’m not a good actor unless I believe in it. So it meant that part of it was that I would say no to things. The other part of it is I think as an artist you get the parts that you’re supposed to get and you meet the people and collaborate with the people you are like-minded with. So because of who I am, I think it created a very complicated and dynamic body of work that’s not just one thing. It’s not a niche. It’s more like a tapestry of weird.
[Laughs] Tapestry of weird, that’s the name of your book.
after you walk out of the theater and keep you thinking about the movie for days, or weeks, or years, or for the rest of your life, hopefully. And then it’s meeting the director, seeing what kind of process they want to work with, and how they want to go down that pathway of creativity, and if it feels like that is a relationship that is going to work well; you want a different leader depending on what kind of role it is and what kind of movie it is. And I like to keep things different and keep myself always off balance.
Was there ever a part that you regretted turning down? Is there some part that you’d like to talk about that you didn’t do that you thought about later? There’s a lot of roles that I was very devastated that I didn’t get – not that I turned down, but that I was rejected from – that at the time just felt like brought me to my knees and made me feel like I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor anymore or if this was my path. But then by the time the movie has come out, I’ve always felt really at peace about it. It’s a weird thing … I [noticed] that I would pass on things because I was reading a script and I was creating the movie in my mind. And then I would reject or accept whatever imaginary hypothetical film I had made, that I was the director, the editor and making the soundtrack of. So I had to put aside all of my own hypotheticals and jumping to conclusions based upon how I would make
[Laughs] Something for a memoir.
What makes you want to say yes? Is it meeting the creator, like a director? Is that what it is? Or is it the script or the character? It takes many yeses in order to fully dive into a project. And first and foremost it’s the script and how it reads, how dynamic the characters are. I’m really interested in showing contradiction and complication. I don’t think anybody is any one thing. So you know pretty well off the bat: If you’re dealing with a script that’s filled with clichés, that’s maybe not something that’s for me. And whatever is happening underneath the storyline. I think all of the great movies have deeper roots in them than what’s on the surface. There’s the satisfying aspect of just watching the movie in the theater and playing and following the storyline. And then there are the things that are sort of underneath that linger with you
“SOMETIMES YOU REALLY JUST WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO DRIVE AND OTHER TIMES YOU WANT TO BE THE ONE THAT HAS THE STEERING WHEEL IN THEIR HANDS. SO HAVING BOTH AS SOMETHING THAT IS AVAILABLE TO ME IS SO IMPORTANT.” – Brie Larson 33
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a movie based off the script and instead deal with what’s on the ground. So usually if you go down the process of being really honest with yourself and not just reading the script but working with the director, feeling the vibe of all the people that are around you, instead of just inserting yourself and forcing a creative process to happen, you really find the places that you’re supposed to be. And so I would say 100 percent of the time that there has been a job that I didn’t get, whenever I look at the film afterwards, I go, “Oh, I didn’t get it because it’s not the movie that I had in my head. I wasn’t the right person for it.” I thought I was the right person because of the movie I created, but that’s not what was actually being made.
PHOTO BY JASON MERRITT
It almost sounds like you’re a director in some ways. Do you think about that? Oh, yeah. That’s where I’m headed. The short that I did that got into Sundance, I had never even watched a short film before. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. We made that short for $800 with just our friends and family. My stepdad was doing the sound, and my sister, who has never acted before, was the lead. It was a labor of love of friends and family. And it was just the act of doing. I did it with two of my best girlfriends. I was the only one who was 21, so technically the other two weren’t even allowed to get into the award ceremony. We were doing it just to do it. And I almost didn’t even submit it to Sundance because I’d never had a film that had gotten in either. I’d never been to a film festival before. So I didn’t know what a short film looked like, if ours was any good. And the only reason why I got in was because my agent insisted. I think it’s a $75 fee to submit, and he was like, “I will pay the $75, just try.” And just getting in was an amazing moment. We were like, “No way!” And then when we won, it was the most incredible feeling in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of anything or more out-of-my-mind excited than winning that award, because that was something I created completely from the ground up. I mean, we did the hair, we did the makeup, we did all the sets. We did everything connected to that movie. So it was really exciting. And then I did another short after that, I guess a year later, that I’m also really proud of. And that premiered at South by Southwest the same year as Short Term 12 premiered. And
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“IT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUILDING A CABINET OR BUILDING ONE THAT HAS TONS OF CARVINGS AND BEAUTIFUL DETAIL ON IT. IT JUST TAKES TIME.” – Brie Larson
it’s just always felt like those are the two sides of me. But it’s the difference between being the driver and being the passenger. Sometimes you really just want someone else to drive and other times you want to be the one that has the steering wheel in their hands. So having both as something that is available to me is so important. And I’m developing a feature right now. I plan to take time and shoot it by the end of next year. It may be lofty, but I’m shooting for it.
I have two big questions about Room, because it seems like such an important moment in your career. Did you know going into this project that it would have such impact? Did you feel it from the beginning? No, no. Well, it’s confusing to be in my position while you’re in the mix of the creative process, because you have no perspective of how it looks from the outside. There is so much more footage than what it gets refined to. I don’t think you can have a sense that you’ve figured it out, because once you’ve figured it out, then you’re kind of missing that friction of searching and trying to find it and keeping yourself on your toes. And you have the added viewpoint of playing a character who is really going through something very dark and traumatic and so your world is sort of colored and you’re seeing everything through their eyes. It felt the same way with Short Term 12. I did not realize how funny Short Term 12 was until I watched it, because my character [Grace] was going through so much and taking things so seriously that she couldn’t see any of the humor in the world. So it wasn’t until I was able to step back and view the movie as an audience member through Brie’s eyes and not through Grace’s eyes that I was able to make sense of it. It was the same thing with Room. The whole time we were making it, all I was trying to do was keep that boy safe and make sure that his every moment was comfortable and that he
was happy and that we were moving forward and trying to keep all the pieces together.
You almost answered my second question, which was did you approach this film much differently? It seemed like such a different part. Well, the main difference was just that I had time. Short Term 12 we shot in I think it was 19 days or 20 days. And I didn’t know I had the job until a month before, and I didn’t audition for it. So I didn’t really even know who she was. I didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out. And pretty much every other job I’ve had before that was the same thing. You don’t have the luxury of time. And Room was the first movie where I was cast eight months before we started shooting. So I had eight months to create her from the ground up and completely rewire my brain and change everything about myself in order to be her. And I kept having these moments of pure bliss and epiphany through that process, where I was like, “Wow. Maybe I actually have more tools than I even realized, because I have more space to do my job. I have more colors to paint with than I previously had.” That’s what I think is what’s different about this. It’s the first time that I’ve had time, had time to really craft something. It’s the difference between building a cabinet or building one that has tons of carvings and beautiful detail on it. It just takes time. It takes more time.
Well, yes, it’s a very beautiful cabinet indeed that you created. l Brie Larson first took part in the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 as a director, writer, actor, and producer with the short film, The Arm. Honored with a Special Jury Award for Comedic Storytelling, The Arm follows the misconceptions of a young relationship formed through texting. As an actor, Larson appeared in Festival films including James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (2013), Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Don Jon (2012), and Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire (2015).
LYRIC R. CABRAL AND DAVID FELIX SUTCLIFFE interviewed by Tabitha Jackson
When Saeed “Shariff” Torres, a counterterrorism informant for more than 20 years, takes on one last high-stakes job for the FBI, he invites filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe to follow his covert efforts to befriend a suspected jihadist – without telling the FBI. As surprising revelations emerge about the increasingly murky ethical grounds between preventing crimes and inventing them, (T)ERROR explores America’s misguided war on terror. This gripping – and infuriating – feature debut is the first documentary ever to place filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI domestic counterterrorism sting operation. Cabral and Sutcliffe developed (T)ERROR at the Sundance Institute Documentary Edit and Story Lab in 2014 before it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize. Recently, Tabitha Jackson, the director of Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program, spoke to the pair about defying the genre of documentary filmmaking.
Jackson: What brought you to documentary as a form? Cabral: I tend to attract characters, presumably because I have a very eccentric personality, and in that, I always saw good stories. [Through] the folks in circles I’ve been in, I’ve always seen very rich stories. So I’ve never had a need to imagine them. The stories around me have always been so dramatic and in need of telling in a dire way that I’ve never had to think in fiction terms because real life has always been so rich for me.
And David, what brought you to documentaries?
Sutcliffe: It was really the experience of watching a student of ours. Lyric and I both taught at the same after-school arts program in Harlem. And one of our students, a 16-year-old Muslim girl named Adama Bah, was arrested by the FBI. Just a Muslim-American girl from Guinea, West Africa. And seeing the kind of misery that her life quickly entered into, the way that her family was torn apart ... The New York Times
wrote a number of articles about her case when she was first arrested, and then when six weeks later she was released, it was celebrated like, “This is a victory. She’s been released.” And then the media attention kind of dissipated. But I thought the story was still continuing, and I became increasingly disturbed to see the way that her life was changing for the worse: She was dropping out of school. She was one of the best students, an incredibly smart young woman, and her future is just being thrown overboard. So initially I thought this story needed to be told. And if anybody should be telling her story, it’s her. I majored in film and I was teaching video to high schoolers at the time, so I actually ended up smuggling a camera from the program to her on weekends. And she tried, but she was working full-time – scrubbing toilets and worked as a nanny – to try to keep her family together. And she said, “David, I just don’t have the bandwidth to make a documentary film about trauma while going through trauma. I can’t do that.” So then I said, “Well, I feel like people need to know about this.” [It was] this driving
Lyric R. Cabral (left) and David Felix Sutcliffe (center) at the Sundance Institute Documentary Edit and Story Lab in 2014.
And that brings us onto (T)ERROR. By using the form of character-driven, longform documentary filmmaking, how did you navigate the relationships that you had with your main subject? Lyric, I know that you knew your main character, Shariff, before you started making the film. How do you go about making a film like this while keeping the integrity of the story but also being fair and true to your characters?
lacks judgment, because I think the strongest journalism is one in which the viewer is able to come to conclusions on his or her own based on the evidence presented and the multiplicity of perspectives that offer depth and offer a point of discussion. I think Saeed understood that that was my approach. He understood that both David and I are very curious people. And we were honest with him and told him that all these perspectives would be included in the story. We were so honest from the beginning, and Saeed watched Adama as well before we embarked on this project, so he was very familiar with how we would approach it. So that’s why he doesn’t feel betrayed. That’s why he’s comfortable with the film.
Cabral: Well, the well-balanced opinions that you see in (T)ERROR [stem from] the fact that Saeed’s personal narrative is contextualized by the narratives of people whose lives he directly impacted – to tell the full story of what he did. I hope that the type of journalism that is evident in (T)ERROR is … well-rounded in that it shows a lot of perspectives. And that it also
David, did you ever feel conflicted? This is a film about how people represent themselves to other people in order to get information. And you as filmmakers are going into that territory when you’re filming people and they don’t know that you’re filming other people.
PHOTO BY JONATHAN HICKERSON
impulse, something that I thought about for a lot of my waking hours: What can be done to help this girl and her family? So that’s when I began working on [Adama,] my first documentary.
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Sutcliffe: The question I had was: Is this an exact repetition of the double crossing that has besotted this man’s life? All of those betrayals have now come to this point where he is betrayed by us as filmmakers, someone who he has entrusted to tell his story. My initial intention [with the film] was pretty straightforward and one-dimensional: “Let’s get ’em, let’s show how bad the FBI is.” I had just spent six years of my life with a family who was destroyed by a decision made at FBI headquarters. And so in one sense, this was a way to address the broader harms that were being done by the government’s counterterrorism program. And I saw Saeed as very much embedded and interwoven within that tapestry. I didn’t know enough about him at that point in the beginning to raise him up from that fabric and understand how his involvement was different than the power structure, than the agents and the bureau chiefs, et cetera. And then ultimately the film that I think emerged is one in which Saeed doesn’t come across looking like citizen of the year. But I think we strived to incorporate as much of his own conflicts and intersections as possible to really illuminate how he and Khalifa [Ali Al-Akili] have both been victimized by the same system. Not to say that these men don’t have agency, but their lives have been harmed by government programs. Saeed at times has been a willing participant in it, but his initial introduction into it was pretty borderline coercion.
Let’s talk about art and process. Can you talk about the look and the style and the art of the film – so the form, not the just the content? Sutcliffe: Well, part of the initial style of the film was motivated by logistics. We thought we weren’t going to be able to show his face. So when we first [were] shooting, we were experimenting with that: How do we anonymize this man in a way that is interesting rather than just [mic’ed] in a boardroom, blown out with a window behind him? And that was really exciting and liberating for me, having that restriction. All of a sudden we’re shooting in this totally bizarre fashion where the background is sharp, he is soft, trying to get him silhouetted, when possible, in motion. It felt very much like dancing this ballet, trying to follow him, and, rather than to follow focus, you’re trying to unfollow it wherever possible. Ultimately we had a pretty early meeting with Laura Poitras. She was a really helpful, incredibly helpful advisor. And one of her notes was, “If you anonymize this man for the entire film, it’s going to be virtually impossible for people to make some sort of emotional connection to him. If they’re going to care about him, they have to see his face. They have to know who he is.” And she said, “I encourage you just to shoot him straight and cross your fingers and hope that you’ll be able to get his consent to show his face at the end of the day. And if not,
The groundbreaking documentary (T)ERROR takes viewers into an active FBI domestic counterterrorism operation as it unfolds.
then you can blur it and just see what happens.” And then ultimately it did work out that well.
And how did you think about the music? Cabral: Throughout the whole film David and I were concerned with having a sparse presence. We only wanted to be there to add a little context and push back against the unreliability of Saeed. And so in that sparsity, we knew that the environmental sounds of the investigation would be very important to the veracity of the world that we were creating onscreen. And so to that effect, in trying to minimize our presence, we didn’t really want music that was going to be driving a scene. So that’s how we approached it, sort of very sparse. And then beyond the music [to] the sound … the fact that the FBI text messages and communications are a rich part of the story, it took a long time to come up with the sounds for the text messaging and how the text messages would appear on the screen. The sound of the texts was critical because there are other episodic TV series and films that have used text messages, and making that sound unique to our film, that took a long time for designing the sound.
How do you two think of yourselves? Do you think of yourselves as artists or journalists or storytellers or documentary makers? What is your identity? There is such blurring of borders at the moment. Sutcliffe: Before this film, I don’t think the word “journalist” would have come into my head in terms of what I thought of myself as doing. But pretty quickly I realized that having that label was protective and also it was critical in order to make sure that I think a larger audience understood our intention and that we didn’t want this dismissed as something that was factually flimsy. We wanted to present this as a piece of journalism, as a piece of artful journalism. But we knew that there was going to be criticism and skepticism about what was occurring and taking place on screen because the incompetency that you witness through the story is pretty unbelievable as well as just the circumstances under which we’re filming. A lot of people [are saying], “How can this be true, how can this be real, how can we be seeing this?” which is great. But then you don’t want them to dismiss it as, “I don’t know where that came from or what that was,
and so I’m going to overlook or sweep aside whatever conclusion the film is making.” From here on out I would love to be able to preserve fluidity. I want to be able to move between [roles] as artist, as filmmaker, as journalist. But I think ultimately in terms of my long-term goals, I want to continue making work that addresses deeper political issues. And if presenting those works under the banner of journalism is going to be the most effective way of reaching people and penetrating and effecting conversations and dialogue, then so be it. Cabral: I consider myself to be a visual journalist just because that encompasses all the documentary work that I engage in on a practical level, from producing it to photojournalism to directing. I agree with David that the term “journalism” is powerful, because people necessarily equate that with truth or with fact-finding. But within that and in my future work, I do want to continue to push the boundaries of “journalism.” Robert Greene is a filmmaker that described (T)ERROR as a piece of “cinematic nonfiction.” And I think that is a great term for what we created. And so I want to continue to push those boundaries in my work. And also with journalism, I’m very interested in including more subject collaborations. So, what does it mean when you actually collaborate with a subject as a director? So these are things I want to explore in future work in questioning who has the right to tell the story? What does truth look like? Do I even need to be there if you do have the capability and want to tell your story – which David expressed wanting to do in the case of Adama; what happens when someone feels as though they are capable but just simply need a little bit of help? So in terms of journalism, I want to continue to push those boundaries as far as what happens when the subject becomes an agent in the journalism. So that’s why I say visual journalism, because to me it encompasses that sort of range. l
“‘HOW CAN THIS BE TRUE, HOW CAN THIS BE REAL, HOW CAN WE BE SEEING THIS?’” – David Felix Sutcliffe
In 2013, Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe received a Sundance Documentary Fund Grant for their debut feature (T)ERROR, which they went on to develop at the 2014 Documentary Edit and Story Lab and the 2014 Creative Producing Lab and Summit. (T)ERROR premiered as part of the U.S. Competition of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Break Out First Feature.
Dubai’s film industry has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and the Emirate has attracted major global productions from the US, India, China and around the world, as well as fostered the development of a dynamic local media industry. Dubai’s tax-free environment, year-round sunshine, excellent connectivity as well as diverse locations have set it apart as a leading filming hub. 15 years ago, Dubai’s media landscape looked different from the way it does today. With a vision to improve and promote Dubai, and the UAE, as a global, competitive media and filming hub, the government created knowledge-based business communities to attract companies of all sizes from around the world, using the large pool of talent and sustainable media ecosystem available locally. Dubai Media City (DMC) was established in 2001 to attract major global names within the media sector and provide a home for regional and local talent. DMC grew very quickly and demand for space was high, particularly from film and TV production companies, which resulted in the creation of Dubai Studio City (DSC) in 2005. DSC’s industry-specific, cutting-edge infrastructure and facilities, which include commercial office space, workshops, indoor water tanks and the largest Sound Stages in the region (over 65,000 sq. ft. in size), have attracted companies from around the world and championed the growth of the production and broadcasting sectors in Dubai. The Sound Stages have played host to a number of local, regional and international productions, such as Star Trek Beyond, MasterChef Arabia (the largest set to date), The Cube, and Al Beit. The Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC) was established to further encourage the growth of the film and TV industry in the Emirate, facilitating filming
through issuing permits, visas and so on. Working hand-in-hand with DSC and the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), DFTC has promoted Dubai’s development into a dynamic film and production hub that supports arts and culture within the region, as well as Arab cinema, and encourages the development of a thriving local media ecosystem. Dubai rivals regional film hubs, including Morocco, Lebanon and Egypt, as production and filming demand in the Emirate continues to grow year on year. In the past, Dubai has shown its capability to support large-scale productions, including Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Bourne Legacy and Switch. In 2015 alone, Dubai has attracted the major Hollywood production Star Trek Beyond, Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga, and the Bollywood film Welcome Back. The Emirate has also shown its versatility as a filming destination in that it can be transformed into another city or country to support the needs of any production, for example Dubai’s streets, cars, and so on were transformed into Pakistan for the filming of The Bourne Legacy. The Emirate’s iconic landmarks, such as the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, its diverse backdrops, which include deserts and beaches, as well as customised incentive packages also make Dubai an attractive filming destination. With the filming of Star Trek this year, significant discounts were offered by DSC to shoot in the Sound Stages, Emirates provided discounted flights and Jumeirah Group offered discounted hotel rooms. Dubai is home to over 200 nationalities, and its growing creative community, as well as innovation across all sectors, play a role in cementing the Emirate’s position as a hub for film and productions over the coming years.
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
OFF THEON THE
From Burma to Rwanda, Jordan to Chile, Ukraine to Morocco, Sundance Institute has broadened its support over the last 30 years to reach storytellers across all cultural and geographic boundaries. Culled from every nook and cranny around the globe, the Sundance Film Festival has showcased groundbreaking independent films providing portals into worlds rarely seen. Here, we’ve spotlighted eight far-out stills from the Sundance Institute Archives – dedicated to preserving and facilitating access to the work of thousands of independent film and theatre artists. Embark on this world tour through cinema – no passport required.
BRAN NUE DAE Across a spectacularly beautiful Australia, Bran Nue Dae is a foot-stomping road trip romp – starring Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush – that centers on the romantic adventures of a young Aboriginal couple. Loosely based on one of Australia’s most beloved and popular musicals, director Rachel Perkins, from the Arrernte and Kalkadoon nations of Australia, brings to the screen this visceral, spirited celebration of Aboriginal culture. Bran Nue Dae made its U.S. premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and it toured across the world with Sundance’s Film Forward initiative in 2012. 47
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
DREAMS OF DUST After traveling across the vast desert expanses of northeast Burkina Faso, Mocktar, a Nigerian peasant, arrives at a mining camp in Essakane looking for work. Racked with grief from a past tragedy and searching for a new life, he takes the dangerous – and rarely rewarded – job of mining for gold. Laurent Salgues’s entrancing debut feature pulls rich textures from the windswept wasteland, shedding light on the inner landscapes of castaway characters. With evocative cinematography, this visually striking journey wades through dusty panoramas to occupy a literal and figurative netherworld. A French-Canadian production, Dreams of Dust premiered (under the former title of Buried Dreams) in Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition in 2007. 48
THE SUMMER OF SANGAILE In 2015, The Summer of Sangaile had the unique distinction of being the first-ever Lithuanian feature to be selected for the Sundance Film Festivalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Inspired by her own adolescent summers, Paris-based Lithuanian filmmaker Alante Kavaite returned to her home for this poetically charged story of blossoming young love and self-discovery. Lush, colorful scenery mixed with turbulent teenage emotions fuels this rapturous film experience. The Summer of Sangaile won the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award for World Cinema Dramatic before it went on to play at festivals around the world to critical acclaim. 49
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
NUUMMIOQ Never before had an international feature film been produced in Greenland, until Torben Bech and Otto Rosing's Nuummioq, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. This ambitious piece of filmmaking – anchored by a mostly nonprofessional cast and crew – tells the story of a young man’s spiritual journey to the edge of the world. When Malik, a 35-year-old carpenter, is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he embarks on his last boat trip with his cousin into the fjords near Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. Filmed in Inuit and Danish, Nuummioq (which means “resident of Nuuk”) breathtakingly captures the vast radiance of life in a place rarely seen on screen. After Nuummioq’s Sundance premiere, the film became Greenland's first submission into the Academy Awards' foreign language category.
MADEINUSA Vibrating with the vivid textures of rural Peruvian life, Madeinusa is about a 14-yearold girl who comes of age during the Easter festivities of her tiny, isolated village. Set against Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range – a region characterized by religious fervor – modern-day urban values mix and clash with small-town life when an exotic stranger from Lima comes to town. Madeinusa – a wordplay on “Madanusa,” the name of the film’s young heroine – is the magical debut feature of writer/director Claudia Llosa. Premiering at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Madeinusa helped to launch the career of the Peruvian filmmaker, who went on to make Oscar-nominated The Milk of Sorrow and Aloft, which played at Sundance last year. 50
OFF THE GRID, ON THE RADAR
ON THE ICE In this engrossing and suspenseful feature film debut, two teenage boys who have grown up like brothers go about their comfortable lives in a rural Iñuit village. Everything changes when a seal hunt quickly escalates into a tragic accident. With cracking sheets of ice and snow-packed landscapes, writer/ director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, an Iñupiaq filmmaker born and raised in Alaska, weaves this transporting story of survival. Before On the Ice premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen internationally through Sundance’s Film Forward initiative, the project was part of the 2009 January and June Screenwriters Labs, Directors Lab, and Creative Producing Feature Film Lab and Summit. Okpeaha MacLean was a 2009 George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation Directors Lab Fellow, and he was awarded a 2009 Annenberg Film Fellowship Grant and a 2010 Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute Grant.
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KEKEXILI: MOUNTAIN PATROL In the desolate, mountainous region of western China called Kekexili, the only inhabitants who seem suited to the bitter cold are the indigenous antelope. But in the mid-90s, the once-thriving herds faced extinction at the hands of poachers who slaughtered the animals for their pelts. A legendary band of local Tibetan men formed to patrol the mountains; they were ill-equipped, unpaid, and sent out to stop poachers armed with machine guns. This true story is the basis for Lu Chuan's beautifully stark second feature. Astonishing audiences around the globe, including at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Kekexili raised awareness for the regionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s inhabitants and endangered species. After the filmâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s release, the Chinese government declared Kekexili a "national nature preserve" and established a forestry bureau to protect it. 55
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AFGHAN STAR An American Idol-type contest set in Afghanistan? Is there a more intriguing inroad into a region usually represented in our news media by death and violence? Havana Marking’s debut feature documentary, shot over four months in Kabul, Afghanistan, follows the dramatic story of four contestants as they compete for a chance to be the next Afghan pop idol. After 30 years of Taliban and wartime rule, all is not safe for Marking’s subjects, who risk their lives to sing for millions of television viewers. Through a universal connection to pop culture, Afghan Star offers a uniquely inspiring glimpse at this troubled part of the world. In 2009, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded both the Audience and Directing Awards for the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Afghan Star also reached global audiences as a participant in Sundance’s 2011 Film Forward initiative. 57
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HEATHER McINTOSH interviewed by Peter Golub
From mastering the cello to developing an electronic music palette, Heather McIntosh built up her avant-garde toolbox on the legendary music scene of Athens, Georgia. There, she got her musical start as the house cellist for the Elephant 6 Collective before going on to play with an eclectic slate of artists such as Lil Wayne, Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Cat Power, Superchunk, M. Ward, St. Vincent, and Bright Eyes. Ever diversifying her creative repertoire, McIntosh has now turned her talents to film composition. Over the last few years, the recent transplant to Los Angeles has scored the music for some of the Sundance Film Festival’s most buzzed-about flicks, including Craig Zobel’s highly controversial Compliance and Calvin Lee Reeder’s hallucinatory road trip feature The Rambler. In 2015, she teamed up with Zobel again to compose the mesmerizing orchestral score for Z for Zachariah. McIntosh talks shop with Peter Golub, the director of Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program, and reveals how she oscillates between chamber music and rock ‘n’ roll to create distinct musical landscapes for visionary filmmakers.
McIntosh: Overall, I’ve been really lucky to work on a lot of projects without temp and actually to write before we even get to picture – where I’m writing for a script, so we have a pretty insightful framework set up before we even get to picture. But I have found – as I’ve been working more and more when the deadlines are just blazingly faster than when you’re working on an indie labor of love [where] you’ve been on board for a year – when you only have a month and a half to infer all the information, or a month or three weeks or whatever the case may be, it’s great to know what’s working for them, what’s not. Even basic things like what does romantic mean to them, how do you create the suspense in this moment, and is this temp working for you. It sets up some basic parameters. A temp can help you get to know how your director works a little bit better, to know [what] kind of storytelling they’re trying to do with it. It gets you in a similar headspace. There are other things I love being able to work from. Say somebody is also the writer and they have a playlist that they’ve been listening to while they’ve been writing or films that they
are inspired by, whether it is specifically for this project or just for the long game, then as an artist, things they’re influenced by. Those all can help with the dialogue. But most of the time it’s a jumping off point where you’re just trying to learn how to communicate with one another.
Let me change gears a little bit. I know you’re a performer, a cellist. Where did your musical path begin and how did it lead to where you are now? I started playing piano at a very young age. My mom is musical, so I started when I was 3 or 4. And then I picked up cello on my own through public school and went on to do all my preparatory studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music – they have a really great young musicians program there. Then I went on to study at the University of Georgia – half because I loved the pop music from there, like REM and B-52 and Pylon, and also I immediately hit it off with the cello professor there. So I started studying cello and then switched from composition. In high school, I picked up bass and played in the Ohio jazz orchestra for youth, among other things. So I’ve always been pretty quick to pick up instruments.
PHOTO BY BRANDON JOSEPH BAKER
Golub: So, a general question for you. Temp music: helpful, annoying, some combination of the two? What has been your experience?
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In college I worked at the video store and had always been drawn to film music, but of course, from Athens, Georgia, you don’t necessarily know how you’re going to get there. But I just played in tons of bands and was also writing concert music at the same time. So I was spending equal parts writing chamber music from the second Viennese school sort of place but also loving mid-20th century works and developing an electronic music palette as well. From that point – playing in pop bands and touring a whole bunch in an Econoline van with my friends – [I went] on to playing bass with Gnarls Barkley. Danger Mouse was my bouncer’s neighbor when I lived in Athens, so at one point, he saw one of my other indie bands play and asked if I would join his band. So that’s when I started touring live with Gnarls Barkley. So I just kept going on a trajectory of touring. But all that whole time I was interested in film music and was applying to the Sundance Lab. So on about the sixth or seventh try ... [laughs]
From the skills and the practice that you’ve gained playing in bands, are there some that transfer over directly into your work as a film composer? Yeah … I feel like I have a really good crossover – I can talk about films just as much as I can talk about weird rock ‘n’ roll projects. I have a big range of background, so we can infer a lot of information. You know, if someone has some ideas for a string part on a new pop record, but say they don’t read music, I can help them get to that place where a basic piano line can turn into a more involved orchestral idea, and [I’m] able to communicate in a pop reference. It’s just nice to be able to wear those different hats, and also just being able to roll with whatever comes your way is really helpful, especially as an indie film composer.
PHOTO BY BRANDON JOSEPH BAKER
And then you have this quality where you move easily within different styles and genres. Has that been a helpful thing in writing for movies? Definitely. Given the opportunity, I would love to be able to score for all genres. Even when I was working with more traditional electronic music, I loved having parameters set for me. I loved being able to work, say, with just one initial source sound and figure out how to turn that into a whole piece. And I feel like there is something to be said for rubbing those parameters where
“EVEN IF IT IS JUST THE JOURNEY TO GET TO THE FINAL SCORE, I LOVE TO BE ABLE TO FIND THE INSTRUMENTATION AND THE COLOR.” – Heather McIntosh they work the same way. It’s all still process, and I love that. Whether I’m doing a horror film and I get to sort of riff off of my avant-garde toolkit, or if I’m working on a dark comedy that riffs off the more pop background, it’s fun to be able to explore those different territories in a way that it is kind of putting on different hats. You get to really live in that space for however many weeks and months that you’re working on it. It’s really exciting. I feel like it really helped me grow a lot as a composer.
Heather McIntosh draws on her wideranging musical background in her work scoring films.
You mentioned earlier your experience at the Sundance Music and Sound Design Labs at Skywalker Sound. Are there any things that you can point to that were big takeaways from your time at the Lab? Every single aspect of it was a big takeaway for me. I had already scored some films that had even gone to [the Sundance Film Festival] by the time that I went to the Composers Lab. And I’m so thankful that I had that experience going in where I already felt pretty confident in marrying my work to picture. But it was such a great opportunity. One of the biggest things was to be able to work with a larger ensemble with live players in the room. That was sort of the biggest first thing because while working on Compliance, I very much was using my pop background where I would multitrack everything. And I always thought, “Oh, I can just be my own orchestra.” But [at the Lab,] I wrote some fairly lush orchestral music, which for me was new territory, and to be able to write that music and to be able to have the ensemble perform that music in the room with the physics of all these players playing together, it really changed my brain around. And it was great to be able to explore that territory without the fear of blowing somebody’s budget. It gave me the confidence that that’s not out of my wheelhouse. I feel
really good in that territory. And that opportunity was huge for me. That definitely pushed me to want to be in opportunities where I get to work with more ensembles live in a room whenever possible. I always worked with my players, [and] of course, I love playing with other people. And you can feel the difference in the end result.
You mentioned Craig Zobel and Compliance and then Z for Zachariah. So you’ve done two movies together, right? Right.
And you’ve worked more than once with other directors, haven’t you? I believe so, yes. I worked with Steven Cohen on two different projects.
So what about that? When you go back and work with someone a second or third time, have you found anything different than the first time out? Well, it’s great on some levels. You’ve already defined a language. The jumping off point is a little bit more defined. You’ve worked through how to mold one score and you’ve developed the language together. And then the exciting place is like working with someone like Craig, where he wants to cover new territory as well with his projects. So even though we have that friendship and a dialogue on how to create together, we want to try to explore new territory every time.
How does he talk to you? What kind of things does he say to guide you in the music? Both contacts we started with a script long before the film was made.
And is that weird for you because you’re reading it and you’re maybe seeing a different movie than the one they’re actually going to film? How does that work for you? I like to be able to develop some sort of tonal palette. It goes back to that parameter thing, where I may read the script and, say, with Z for Zachariah, there’s this little pump organ in the film. So I immediately went on this whole idea of, “I’m going to record all these different organs all around the country and find the right sound.” Even if it is just the journey to
get to the final score, I love to be able to find the instrumentation and the color. Even if the initial idea isn’t exactly what the end result is, it’s a good jumping off point. I think that Craig is into that process also. I’ll come with these sketch ideas or talk about these different ideas, and then he is also musically minded in that he immediately responds to what the music is, if it’s working or not working. I found on the second project … it was funny, I was looking back through some old emails, and I sent some samples for him to listen to and I didn’t hear back. I was like, “Oh, no, maybe he hates it.” And he’s like, “Oh, no, I just totally trusted what you were doing and it sounded great.” So there are still things you need to sort out working together on a second project. But thankfully, like I said, with Craig, he does tend to have visceral responses to what’s working and what’s not.
I know you’re really busy with films now, but are you continuing to play and do work in bands? Are you touring or any of that? I’ve gone on a couple of tours this past year. I guess I really have been pretty involved with the film scoring stuff, but I still am playing in projects around town here. I’ve been doing a lot of solo performances recently, which has been really fun, just with basic looping techniques, sort of in keeping with some of my original stuff I wrote in college, some electronic concrète stuff. So that’s been really good to be able to still be performative and develop some interesting fodder for future projects. It’s great to be able to sort of go back and forth, and especially if I’m doing just the solo things, I still have time to explore that but then also get back to writing in the studio. That’s been really great for me just to develop ideas. l Cellist, bassist, and composer Heather McIntosh first came to the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 as the composer for Compliance, directed by Craig Zobel. She returned to the Festival in 2013 with Calvin Lee Reeder’s The Rambler. That same year, she was selected as a Composer Fellow for the Sundance Institute’s Music and Sound Design Lab – the first year Sundance collaborated with Skywalker Sound to offer artists a new suite of tools and resources to approach music and sound as integral parts of their overall creative process. In 2014, McIntosh was awarded a Sundance Institute | Time Warner Foundation Fellowship, and in 2015, she returned to the Festival as a composer for Zobel’s Z for Zachariah.
STORYTELLING IS AN ANCIENT PRACTICE THAT CONTINUES TO REFLECT AND SHAPE THE WAY WE EXPERIENCE OUR WORLD, UNDERSTAND OUR TIMES, AND CONNECT WITH OTHERS. AND AS TECHNOLOGY HAS EVOLVED, THE MEDIUMS THROUGH WHICH STORIES ARE TOLD HAVE EXPANDED FROM ORAL TRADITIONS AND PAINTINGS ON CAVE WALLS TO RADIO TRANSMISSIONS AND FILM. NEW FRONTIER IDENTIFIES AND CELEBRATES THE CREATORS WHO EXPLORE THE OPPORTUNITIES WITHIN THE NEWEST TECHNOLOGIES TO PUSH THE EDGES OF THE ORIGINAL STORY CONCEPTION AND CRAFT AND TO INVITE THE AUDIENCE TO EXPERIENCE STORIES AS NEVER BEFORE.
NEW FRONTIER DEBUTS AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL New Frontier starts as a showcase for work emerging from the intersection cinematic storytelling, the art of high-concept visualization, and new technologies marking the reinvention of our media architecture.
FINE ARTISTS FIND A HOME AT NEW FRONTIER In 2008, the program begins to attract top-tier fine artists such as Doug Aitken, Jennifer Steinkamp, Hank Willis Thomas, Marina Zurkow, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, and Cory Arcangel.
STORYTELLING WITH DATA Data intelligence, art, and storytelling converge through the breakthrough project WE FEEL FINE by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar. Culling data from a large number of blogs, the project creates a database of millions of human emotions. A beautiful and smart interface allows the visitor to search the feelings in playful and metaphorically rich ways, revealing a macro view of our collective emotional landscape.
“MINORITY REPORT”-ESQUE HAPTIC TECHNOLOGY ENTERS THE STORYMAKING PROCESS
Media scientist John Underkoffler and Oblong Industries choose New Frontier as the place to premiere their new operating system. Gspeak is presented through the editing app TAMPER, enabling the editors to create cinematic worlds through a gestural interface.
PARTICIPATORY STORYTELLING YIELDS NEW BUSINESS MODELS As the digital revolution continues, film and television audiences begin turning toward Internet-enabled platforms and devices. With the accessibility of in-home streaming, mobile viewing, and interactive experiences that integrate content with social media, Festival audiences begin to see New Frontier as offering a glimpse of what the future may hold. The New Frontier lineup includes Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord, a social and digital platform that invites its members to create work ranging from poems to films in a collaborative environment. As individual users purchase the work, creators share in the profits, and HitRecord becomes among the first platforms to establish a creative digital community and a business model that connects creators directly to consumers.
NEW FRONTIER STORY LAB LAUNCHES The dynamic work presented at New Frontier inspires Sundance Institute to deepen its support for the storytelling pioneers working with new mediums and methodologies. The first Sundance New Frontier Story Lab is held in October at Sundance Resort. Focused on developing resonant stories within the context of emerging technologies, the Lab brings together technologists and storytellers of all disciplines, and establishes a space for developing storymaking language, best practices, and techniques for new mediums. Among the projects supported during the first Lab are: QUESTION BRIDGE: BLACK MALE, 18 DAYS IN EGYPT, and KILL SHAKESPEARE.
WEB-BASED INTERACTIVE FILM With the release of WebGL (Web Graphics Library), interactive 3-D computer graphics can be rendered directly through web browsers, creating exciting new capabilities for URLs. And while user-generated content continues to take hold, transformative work like The Wilderness Downtown, ROME, and The Johnny Cash Project demonstrates the unique role of artists as creators of interactive storyworlds that may be highly customized, reciprocal, and break out of the single-frame paradigm.
TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING AND ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES MATURE Although the term “transmedia” is established in the 1990s, it doesn’t gain traction until 2003, when Henry Jenkins published “Transmedia Storytelling.” In 2011, independent artists and companies like 42 Entertainment, Fourth Wall, and Starlight Runner are actively experimenting with Massive Alternate Reality Games and transmedia stories. New Frontier curators invite Lance Weiler’s PANDEMIC 1.0 to appear at the Sundance Film Festival. It is the first work to bring together film, live action role play (LARP), social gaming, and data visualization. Leading with a short film, Weiler’s piece invites online pariticipants to join Park City audiences to overcome the virus and uncover the detritus left behind. Found artifacts grant entry to a private DJ Kid Koala party. The piece marks New Frontier’s foray into facilitating architechtural engagement with cinematic work that extends beyond the confines of a given room or building.
BIRTH OF A MEDIUM, VIRTUAL REALITY New Frontier curator Shari Frilot visits Nonny de la Pena’s research lab at USC, and experiences virtual reality (VR) for the first time. De la Pena’s HUNGER IN LOS ANGELES brings viewers directly into an eyewitness account of an incident on a food bank line at the First Unitarian Church in L.A. Impressed by its emotional resonance, Frilot invites de la Pena to present the piece at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The invitation prompts de la Pena’s intern Palmer Luckey to create a mobile version of USC’s VR headset, which becomes an early manifestation of Oculus Rift. This marks the beginning of the multi-billiondollar “gold rush” among the technology, gaming, and film industries to bring viable virtual reality to the masses.
REINVENTION OF THE EBOOK At the New Frontier Story Lab, two projects redefine the book as a storytelling medium. THE SILENT HISTORY is a groundbreaking novel, written and designed specifically for iPad and iPhone, that uses serialization, exploration, and collaboration to tell the story of a generation of unusual children – born without the ability to create or comprehend language. An interactive documentary that can also be defined as a next generation eBook for tablets, TOUCH examines the demise of print and other forms of tangible culture.
THE BEST OF GAME DESIGN AND FILMMAKING BRINGS HEIGHTENED STORY EXPERIENCES
THE RISE OF NET NATIVE ARTISTS AND NET ART A “net-native” generation of storytellers has emerged with only a foreign notion of a world where story, art, media, social communities, global connectivity, mobility, and technology do not occupy one space. With wildly different stories and styles, these artists share an unabashed willingness to play with and create net tools like augmented reality mobile apps, interactive films, social media, and customized websites to subvert the Internet itself and challenge our impetus to race toward technological singularity. Among those powerful influencers in the field are artists like Yung Jake, Jillian Mayer, and Lucas Leyva, all of whom are recognized as break-out stars of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. As part of New Frontier, Yung Jake exhibits E.m-bed.de/d and Augmented Real, screens Datamosh, and performs a truly 21st century live rap show. Mayer and Leyva receive accolades for #POSTMODEM, an inventive short film which goes on to play SXSW and Sundance Institute’s NEXT FEST. In the fall, the pair attends the New Frontier Story Lab to build out the story into a transmedia universe, playing out on multiple platforms and spaces. A new kind of filmmaker fully emerges – one whose survival depends not only on the originality and distinction of their story, but also with their comprehension of technology-driven marketing and
distribution. The moving image, and being able to morph it to your commands across multiple format platforms, is now a professional language required by almost all sectors of the film industry.
AUGMENTED REALITY ART BEGINS In 2013, augmented reality (AR) technology becomes more accessible through mobile device apps and artists begin to integrate it in their work. Yung Jake’s Augmented Real floats his avatar in your iPhone-occupied hand as it emerges rapping from walls, posters, postcards, and pinback buttons. He also integrates AR into his live performance at New Frontier. Using multiple large screens, Yung Jake DJs a club experience with YouTube videos that interact with each other, while embedding himself live via webcam into the various screens. Performing in concert with the other content, he raps, comments, dances, superimposes graphics on his own virtually present body, and playfully engages the audience in the work. Simultaneously, Lynette Wallworth presents Rekindling Venus: In Plain Sight, an AR companion piece to her immersive dome experience of Coral: Rekindling Venus. It allows audiences to connect to the world’s reefs via seven poster images of coral specimens that activate the app to open a virtual porthole to coral reefs including a data feed to current coral hotspots around the world.
Gaming is one of the world’s most robust storytelling mediums in terms of revenue and consumption. Technology has developed to a point where users can literally embody the characters in the storyworlds, and the integrity of the discipline as an artistic medium is undeniable. While game design has led the creation of best practices and a common language for interactive and participatory storytelling, it is not yet accepted as a medium that effectively conveys complex and cathartic stories, nuanced and fully evolved characters, and provokes empathy. The New Frontier Program invites two exciting game projects to the Story Lab in order to help them respond to these questions by pushing the medium to great depth in terms of story, emotion, and empathy: 1979 REVOLUTION (Navid and Vassiliki Khonsari) and WALDEN: A GAME (Tracy Fullerton and Lucas Peterson).
ARTIST RESIDENCIES The Artist Residency program is launched as a way to match New Frontier alumni with sponsor organizations that are also working to pioneer the field. During the residency, a New Frontier artist or artist collective works with the sponsor organization’s internal team (i.e. technologists, designers, content developers, researchers, community engagement officers, etc.), grantee partners, or other stakeholders to concept or develop a project that aims to push the boundaries of story in some manner.
The first four New Frontier residencies are held in partnership with The Social Computing Group at MIT’s Media Lab, led by New Frontier alum Sep Kamvar. Through this residency, Terence Nance, Casey Neistat, Lisa Biagotti, Alix Lambert, RaMell Ross, M. Elizabeth Hughes, and Shantell Martin spend up to three months in Cambridge with Kamvar and his team to work on the YOU ARE HERE project. The following year, New Frontier Artist Residency provides a place for artists to explore VR with JAUNT. Fellows include: Lynette Wallworth, Kahlil Joseph, Kim Pierce, Lily Baldwin, and Saschka Unseld
NEW FRONTIER RECOGNIZED AS THE PLACE WHERE TECH, GAMING, FILM AND THE ART OF STORYTELLING CONVERGE For the first time at the Sundance Film Festival, the New Frontier venue attendance rivals that of the Festival Headquarters. The program attracts a wildly diverse audience, including chiefs of film, gaming, and tech companies, Ferguson activists, journalists, filmmakers, hackers, and consumers. VR is presented and accepted as a rich medium for heightened storytelling experiences. With the attention garnered through the Festival exhibition and the continued work of the Story Lab and Artist Residencies to support the development of this work, Sundance is recognized as providing the R&D space and the showcase for film, tech, gaming, and art communities.
BLACKHORSE LOWE When a young, 26-year-old Blackhorse Lowe premiered his first feature film, 5th World, at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, he had already been making movies for decades. Growing up on the Navajo reservation in Nenahnezad, New Mexico, Lowe’s parents gave him cameras and cut him loose on the farm. He quickly moved beyond playing with kitschy re-creations of Conan the Barbarian and turned the camera on his own life. With a prolific slate of films today – including a myriad of shorts and his most recently released feature, Chasing the Light – Lowe mines the depths of contemporary Navajo life. He writes his own scripts based on real-life experiences and family lore; he casts his friends and family in leading roles; and he shoots on location on the Navajo reservation. In an interview with N. Bird Runningwater, director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program, Lowe discusses the heaviness and hilarity of translating realism for the screen.
PHOTO BY JUSTIN KLEMISH
interviewed by N. Bird Runningwater
Blackhorse Lowe, second from left, directs a scene during the filming of Shimásání.
Runningwater: Do you recall your first predilection for filmmaking? What ignited that initial creative spark? Lowe: My mom gave us some cameras that she had and my brother and my sister kind of re-created scenes from movies – Indiana Jones, Conan the Barbarian, Road Warrior. [We would] throw cardboard boxes on bikes and ram into each other or just pull each other from the back of a tractor or run at each other full on with a machete. I think it’s always been implanted in the blood early on. That was the first time filmmaking seemed possible.
How did those films look when you made them? Was it more about the act and excitement of shooting them?
out there, so I’m a continuation of that. I’m telling stories, [and incorporating] my family stories, and hopefully for my children and my grandchildren there will be something for them to go look on and actually hear our language. [Personal stories] felt more immediate and it’s easier to tap into the drama and the emotion. It’s a lot fresher as opposed to trying to imagine myself in South America or working with cartels or something, because I know nothing of that world at all. I make what I know.
In some ways you manifest that dedication to community by working with and casting friends and family members in your films. What does that contribute to the atmosphere on set? I think it’s another level of realism. I can play to their strengths in what they offer in terms of
At first it was just purely for our own enjoyment, but looking back at it, it was all just terrible footage [laughs]. It was more the act of doing and the fun of creating disaster and being bored on a farm.
Were there Native American artists – perhaps not necessarily even filmmakers – who galvanized your artistry at a young age? My early inspirations of wanting to draw and do painting stemmed from my dad and his style that he was influenced by, which was all the [art] from Oklahoma. I think for actual “art” art, being exposed to Van Gogh … [my dad] had all these art books because he was a painter as well – a whole lot of Rembrandt. He had a 35 mm camera as well, so there was a lot of access to different types of art forms.
PHOTO BY JT PRO IMAGING
So much of your work is informed and framed by your personal experiences, whether it’s exploring contemporary Navajo life (5th World) or revisiting tales of your own family (Shimásání ). Why is it essential for you to share these kinds of stories? Because it’s easiest [laughs]. Growing up in a large family, you hear everyone’s personal stories going as far back as World War II and different adventures, and all these different aspects of being a human being and Navajo at the same time. There are a lot of adventures
personality and whether they speak Navajo. I know there’s a certain emotion I can pull from them, or a characteristic I’m interested in, so it makes it a lot easier to just write stories for the person and hone in on the best aspects of themselves – or the worst, depending on what I want for the story. I’m bored with watching white people on screens. I’d rather see my friends and my family members and brown faces on there as opposed to a bunch of strangers. In order to make the film that I want, I’d rather surround myself with friends and family that love me.
Your most recent film, Chasing the Light, treads on heavy and emotional terrain, but balances that with a sense of humor. What’s the provenance of that story and how did this film differ from your prior processes? Firstly, I was acting in it as well as shooting it, directing it, writing it. Plus I was editing it myself, so I was having to look at and judge my own performance. Getting over that hurdle was a big ordeal. I had to direct 12 people at once in one scene, so it was hard to be aware of my acting, but also aware of everyone else’s performance and timing and how it looks for camera and if it sounds good and is lit good. It’s a lot of other hats to wear. The [story] is based off ex-girlfriends and watching other friends go through painful relationships and breakups. The extremities of what people will think at those times. It was just a lot of different heavy emotions that had been going on with my friends at the time, so I kind of chose to use that as a storyline. Out of that darkness, a lot of silly stuff came out of all these moments … It created some interesting tensions and storyline and really funny situations. You can’t have the good without the bad.
I feel like you know the circuit where a “Native” film can travel and the audiences that it hits. There are certain people who would come to see a Native film and have certain expectations. When you’re making a film, how do you teeter on that line of not serving that stereotyped expectation and also trying to do something new?
I think I just follow my own expectations. I know if something becomes corny really quickly. You know me, and you know how harshly I judge myself. I do not want to fall into the pitfalls … I just want to tell a different story in a different way. I have my friends who help me because
“I DO NOT WANT TO FALL INTO THE PITFALLS … I JUST WANT TO TELL A DIFFERENT STORY IN A DIFFERENT WAY.” – Blackhorse Lowe
a lot of their personalities and tastes are not exactly similar to mine but they are extremely critical. I try to keep it more towards the, not darker, but stuff that has more grit to it.
You almost give cues for audiences to exit if the film is not for them. I remember at a screening of yours, there was a first wave of exodus with the first heavy metal song in Chasing the Light. But then at the end of the film, the people who do stick around for the Q&A, they really feel served as an audience. Do you recognize that? I think so. Especially the people that have come up to me and felt really attached to the films. It’s not just Natives. In New York, they’re very film literate in terms of talking about [the influence] of Jim Jarmusch, and a lot of these cinematic references. And then we were playing in Toronto to people who were more into metal music. Both of those things are not too much in the popular culture, American or Native, so it makes for an extremely niche movie. The people who get the laughs, get all the jokes, get all the different references – that’s who it’s made for. It doesn’t hurt me when people tell me they hate it. It’s like, “Alright, cool, it was not made for you at all then.” I know the people who get the movie will find me and let me know, and they definitely have. l Blackhorse Lowe first came to the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 with his short film Shush, then in 2005 with his debut feature 5th World, a love story that unfolds over a road trip across highways on the Navajo Nation. In 2006, Lowe attended Sundance’s June Screenwriters Lab with his project The Left-Handed Path, and in 2007 he was a Mark Silverman Honoree. In 2010, he returned to the Sundance Film Festival with the short film Shimásání, which follows a curious young girl living on the serene Navajo reservation in the 1920s. For Walk in Beauty, an animated film set in the 1600s about twin Navajo girls, Lowe was awarded a 2013 Time Warner Foundation Native Producing Fellowship.
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INTRAVENOUS VITAMIN THERAPY
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25TH ANNIVERSARY OF MIDNIGHT
25 YEARS OF FILMS WORTH STAYING UP LATE FOR:
ARETROSPECTIVE MIDNIGHT In 1991, the Sundance Film Festival launched the Midnight section to showcase “the most challenging but rewarding film experiences” at the appropriately unruly late night slot. The curfew-breaking, genre-reinventing spirit continues today with adrenaline junkies filling theatres for the wildest spectacles on the Sundance screens. Here’s a look back at some of the Midnight films from the last 25 years that have grossed out, cracked up, stunned, haunted, and wholeheartedly captivated audiences at the witching hour and beyond.
DEAD/ALIVE 1993 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL Before Lord of the Rings became Lord of the Box Office, Peter Jackson established himself as the king of splatter gore with his second feature. Chock-full of severed limbs, a zombie-mother, and buckets of slime and goop, Dead/Alive follows the mayhem that ensues from a visit to a zoo when a vicious Sumatran rat-monkey casts a putrefying virus into the world of young lovers. A masterpiece of the grotesque, Dead/Alive is part witty social satire, part triumphant love story. 73
RUMBLE IN THE BRONX 1996 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL As of 1996, Jackie Chan was one of the most popular actors in the world – except in America. Director Stanley Tong’s Rumble in the Bronx helped catapult Chan into the broader spectrum of the American public with this body-flying masterpiece. Chan portrays a Hong Kong cop who travels to New York City for a wedding, but his vacation quickly escalates into a life-or-death struggle with the mafia. With phenomenal stunts and a range of weaponry (sofas, skis, ladders), Chan’s cult following soared to new heights.
SUPER TROOPERS 2001 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL Making the gang from Police Academy look like an elite crack squadron, Super Troopers takes you on a hilarious, hallucinogenic joyride with Vermont State Troopers through the boonies on the Canadian border. With over-the-top gags and uncanny comedic timing, director Jay Chandrasekhar and the Broken Lizard Comedy Group’s sophomore effort was described as “one of the craziest and funniest independent films to ever play” at Sundance. You’ll be delighted to know a sequel is in the works. 75
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF MIDNIGHT
OLDBOY 2005 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL Revenge dramas have always been fashionable, but Park Chan-wook's brilliantly warped mystery is a special blend of Sophoclean tragedy and Hitchcockian thriller. Without explanation, a businessman suddenly finds himself imprisoned in a dingy hotel room. Confined there for 15 nightmarish years, he is drugged, endures fits of madness, and remains none the wiser as to the identity of his captors. Then, as quickly as he was nabbed, he is released – full of vengeance and in dire need of a haircut. Visually ingenious and emotionally raw, Oldboy is a pure revelation of Korean cinema.
BLACK DYNAMITE 2009 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL When “the man” kills his brother, pumps heroin into the local orphanage, and floods the ghetto with a secret weapon disguised as Anaconda Malt Liquor, there is only one brother bad enough, strong enough, and brave enough to take them on: the legendary Black Dynamite. As a throwback to the 1970s blaxploitation movies – hilarious, campy, hot, and sexy – director Scott Sanders sustains the comedy while taking a nice big sucker punch at the underlying politics of our time. Since the film’s popular release, an animated television series has followed the exploits of this “outta sight” action star. 76
TROLLHUNTER 2011 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL For centuries, unsuspecting Norwegians have assumed trolls are nothing more than myth and legend, but André Øvredal’s mockumentary upends the fairy tale. Offering an incredibly fresh and original entry into the found footage genre, the film plays with “footage” shot by students as they track down a series of mysterious bear killings in the remote forests of Norway. However, they soon learn of much greater dangers than poachers. Trollhunter is a raucous thrill ride with eye-popping visual effects that will have you convinced that giant trolls really do exist.
THE BABADOOK 2014 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL “Do you want to die?!” 7-year-old Samuel asks his stressed-out single mother. Amelia has dealt with her son’s frantic tantrums his entire life, but after a dark and foreboding children’s book mysteriously appears on Samuel’s bookshelf, Amelia must decide if her son is deranged, or if there is in fact a bogeyman lurking in their darkened halls at night. This first-time feature by Australian director Jennifer Kent transcends the domestic psychological thriller – and forever changes the relaxing ritual of bedtime reading for us all. 77
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF MIDNIGHT
IT FOLLOWS 2015 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL As 19-year-old Jay’s laidback summer nears an end, so does her unperturbed suburban existence. After sleeping with a new boyfriend, she’s suddenly pursued, slowly but persistently, by a malevolent supernatural presence. Jay and her friends try to escape it. But it’s coming. Brilliantly playing with the unknown identity of its villain, David Robert Mitchell’s breakout feature It Follows is an unrelentingly creepy exploration of young sexual angst that raises the stakes of the teen horror genre.
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C A R N E G I E
H A L L
125 Years of an Iconic Music Venue’s Most Remarkable People and Memorable Events
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DOMINIQUE MORISSEAU Playwright and actress Dominique Morisseau, who grew up in Detroit and received her BFA in Acting from the University of Michigan, got her start as a performance poet in the Detroit community of Harmonie Park. As a fierce advocate for her beloved hometown, the city of Detroit has honored Morisseau with a Spirit of Detroit award. For her work on a three-play cycle about how Detroit has navigated foreclosure and shifting power dynamics, sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been awarded the esteemed Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama inspired by American History. In Skeleton Crew, the third and final installment of this Detroit trilogy, Morisseau gives a human face to the 2008 recession. Skeleton Crew, which was developed at the 2014 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, tells the story of a makeshift family of workers at the last exporting auto plant in Detroit. Before its world premiere at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York City this winter, Morisseau spoke to Producing Director Christopher Hibma, who, along with Artistic Director Philip Himberg, oversees Sundance Instituteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Theatre Program. From building cars to building plays, Morisseau and Hibma discuss how theatre can connect communities.
PHOTO BY JONATHAN HICKERSON
interviewed by Christopher Hibma
Hibma: You’ve had a change of pace lately by being out in L.A. Morisseau: Yeah, for about seven months. This would have been my first week back.
What were you doing out there? I was writing for Shameless for Showtime – Sheila Callaghan, I was in the room with her.
Are you happy to be back in the theatre world? I am, I am. I totally am. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m just looking forward to getting into rehearsals. I’m seeing a lot of shows. I’m really happy to be back in the theatre world.
Do you think your work as a playwright prepared you for working in the episodic storytelling format? It definitely did. I remember, at the end of the day, I kept having to remind myself that I am a playwright and I know how to write, even though this is brand-new and I’ve never done it before. And so, that was great. Dialogue comes easily, conflict comes easily. You know, in the television world, it’s knowing how to hear the voice of characters and write specifically for them. I’ve done that for actors in theatre in New York. Those things have been helpful. What’s different for me this year was just learning how to make things a lot more concise – to be the director more in my descriptions. I try to leave a lot of room for interpretation with theatre artists, but that’s not necessarily a great thing in film and television. Especially in television, you need to be pretty clear because you’re guiding the tone a lot.
When do you head back into rehearsals for Skeleton Crew? We head back Dec. 7, I think.
Are there any truth-tellers or preachers or anything in your family that have laid the groundwork for your storytelling? My father was really activist-minded. Not necessarily a public activist, but a well-read man – literature, but also political essays; he was a political science major when he was in college and also worked a lot in computers.
So a really technical mind, but a really strong political mind. I think that’s one part of my influence. My uncle – my father’s brother – is a journalist. My Haitian family is a family full of activist-minded people. Haitians in general are very activist-minded. They all take a very strong participation in the politics around their country. You will see that in all parts of the population. It’s not just the people who are in government; everyone has an entrance into government. And it’s similar in Detroit. You’ll see that there are a lot of people in the city who have strong political opinions about the city, regardless of whether they’re politically inclined or not. Those things are all part of my influences.
It seems like you’re able to fuse your storytelling with your passion for activism in such a natural and organic way. The trilogy that you’re creating now … talk about what responsibility you feel, or don’t feel, to be that truth-teller in your artistic expression. I feel different responsibilities. One is to myself as an artist to be uninhibited and unrestricted in what I want to write about and how I want to write. I felt like I had to give myself permission to be liberated and let the stories come to me as they do, let the people come to me in their imperfections, and not carry a burden of how that should manifest. The other side of me, I feel like I have a responsibility as a storyteller to find the truth of everything that comes to me. So when an idea comes to me, my responsibility is to explore it as fully as I can. My responsibility is to create full dimensions in the people that I’m writing about. That’s really all I owe anything is to know what I’m writing about to a healthy degree, and to write the people with full humanity. That’s what I feel my responsibility is as an artist.
Who are some of the playwrights who have inspired or influenced you? The playwrights who inspired me at a young age – because I’m also inspired by a lot of black women playwrights who are my peers right now – are Pearl Cleage, Nubia Kai, Aishah Rahman, Ntozake Shange, Cheryl West, Lynn Nottage, P.J. Gibson. Those are a lot of the women writers who I’ve been reading for much of my life, and whose works I worked on as a young actor.
What was the experience at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab like for you? What was the impact at that time on Skeleton Crew? Oh, amazing. First of all, being up there at Sundance was obviously incredible. I’m not going to say anything new; I’m going to say what every artist says when they go to Sundance. Beyond just the infrastructure, the freedom that we were allowed to create our own process [led to] us creating a very family structural process that mirrored the relationships of the characters in the play. And that was profound to discover. It was like we were living in our own cast and our crew on our show. Out of a common trade, you do become instantly in defense of each other and instantly connected and instantly protective of the people that you’re building something with. And in Skeleton Crew they’re building cars, and they’re also trying to build a future and a way to outlast collapsing. I felt at Sundance we were building a play. Because we [had] a lot of relaxed creative time with each other, [you were] really able to explore that relationship of family with each other in a way that served my play immeasurably.
Well now that the family is growing to include an audience in January, what questions are you still exploring about your storytelling as you enter the rehearsal process for Skeleton Crew? What kind of audience are you hoping can be introduced to this story?
Well, one, I really hope to continue to flesh out my knowledge of the auto industry in a way that serves the play. I’ve had the play now read in Detroit for the first time in front of a few automakers, who have polarized expectations and experiences with the play based on
“OUT OF A COMMON TRADE, YOU DO BECOME INSTANTLY IN DEFENSE OF EACH OTHER AND INSTANTLY CONNECTED AND INSTANTLY PROTECTIVE OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU’RE BUILDING SOMETHING WITH.” – Dominique Morisseau
their relationships to activism and the union. Managing expectations of audiences is something I had to do in the process of developing it at The Lark, which was trying to be clear that this was not a play about the Big Three. I think people wanted it to be [about that] naturally, because that’s what they know, and I’m like, “This is about a small factory.” Automakers don’t get the chance to have their stories told like this. I feel like my job is to accurately represent the bigger issues while allowing my play to be fictional and not become a documentary about the auto industry. Going back in, I just want to dig even deeper into [the automakers] and just [make] sure I capture the accurate feeling of the industry. We’re exploring some very stylistically bold elements of the story that I have never explored before because we’ve been reading. So, calibrating where that is useful in the storytelling and where it isn’t is something that we’re going to be working on. It’s a small play about four people, but it feels like it’s about the whole world. So it feels like a massive undertaking, because everyone is a part of an industry on some level and [has] been replaced in their industry by automation, or by something else. This feels like everybody’s story. My hope is that I truly get a diverse audience – that I truly get people from different walks of life sitting in that theater together and feeling connected in this very specific world that I created. l
Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew is the third and final installment of a three-play Detroit cycle, which also includes Paradise Blue and Detroit ’67. The bold trilogy follows various narratives of Detroit being pushed to the limits of survival. In 2014, Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew was selected as one of nine projects from 800 submissions to participate in the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab. This winter, Skeleton Crew will make its world premiere at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York City.
PHOTO BY JOSH LAMKIN; PHOTO APPEARS COURTESY OF KENNY LEON’S TRUE COLORS THEATRE
Actors Tinashe KajeseBolden (left), E. Roger Mitchell (center), and Tonia Jackson (right) perform in Detroit ’67, a play by Dominique Morisseau.