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Inspired By: Sydney Freeland on C.S. Lewis, Casablanca, and ‘Drunktown’s Finest’

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A still from native filmmaker Sydney Freeland’s film ‘Drunktown’s Finest’

Nate von Zumwalt

Director Sydney Freeland’s tenacity to make Drunktown’s Finest was born from a misguided news story. After seeing her hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, portrayed as “Drunktown, USA,” she felt compelled to offer a corrective. Enter: Drunktown’s Finest, an unwaveringly honest drama that sheds light on the southwest’s Navajo Nation through the lenses of three disparate characters—a transgender aspiring model, a man headed off to basic training, and a Christian woman. Below, Freeland offers up some of the sources of inspiration that encouraged the making of her film, which screened last year at the Sundance Film Festival and is now making its official theatrical release.


Music: The ‘Assassination of Jesse James’ Soundtrack

“I listened to this constantly while writing Drunktown’s Finest.”

Book: ‘1491’ and ‘A People’s History of The United States’

Both of these books have changed the way I look at the world. I love when a book can do that.”

Movie: ‘Casablanca’

“The writing in this film is fantastic.”

Location: New Mexico

“My home state. Best sunsets in the universe.”

Favorite UK-Born Person: C.S. Lewis

“Without question. I didn’t have a TV until I was about 12, so I did a fair amount of reading. When I was about 8, a family friend from Switzerland sent me a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia. I fell in love with the series and I feel like those books have been very influential on my own writing.”


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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

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