Patron Circle members gathered at Wahso on Main Street Thursday afternoon, and were treated to a casual introduction to Taika Waititi (Boy) and Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae), two filmmakers supported by Sundance Institute's Native American and Indigenous Program. The Patron Circle is a group of donors who generously provide year-round support for the programs of the nonprofit Sundance Institute and in doing so, further the organization's work to advance the art of storytelling in film and theatre. This gathering, one of a few such events held during the Festival, is an opportunity for Patron Circle members to connect with each other and the filmmakers supported by their contributions.
Amid stories of screenings seen and plans to transition back to the "real" world once the Festival ends, Native American and Indigenous Program Director Bird Runningwater stepped up to the mike with Perkins and Waititi. Runningwater emphasized the international scope of the Program, the mandate of which is to support Native American and Indigenous storytelling in film and theatre. Acknowledging the Ute people as the keepers of this area's land, Runningwater described the Program's purpose by saying that he aims to "find a way for ancestral voices to become heard through modern technology."
From Australia, Perkins developed Bran Nue Dae at a workshop launched with the consultation of Runningwater and based on the Institute's own Lab model. Starting with his Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night, Waititi has attended the Institute's Screenwriting and Directing Labs in addition to premiering two feature films at the Festival. Patron Circle members in attendance included Susan Fredston-Hermann, Sherry Kennedy, Robert Siegel, Karen Speiler, and many others.
With a deadpan tone, Waititi categorized his experience as a Maori filmmaker at many other Festivals by saying that there is a sense that audiences expect him to ride into the theatre on the back of a whale - a reference to the well-known Maori film Whale Rider, and a remark that brought a laugh from those of us in the audience. Referring to the Festival as the best in the world, Perkins said she values her experience here because "I know I'm going to be treated as a filmmaker first, and not like some person who should be coming out of a museum."