This month we check in with the Native Program. In May of this year, Bird Runningwater, director of Sundance Institute’s Native and Indigenous Program, gathered a group of four fellows and three advisors in the beautiful lands of the Mescalero-Apache people in New Mexico.
Bird explains the lab in this way: “In Apache, we refer to life’s journey as ‘Nda’i bijuuÅ‚ sia,’ which speaks to ‘life’s living circle.’ The Native Program at Sundance Institute is also a part of a circle: one that begins with a filmmaker’s own point of origin, extends with their experiences through the Native Program, and flows onward through the creative journey of completing their film. At some point, we hope this circle will bring finished films back to Native lands and Indigenous points of origin to inspire new generations of storytellers.”
Yolanda Cruz, one of the fellows at this year’s lab, is an Indigenous Chatino from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the producer-director of seven award-winning documentaries. Her project, La Raya, tells the story of 11-year-old Papio, who has his eyes set on emigrating to the U.S. with the help of an abandoned refrigerator. We asked her to tell about her journey to the Lab.
“I started writing La Raya while I was still a film student at UCLA. Then one day I found myself at the Morelia International Film Festival with Bird Runningwater. I took the opportunity to tell Bird I had a script about a fridge, and to my surprise, he said he was interested in reading it. It took four months before I had the courage to give him the script.
“In May 2010, I was selected to attend the Sundance Native Lab to workshop La Raya. During four days at the Lab, La Raya was deconstructed and questioned, while the creative advisors guided me to set goals for the main character and for myself to transition from a documentary director to a narrative director.
“Since I returned from the Lab, I feel as if I’m riding a fast-moving train. I’m scared, but I keep going by remembering the supportive words and advice I received at the Lab.
“Attending the Native Lab has giving me the confidence to dream big: La Raya will be shot in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the next couple years; but for now, I just learned that I’ve been invited to attend the Sundance Institute Creative Producing Summit to be held in Utah in August.”