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Native Artists and Audiences Convene in Oklahoma

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A class of local high school students attends the FILM FORWARD program at the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

Bethany Clarke

The Chickasaw Cultural Center is located in Sulphur, Oklahoma, one and a half hours from Oklahoma City and two and a half hours from Dallas, Texas. Sulphur has a population of about 5,000, so local Oklahomans were understandably surprised and elated that it was selected as one of four domestic  destinations for FILM FORWARD 2012.

Media and Journalism students from the University of Oklahoma  made the drive down from Norman to meet some well-known alumni including Bird Runningwater, Director of the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program, and Sterlin Harjo, writer/director of Barking Water. Local high school students came with their teachers for the day, reveling in the opportunity to ask “real filmmakers” questions following their films. Local filmmakers came from neighboring states, sometimes driving 2-3 hours to listen to the panels on Indigenous and independent filmmaking.  Residents of Sulphur were able to discover the Chickasaw Cultural Center (some  for the first time) and FILM FORWARD at the same time.

The FILM FORWARD filmmakers were thrilled by the opportunity to share their films with these new audiences. Writer/Director Sterlin Harjo commented, “I know firsthand what it’s like to be a filmmaker in Oklahoma and have someone take a chance on you, so when I heard that the FILM FORWARD Program was coming to Oklahoma, I was honored that they asked me to be involved.” 

When asked what was the most rewarding aspect of the trip, Asif Kapadia, director of Senna, answered, “I really enjoyed interacting with the Native filmmakers, watching the Native short films; but my favorite and most rewarding part of the trip was the interaction with a particular local Native woman—she has many personal experiences which she would like to tell. Her life has had many tragic turns and she told me some very sad stories. I hope to be able to help her turn her ideas into scripts and maybe even a film in the future.”

Actress Ningali Lawford said, “I was nervous when it was time for Bran Nue Dae to be screened because these people whose land I was standing on were also like me: Indigenous. We did, in some ways, experience the same things. I wondered if they would see the humor of being taken away from home, similar to the journey of the lead character, Willie. To my surprise, the audience loved it. I was asked so many questions about the movie and the aboriginal people of Australia. Audience members came up to me and hugged me and thanked me for coming all this way.”

Here are  responses from two audience members we were privileged to meet:

Dear Jacqueline,

I can’t begin to express my excitement as well as my gratitude to the Sundance Institute for a fabulous day at the Chickasaw Cultural Center on Saturday…the only sadness in the day was having to leave!

Saturday, the experience took me from “falling in love,” to sadness, tears of an amazing loss, enthusiastic joy and laughter and then back again to love, loss, and tears…all in one short window of 6 hours. Your wonderful experience literally had me travel around the world, go back in time and return back again in one beautiful afternoon.  I can’t thank Sundance Institute enough for an adventure of a lifetime.  Each and every film experience was incredibly moving and I found myself lost in and completely transformed into the screen with each experience.

I look forward to many other experiences with Sundance Institute! 

With My Warmest Sincerity,
Rebecca Papajohn


I attached some photos that I took of you and others during Film Forward in Sulphur, OK. A great event. You and others did a great service to those interested in cultural dialogue with film. All were extremely helpful and shared a lot about the craft of film. 

I thank you and others for a wonderful time. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the very best, I give you and the Film Forward a 100. Extremely good and beyond!

James W. McIntosh



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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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