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Vassiliki Khonsari on Musing Mysteries at the New Frontier Story Lab

1979 Revolution

Vassiliki Khonsari

Amidst the dramatic drops and amber foliage of Utah’s natural offerings, the Sundance mountain stands proud, a modern day Mount Olympus where good things happen. It is here that the muses of contemporary storytelling orchestrate a transformative experience. Advisors, staff and peers—one more brilliant, generous and different than the other—are at your humble disposal over the course of those five days, both in mind and in space.

My partner Navid and I flew in from New York to an unfamiliar place, to meet an unfamiliar group of people to unravel our dearest project 1979 Revolution, which had been already been in development for over three years. We were utterly unprepared for the deeply profound and lasting adventure we were embarking upon at the New Frontier Story Lab. Other than press or equity investors’ feedback (consisting mostly of the sobering mathematical equations) we existed in an echo chamber of market pressures and our drive to bust down the current boundaries between games and documentary films. In our efforts to please everyone—technology for gamers, facts and social relevance for documentary filmmakers, the nitty gritty of everyday operations—the story was getting buried.

It was at this fortuitous meeting of the minds where New Frontier pushes the boundaries of innovation by corralling the highest achievers in the varied disciplines of screenwriting giants (Sarah Treem, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Joan Tewkesbury), academy nominated documentary writers (Mark Monroe), interactive producers (Dana Dansereau), technological futurists (Ted Shilowitz), visual artists (Lynette Wallworth, Ricardo Rivera), video game creative directors (Tofi Frans Olafsson), and social outreach producers (Wendy Levy), to name a few of the Creative Advisors. New Frontier is extremely unique in that it builds a community of technologists and storytellers who embrace emerging media without sacrificing the substance of content.

Vassiliki Khonsari (left) and Navid Khonsari at the 2014 New Frontier Story Lab.
© Sundance Institute | Fred Hayes

In the Lab, we had the luxury to justify the creative choices while we were challenged to take risks with emerging mediums. Each moment built on the last, fulfilling the precise vision of the Sundance staff. The Lab asks of you and you dig as deep as you can to give. Time and time again, over the course of the Lab you confront those nagging ideas that you managed to suppress, you walk right into the biggest holes, you see new strengths, bury old ideas, and muster the bravery and clarity to flip the whole project over and see what doesn’t fall out. The Lab ramps into a cacophony of ideas, where you have conditioned your creative mind so well that you can witness each of these ideas at the same time, without getting overwhelmed.

Did I mention how well you sleep at night?

And then the big reveal. Since you’ve examined and unraveled every aspect of the project, you can now reassemble all those working parts with intention through a creative process, in a way that challenges your audience and pushes on the boundaries of your technology to serve your story.

This exploration is not a happy accident. One of the many crowned jewels of the Lab experience is the communal nature of the process. Empathy, compassion, and camaraderie are all key pillars to the Lab—whereby the process mirrors the mission of the projects. The connection that you share with those around you fuels your creativity. We emerged not only better storytellers, but better story listeners.

The New Frontier Story lab provides a reservoir of an experience where you can revisit to realign your creative vision with any project. Reimagining your project is the most valuable experience you can have as an artist. It is through this process of borrowing trusted eyes that you will get a magical glimpse of your projects essence. This glimpse can be transformative for your work and sustaining in your process.

Only months later, we had the outstanding opportunity to create an installation of our work at the New Frontier exhibit during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. We are eternally grateful for the lifelong tools we now have as artists, the community we have gained, and the ongoing support from Sundance.

For the first year the New Frontier Story Lab is open to all applicants. Click here to apply before the August 17 deadline.

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