​5 Reasons Native Storytellers Should Apply to the Full Circle Fellowship

Shaandiin Tome

It’s been a year since I applied to Sundance Institute Full Circle Fellowship, which aims to support the next generation of Native American storytellers with attendance at the Sundance Film Festival, a set internship at the Native Filmmakers Lab, meetings with industry mentors, and other opportunities.

I was going through the application process and was stuck in a rut. Having recently graduated from college with a Film and Digital Media degree, I was feeling a lot of pressure to find a job and begin my career. Unfortunately, as other artists may understand, finding a full-time job in the arts is incredibly difficult. I was struggling with validation in my life, sometimes even wondering why I graduated with a degree that was essentially “worthless” in the real world. I learned a lot in my undergrad studies, but I wanted to keep learning.

Upon some endless job searching, rejections, and trying to find a creative outlet, I was sent an email about the chance to apply to the Full Circle Fellowship with Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program. I applied, but with hesitance in fear of being rejected once again.

A couple weeks later, I got an email about an interview, and a week later I was talking with Bird Runningwater, director of the Native Program, and Adam Piron, the program manager. I talked about my inspiration and my hopes of becoming a filmmaker. While I feel like film is something I can talk about with confidence, it felt odd trying to put my passion into words. I talked and talked, but felt like it wasn’t making any sense to these two people who have heard from artists with perfected statements.

I had yet to hear anything about the interview, and I thought, “Well there goes another opportunity. I’ll just get along with my life and keep trying in other ways.” I guess they must have felt the despair, because almost instantaneously I was receiving a call and learning that I was accepted as a Full Circle Fellow.

From then, my life has changed drastically. There are endless reasons why you should apply to the fellowship, but here are five that resonate with me.


Upon arriving at the Festival, the first thing I noticed was the powerful sense of community. I quickly got over my fear of approaching people and talking to them about my goals as an artist. From the shuttle rides to screenings to waiting in line to grab coffee, everyone was talking about their next project, but more importantly, they were listening. There was a strong bond between the people at the Festival, and I was able to make some connections that I believe will last a lifetime.


Although going to the Festival was a huge source of inspiration to continue down the path of filmmaking, the Native Program continued to offer other incredible opportunities. We visited industry professionals in Los Angeles who were able to help me with a grant so I could work on set with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder Productions. They also gave me the heads up on internship opportunities with Sundance Institute where I am now interning with the programming department. All of these moments have solidified my desire to be in the industry and have allowed me to believe I have the capacity to do so.

Meeting Other Native Filmmakers

Prior to the Fellowship, I didn’t know too much about the community of Native filmmakers. This opportunity allowed me to observe Native artists in various roles as producers, directors, writers, and more. It is nothing short of inspiring seeing Natives push the boundaries of creativity and keeping alive the innate ability to tell stories.

The Native Program at Sundance

This power trio (Bird Runningwater, Adam Piron, and Maya Solis) has done everything in their power to help me live out my aspirations. They are just a phone call or email away, and they are quick to let us know about upcoming opportunities or even just to check in with all of us fellows. These three genuinely care about your career as an artist and will encourage you to realize that allowing your creative voice to be heard is possible.

Loving Your Life

Since becoming a Fellow I have been living a dream that has yet to end. I have realized a lot about my own potential. While I owe a lot of that reasoning to the experiences I have had through the Full Circle Fellowship, most of it is a reignited passion that comes from within. As an artist, pursuing creativity should never be taken for granted. I believe now, more than ever, that it is hard work to live out your passion, but by applying to the Full Circle Fellowship you can take a large step in the right direction.


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