Each year, Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program aims to support the next generation of Native American storytellers through the Full Circle Fellowship. The fellowship provides opportunities to explore a career as a filmmaker, attendance at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, a set internship at the Native Filmmakers Lab to gain hands-on film production experience, and a trip to Los Angeles with a schedule of production facilities tours, meetings with industry mentors, and film screenings.
This fellowship selects four New Mexico- and Michigan-based applicants, ages 18 to 24. Click here to apply by October 23.
To get a better idea of what being a Full Circle Fellow entails, here are some takeaways from this year’s cohort and their ongoing experiences throughout the year:
Jesse Littlebird (Laguna Pueblo) on attending the 2017 Sundance Film Festival:
It was an eye- and heart-opening experience at an important time for me, as I was going through a period of not really having a clear direction in how I could make films that would reach people.
Many of the films I saw confirmed ideas and truths that I held, but it was listening to a filmmaker from Sweden, Amanda Kernell, who was showing her film Sami Blood, that stuck with me long after the excitement of the festival. She shared advice she received early on in her filmmaking process: You can either work to perfect your craft as a filmmaker or you can be truthful in your story. At the heart of every great film is a story wrought from the soul and a place of truth. Hearing that simple advice not only confirmed but also strengthened my purpose in where I want to see my films progress.
Charine Gonzales, Kayla Bell, Jessie Littlebird, and Ashley Browning at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Charine Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) reflecting on her trip to Los Angeles:
I’m from San Ildefonso Pueblo and have lived most of my life in Santa Fe, NM. The closest I ever got to a “big city” on a semi-regular basis was Albuquerque. Los Angeles always seemed like a “dream city,” somewhere I would likely never visit. That wasn’t until the Native and Indigenous Program brought us out to L.A. to meet with filmmakers and entertainment professionals at companies such as World of Wonder, CBS, and Disney Animation.
I learned there are a million ways to accomplish my goals and that it’s all about putting oneself out there to allow for opportunities and not being afraid of rejection. This is something I’ve always known, but have never taken to heart until the Full Circle Fellowship trip to L.A. This allows your stories to be heard and to show audiences what makes Indigenous storytelling so powerful.
Ashley Browning (Pojoaque/Santa Clara Pueblo) on her experience at the 2017 Native Filmmaker Lab:
Before this fellowship, I did not know about many opportunities that were out there, especially for young Native storytellers. As a Sundance Full Circle Fellow, I had the opportunity to see what the Lab was about and to experience it firsthand. The Lab is an opportunity for Native and Indigenous filmmakers to workshop their short films with creative advisors and to test shoot some of the most challenging scenes.
I took everything in and learned from the two Lab Fellows, Erin Lau and Shaandiin Tome, and their advisors that were mentoring them. It was also inspirational to see other Native filmmakers mentor these two up-and-coming filmmakers. It helped me see what prospects we have as Native filmmakers. I can’t wait to see where this fellowship will lead me and the other fellows.
Ashley Browning and Kayla Bell.
Kayla Bell (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) on her set internship:
This summer, I was able to work as a production assistant on a short film by Native Filmmaker Lab fellow Shane McSauby. His short film is titled Mino Bimaadiziwin, which means “the traditional life” or “the good life” in Anishinaabemowin.
Working on Mino Bimaadiziwin was my first encounter with a professional movie set. For years filmmaking meant my friends and me running around with a camera and making stories up as we shot them. This fellowship helped to steer me in a direction of working on other people’s films. When I first spoke with the Native and Indigenous Program team at Sundance Institute, my most important goal was to find community, to get involved in film on a level beyond my own backyard. Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which makes up only a little more than three-percent of the state’s population, there is no readily available film scene, so to be able to travel and meet filmmakers has been transformative.
The Native Program's Full Circle Fellowship is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.