A Native Fellow Goes Full Circle

Yolanda Cruz was a 2010 Sundance Institute Native Program Fellow and participated in the 2010 Native Lab and Creative Producing Summit. She recently participated in the 2011 January Screenwriters Lab with her project “La Raya” about 11-year-old Papio, who has his eyes set on emigrating to the U.S., but must decide if he is willing to leave behind his family and village. Below Yolanda describes her journey through the Sundance Institute Labs and how her new community triggered flashbacks of her family.

I’ve never been a part of group therapy. In fact, last time I attempted to have a session with a therapist, I quickly left to seek the advice of a fortune-teller. When I learned that I would be attending the 2011 Screenwriters Lab at the Sundance Resort I was thrilled. However, when I talked to past Fellows I worried. They warned: “The Advisors reach deep, really deep into your emotions. Be ready to cry.” I began having flashbacks of film school—was I ready?

Then on January 14th, I was in a circle with talented people from around the world. The meeting began with welcoming words from Robert Redford, followed by a roundtable introduction. The room became filled with amazing stories and anecdotes by those present. When it was my turn I had no words, after a few seconds, I had an image of my mother in Oaxaca, Mexico refusing to give up her three old fridges…

My first one-on-one meeting started with questions like: “Where is your village? How many languages do they speak in Mexico? What about your father? What is your relationship with him?” I thought to myself, “Oh, no, the first cry is about to happen…I should have stuck with the therapist.” I pulled myself together and explained that my father was deceased and my story was based on Papio, a boy whose father immigrated to the U.S. and was being raised by women in a village. The conversation led me to discover that my story abounds with female characters, but they lack sensuality.

Photo by Jill Orschel.

For the second meeting, the Advisor told me that though he had enjoyed reading the adventures of Papio trying to make money with an old fridge, he felt that some of his business deals were overdone and I needed to keep track of them. Once we figured out how to do this, we were left with the big question: Should Papio stay in the village or leave for the U.S.?

My next day’s Advisor was familiar with “La Raya” because we had worked together last May at the Sundance Institute’s Native Lab. We approached the new version by starting at the end and finding glitches as we worked back to the beginning. We were able to solve most of the problems by the end of the meeting. 

During lunch I was very happy thinking that the script was nearly finished, but that did not last very long because by the afternoon, my fourth Advisor told me: “There is a huge a problem with the script!”  She said that there were one too many characters, stories, and to top it off, the business transactions of this small village made it seem busier than Wall Street!

The following day, I expected the worst, but to my surprise the Advisor asked a few questions and then suggested: “Can we say that one of the main themes you are trying to convey is that community is better than individualism?” And that’s how we found the script’s main problem!

Lastly, for our graduation we returned to the welcoming room and sat in a circle. Despite having worked with all those people for a week, I was speechless again. This time it was because I couldn’t find the words to describe my gratitude and admiration for the generous community Sundance Institute has created; and how lucky was I to have been able to participate. So yes, if given the opportunity, I would do it again.

Lead photo: