Crystal Kayiza: "Imagining a world where your voice and storytelling belong"

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Photo credit: Andrea Gutierrez for Adobe

The 2019 Sundance Ignite Challenge is open now. Click here to submit by September 17, 2018.

One of the challenges of being a young emerging filmmaker, especially one committed to nonfiction storytelling, is imagining a world where your voice and storytelling belong. In my everyday life I’ve been blessed to work in a community of artists and mentors that affirms and encourages my work and growth. But the emerging film landscape, the new media world that will arrive faster than many anticipate, is something that I found to be largely inaccessible.

Through my Sundance Ignite Fellowship I had the privilege of assisting the Sundance Institute staff at the New Frontier Story Lab. It was an experience that drastically altered my perception regarding the future of storytelling.

When I first arrived at the lab my hope was to learn more about storytelling tools: virtual reality, augmented reality, and hybrid media platforms. What was most profound about this experience was the dialogue between the phenomenal cohort of fellows, creative advisors, industry advisors, and Sundance staff about how to draw out the most impactful and inclusive stories from these tools. I observed as they worked through the most difficult questions facing their works-in-progress while striving to prioritize substance and access.

Crystal Kayiza and New Frontier Fellow Shariffa Chelimo Ali. © 2018 Sundance Institute | Brandon Cruz

In my own work, I focus on trying to reimagine how to tell more nuanced narratives within the African diaspora, whether that’s exploring intergenerational trauma in the Black historic South or the experience of first-generation Black African immigrants in the U.S. One of my greatest frustrations has been learning the difference between including diverse voices and telling new stories versus fundamentally reimagining space and our participation (or exclusion) from social, artistic, and political innovation.

How do we use new media to draw pathways out of the chaos we created? Out of unequal representation and bias? To untangle our own tongues and truly reconstruct how we build more interesting – and thus more inclusive – worlds. Down to the data points and algorithms. These are the challenging questions I took away from from my New Frontier experience. Every moment became a learning experience — from watching the Sundance staff organize and execute programming to the thought-provoking project presentations by the 2018 Fellows and dinners with the incredible creative advisors. There were voices in the room across disciplines, many whose theories and techniques I look to in my own creative practice.

The wonderful thing about the New Frontier Story Lab was that with the challenge of reimagination the future was taken on with so much joy and an abundance of critical thinking. People were open about their fears and used that energy to draw out the best of their own work and the work of their peers. I left Sundance Resort with an overwhelming sense of appreciation of the individuals pioneering this work.

Lead photo:

Photo credit: Andrea Gutierrez for Adobe