Letters from the 2012 Native Lab: A Fellow’s Journey

Letters from the 2012 Native Lab: A Fellow's Journey

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Jeffrey Palmer is a Kiowa filmmaker and media artist and was a Fellow at the 2012 Sundance Institute Native Lab in Mescalero, New Mexico. Below he shares his experience this past May at the Lab.

The Sundance Institute Native Lab was one the most exciting and fulfilling experiences in my young professional career. I vividly remember pulling onto the Mescalero reservation and feeling as if I returned to a place I visited before. Certainly my Kiowa ancestors visited the Apache and considered them close company on the expansive Plains. Truthfully, this was the farthest south I ever traveled in New Mexico. Yet, I felt at home and was ready to begin my journey at the Lab.


Jeffrey Palmer with Creative Advisor Adam Lough. Photo by Lindsey Shakespear.

The Native Lab was everything I dreamt it to be and so much more. I call it a journey, because that it is precisely what it is: an artistic and spiritual journey. We began our first day with an early morning visit to an Apache rite of passage ceremony. As we stood in the morning sun, we were mesmerized by the quiet beauty of this event. I could not help but recognize the parallels between the beginning of the ceremony and the start of the Lab, something that profoundly affected me and the other Fellows after the Lab was completed.

By mid-morning we were deeply invested in our work, discussing our artistic visions with professional and dedicated Creative Advisors. The amount of talent in one room at one time was intimidating to say the least, but I quickly realized how invested and concerned the Advisors and Fellows were for my work. This is the strength of the Lab. We became a close circle of artists working together to further projects towards completion and to develop our professionalism as filmmakers. Despite our exhausting days, the Fellows and Advisors closed every evening with get-togethers. We released the tense workday with stories and laughter that went late into the night.

Our journey ended with the close of the ceremony. As we all gazed at the Apache fire dancers, we were surrounded by the sacred mountains. You could hear the sounds of ancient chants echo through the woods, and I was in awe of the beauty there. It was then, at once, that I knew we were in a special place, that this was where wonderful and unexpected things happened, where there is the presence of much magic and power everywhere. The same can be said of the Lab. I will never forget this experience.