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Meet the 2016 Knight Fellows: 4 Emerging Storytellers

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Knight Fellows attend the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. ©Sundance Institute | Ryan Kobane

Sundance Institute

Sundance Institute annually selects up to four artists from the eight Knight resident communities to attend the Sundance Film Festival. These artists reflect Sundance Institute and the Knight Foundation’s commitment to developing and nurturing the next generation of creative voices. Knight Fellows are afforded a five-day residency at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where they participate in a specially curated program. On the heels of the 2016 Festival, the 2016 Knight Fellows reflect on their experiences in Park City and share insights on how their disparate communities affect their approach to storytelling.

Faren Humes

Miami, FL

What is your orientation toward your filmmaking – what compels you to tell stories in this format?

It usually starts with an issue that resonates with me. As I mature as an artist and storyteller I’m most intrigued by the vessel (or person plagued with/ or agitator of the issue). Film is just my soundboard. The fun comes in projecting my perspective in a meaningful, truthful, and probing manner.

To what extent and how has your community influenced your artistry?

I’m a bi-resident. Working and living in Miami, but partially-raised and loved in Sanderson, FL. The community of Sanderson proved to be welcoming and supporting to the making of my film Macho. It’s not the prettiest town, but it’s well-preserved and true to its core and provides, what I believe to be, one of this nation’s strongest representations of Southern sophistication and solidarity. There’s beauty, dexterity, and reasoning behind all that we do.

What was one significant insight, connection, or revelation you gained from your experience while at the Sundance Film Festival?

Behind the veil and mystique of the Sundance Film Festival and the Knight Foundation lies the inner workings of dedicated personnel championing new artists like myself. They want us to keep in touch, they want to know about our projects, we’re not a bother when we share our benchmarks of success. Oftentimes we’re bashful about our floundering in the industry – many of them have been there and know how to help. So I was relieved to learn that my talent as a creative was already recognized and that the community at Sundance is just there to foster that creativity however they could.

ill Weaver/Invincible

Detroit, MI

What compels you to create? Does it start with the urge to promote change, or the inherent need to create art?

I view art and social justice work as inseparable. Particularly when working with my Collective, Complex Movements, we aim to move beyond the false binary of compartmentalizing these into opposing categories. The realities we face in Detroit are what inspire and inform our creative practice – whether songwriting or science fiction world building for our multimedia installation Beware of the Dandelions. For example, when several of my neighbors had their water shut off the summer before last by the city of Detroit (due to the same Emergency Management policies responsible for the poisoning of Flint’s water supply) we were moved to create a piece called “Manmade Drought.” This song served as an outlet to channel the physical and emotional impact on us and our communities, as a way to uplift the water warriors organizing against this injustice, as well as to radically reimagine how our communities would respond to these issues in the 25th century – so we can begin applying those visions in the now.

To what extent and how has your community influenced your artistry?

The communities I am a part of and work with shape my artistic practice in a multitude of ways. In the past that has taken the form of participatory media making and song writing that includes approaches such as community conversations over meals, feedback sessions, oral history circles, interviews, and collaborative creative processes. For the most part I’m conflicted about the auteur approach of art making – I believe that my role as an artist is not just about expressing my own voice, but about weaving together a polyphony of voices that have agency and power to shape their own narratives. There is a false notion that community accountable creative process has to sacrifice artistic innovation and aesthetic rigor. I’m grateful to be connected to a long legacy of cultural workers who approach artistic process in these intentional ways, and look forward to a lifetime of continued learning of how to better practice these principles.

How does the Knight Fellowship align with or support your personal creative ventures?

In addition to hitting the “Sundance lottery” (which is what I call receiving the opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival through the Knight Fellowship this year), Knight generously supported my collective Complex Movements’ project Beware of the Dandelions touring to Dallas and Seattle last year, as well as our homecoming engagement in Detroit later this year.

What was one significant insight, connection, or revelation you gained from your experience while at the Sundance Film Festival?

I was deeply inspired by the innovative work presented at New Frontier – Kamal Sinclair from New Frontier was my mentor for the week and gave me a lifetime worth of ideas and connections to build on. There were many conversations throughout the week about the creative potential and ethical contradictions of VR, and this left me wondering how we as Complex Movements can continue to apply these lessons whether we choose to pursue VR, or through other multimedia immersive experiences we create.

The fellowship also came immediately following the launch of a new initiative I’m helping to coordinate called the Detroit Narrative Agency (DNA) project. This project will cultivate Detroit moving image based projects as counter-narratives to the false portrayals of our city. Throughout the festival I met dozens of brilliant folks committed to supporting these types of projects in Detroit and beyond, and I’m looking forward to bringing those connections back to my community.

Last but not least: I truly appreciated connecting with Moira, Ana, and the other fellows (Faren/Tiana/Tayarisha) – they were all humble geniuses and always helped to make me feel centered when I needed a break from the sensory overload of the festival.

Tiana LaPointe

St. Paul, MN

What is your orientation toward your filmmaking – what compels you to tell stories in this format?

I believe video helps people to understand a story in a way where stories come to life. In interpreting a community’s story, a filmmaker must have a strong and understanding relationship with the community. A story filmed by, for, and with the community is deeply important in providing community ownership in the creation of the film. Also, as a filmmaker, I have to inform myself about the story in order to create a more worldly and in-depth film which actualized the words of the community’s story. Furthermore, as a Sicangu (Burnt Thigh) Lakota, my people have been subjected to the re-writing of their histories without full consent, or a more trustful relationship. As a filmmaker I understand that I must be thorough in my research, and I must be trusted by those I am representing. Both are essential in creating a film that reflects the values of the community.

To what extent and how has your community influenced your artistry?

My community has always supported me financially and artistically through work opportunities and grants since the age of 13. Also, my family is continuously involved in community empowerment initiatives motivates the work I do and always tell me, “The stories we tell will become the ways in which we see and experience the world.” This is the kind of wisdom from my Tiwahe (family) which guides the work I do in filming. My father once told me, “80 percent of communication is non-verbal,” meaning, imagery and the ways in which words come to life through film have a profound impact on how people begin to see their own environments, lives, families, and communities. It is because of the power of storytelling that I believe film has the ability to help my community see more clearly the empowering gifts and assets that make our people brilliant. Being part of an indigenous community, my people have instilled in me the wisdom that storytelling in film enshrines, and I carry this with me while working with diverse communities, urban and rural. It is the collective wisdom and resources that my community has provided me that enable me to continue to expand in telling stories.

How does the Knight Fellowship align with or support your personal creative ventures?

Through the Knight Foundation I have received a lot of constructive feedback, encouragement and resources that will further develop my career as a filmmaker. These assets and networks have broadened my field of vision, helping me to see how far reaching the stories I tell through film travel in the world. It is important for me to expand my ventures through lasting networks which I have developed and continue to grow though the Knight Fellowship.

What was one significant insight, connection, or revelation you gained from your experience while at the Sundance Film Festival?

One of the most significant connections I made was with filmmaker Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army, Trapped). She asked me to talk about my family after I shared my pitch about a land issue happening on Lakota Lands. She was completely intrigued with my mom’s personal story. She made me come to a realization that not only do I come from a people with valuable stories but from a family whose stories are just as important. She also made me feel more confident in myself as a director.

Tayarisha Poe

Philadelphia, PA

What is your orientation toward your art – whether it is filmmaking, photography, or other mediums – and how do you choose a format to tell a story?

It’s a bit of an instant feeling: this should be told through still images, this will be a short story, this can only be a film. I like to work at the intersection of fiction and reality. My photos tell stories, my stories create images, and my videos make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on another person’s private conversation. I believe stories are inherently multi-sensory and multi-dimensional, and therefore should be told as such. I aim to, rather than create a window through which one may view the world, drop the viewer into the center of a world built by someone else’s moral compass. When I was writing Selah and the Spades, keeping myself open to that multi-dimensional way of storytelling let me see the characters as they naturally presented themselves.

To what extent and how has your community influenced your artistry?

My city, especially the neighborhood where I grew up and currently live in (West Philly), often acts as a character itself in my work. West Philly has a particularly eclectic blend of older revolutionaries, young people committed to communal living, and colorful but peeling houses. I feel like I’m constantly at attention as I walk through the neighborhood, taking in the continued gentrification, the developers from Brooklyn developing the old high school into condos, the five dollar (delicious, fantastic, heavenly) vegan donuts and the ten dollar ice cream sandwich pop up shops – I take it all in. It affects what I do, it creates within me a complicated way of existing, and my work is all about complicated existences. I can’t help but see that as a result of where I’m from and who I am: of knowing simultaneously that I’m not a gentrifier – I’m from here, I grew up here, my family is scattered throughout the city, my roots may be all over the world, but all my branches and flowers fall here. Yet? Yet those ice cream sandwiches are worth it. And I still patronize the local craft brewery. It’s complicated.

How does the Knight Fellowship align with or support your personal creative ventures?

The Knight Fellowship asks us to actively consider the complications and complexities of who we are, where we’re from, and how those identities play into our art making. I’m all about that. This Fellowship encourages an unapologetic multitudinous approach to explorations of the self and of the characters within one’s stories, fact or fiction.

What was one significant insight, connection, or revelation you gained from your experience while at the Sundance Film Festival?

No one has to help you. No one has to read your script. No one has to connect you to a producer, or to someone with cash. No one has to do any single thing for you, or for your story. So if people are offering, then they’re offering for a reason: know that, and run with it.

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