Native Showcase at the 2011 Festival
“There are over 100 years of cinema made about us without our participation, so it’s important to support Native filmmaking.” - N. Bird Runningwater, Associate Director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program
New for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival is the Native Showcase, focusing attention on an emerging generation of Native American and Indigenous filmmakers. The program, which includes Billy Luther’s second feature film, a documentary titled GRAB, and a collection of seven shorts, gets its own place in the spotlight this year.
Native and Indigenous films have been well represented in the Festival’s Dramatic Competition sections over the past several years, and this year is no exception with Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On the Ice, which will screen in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Yet over the last two decades, the short film and documentary forms continue to ebb and flow with each year’s crop of films. More recently the Festival programming team has been impressed by the consistently strong work emerging from these two forms as Festival Director John Cooper says, “As programmers we have the flexibility to respond to what we see and so we created a space to highlight the verve of this year’s Native and Indigenous lineup.”
Support for Native American filmmaking has been a cornerstone of Sundance Institute since its inception in 1981, when Founder and President Robert Redford recognized both the critical role film could play with respect to cultural exchange, and the need to support filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. As a result, the Festival has been home to many Native and Indigenous films, including Sherman Alexie’s The Business of Fancydancing, Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals, Eagle vs. Shark and Boy by Taika Waititi, and Four Sheets to the Wind and Barking Water by Sterlin Harjo. Sundance Institute has also been an active supporter of numerous Native filmmakers through its Native Film Lab, in which filmmakers are challenged to hone and strengthen their various projects, whether they’re features, documentaries, or shorts. Films the Native Film Lab has supported include Billy Luther’s 2007 documentary Miss Navajo, Aurora Guerrero's forthcoming feature Mosquita y Mari, and Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On the Ice.
Will the Native Showcase continue? “Who knows?” replies N. Bird Runningwater, associate director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program, who adds that it may or may not be a one-time revival. “I think the Native Showcase is about sending a message that this kind of programming exists, that our commitment exists,” he points out. “There are over 100 years of cinema made about us without our participation, so it’s important to support Native filmmaking. These communities and characters come from interesting and unique worlds that haven’t been shown before. It’s great to have a special section to show these worlds.”