LOS ANGELES — Six Indigenous filmmakers participated in the 2020 Sundance Institute Indigenous Intensive held August 3-7, redesigned digitally on Sundance Co//ab . The Intensive focused on the advancement of storytellers’ projects under the guidance of experienced Creative Advisors and Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program. The Intensive is presented by WarnerMedia.
“We’re excited to create a new support model in our program to work more deeply with a new generation of artists on their Feature Film and Episodic projects,” said Director N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache). “We hope to expand our community’s work in these forms and beyond while continuing to nurture their exceptional and distinct voices.”
Feature Fellows: Erin Lau (Kanaka Maoli), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sámi) and Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga/Wyandotte Nations). Episodic Fellows: Jonny Cournoyer (Rosebud Sioux–Sicangu Lakota), Blake Pickens (Chickasaw Nation) and Shaandiin Tome (Diné Nation). Creative Advisors: Michelle Latimer (Métis/Algonquin), Sally Riley (Wiradjuri Nation), Heather Rae, Effie Brown, Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek) and Sierra Ornales (Diné Nation).
The Indigenous Program champions Indigenous independent storytelling artists through residency Labs, Fellowships, public programming, and a year-round continuum of creative, financial, and tactical support. The Program conducts outreach and education to identify a new generation of Indigenous voices, connecting them with opportunities to develop their storytelling projects, and bringing them and their work back to Indigenous lands. At its core, the Program seeks to inspire self-determination among Indigenous filmmakers and communities by centering Indigenous people in telling their own stories.
The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Oneida Indian Nation, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Nia Tero Foundation, SAGindie, Indigenous Screen Office, New Zealand Film Commission, Jenifer and Jeffrey Westphal, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, and an anonymous donor.
In 1981, Robert Redford founded Sundance Institute to foster independence and provide a safe harbor for risk-taking new voices. In the organization’s inaugural year, 15 emerging filmmakers were invited to Sundance Resort in the mountains of Utah to develop their original independent projects with mentorship from leading writers, directors, and actors.
Sundance Institute has continually evolved as an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that discovers and supports independent artists from the U.S. and around the world, and introduces audiences to their new work. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress.
Through its signature labs, granting, and mentorship, the Institute provides and preserves the space for independent artists to explore their stories free from daily distraction, and to take risks free from commercial and political pressures. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences with artists, igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling.
Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On the Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams, and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Biographies, Feature Fellows:
Erin Lau (Kanaka Maoli)
Raised in the quiet valley of Kahalu’u on O’ahu, Native Hawaiian filmmaker Erin Lau moved to Los Angeles after receiving a full-ride merit scholarship from Chapman University, where she completed her MFA in Directing. During her education, she was selected as a Sundance Native Lab fellow for her film The Moon and The Night. As a result of the film’s success, Erin signed with UTA and LINK Entertainment. She then shifted her attention to episodic content and participated in Powderkeg’s Break The Room writers’ room for the Quibi show Last Resort. Most recently, she was shortlisted for the 2020 HBO Directors program. Now, by day, Erin works as a Senior Producer-Director for digital media company, Jubilee Media, creating content that has garnered millions of views, as well as sponsored content for brands including SK-II, Kiwi Botanicals, and Always. By night, she is developing projects inspired by her family, heritage, and the socio-economic issues that plague Pacific Islander communities.
After undergoing a traumatic experience, a Native Hawaiian real estate agent moves her family into a luxury penthouse for a fresh start, only to be confronted by an ominous force that feeds off their greed and pain.
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot, Sámi)
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a writer, director, producer and actor. She is a member of the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy) as well as Sámi from Norway. She was named the 2018 Sundance Film Institute’s Merata Mita Film Fellow and is an alumni of the Berlinale Talent Lab, and the Hot Docs Doc Accelerator Lab. She co-wrote, co-directed, and acted in the narrative feature The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open with Kathleen Hepburn, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2019 and won the Toronto and Vancouver Film Critics Award for Best Canadian Feature. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open was also nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, Tailfeathers and Hepburn received the awards for Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open was picked up for distribution by Ava DuVernay’s company ARRAY and is available to stream on Netflix in the United States.
Water follows Kaden, a young, queer, Indigenous woman who has grown up away from her community. After landing a summer government job as a community liaison for what seemed like an opportunity to work with her own people, Kaden learns that she will instead be working closely with a new species called the “sandpeople.”
Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga/Wyandotte Nations)
Erica is an award-winning filmmaker and digital strategist with over 10 years of experience across interactive and video content. Her projects have screened at 60+ film festivals and her work has been featured on PBS, CNN and IFC. Erica’s films explore topics including violence against Indigenous women, restorative justice and issues impacting the two-spirit community. She has worked with many grassroots organizations, including the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Coalition and Wica Agli. In 2016, Erica was awarded a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship and in 2018, Erica was a Sundance Native Film Lab Fellow. Her film Little Chief premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was chosen by IndieWire as a “top ten must-see short film of the festival.” Erica was recently honored as a 40 Under 40 Native American. She currently lives in Ithaca, N.Y. where she is studying her Indigenous language.
Project: Fancy Dance
Following the disappearance of her sister, a Native-American hustler kidnaps her niece from a non-Native foster home and goes on the lam in hopes of keeping their family intact.
Biographies, Episodic Fellows:
Jonny Cournoyer (Rosebud Sioux–Sicangu Lakota)
Jonny Cournoyer is a multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles who flows between the mediums of fine art, filmmaking and set photography for the motion picture industry. He is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and a Sundance Institute Native Producing Lab Alumnus. As a member of the International Cinematographers Guild his screen credits for set photography include the A Quiet Place films and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, among others. In 2013, he directed and produced the short doc, Across the Creek, that featured everyday Lakota heroes reclaiming traditional Native stories, visions and values. Across the Creek became a publication of PBS Plus and was later selected for a screening and symposium at the White House in October of 2015. In between projects Jonny returns to a two-dimensional world of painting and mixed media and the fine art practice that he was based in before his crossover to film.
Four Lakota teenagers spend the summer of 1958 cruising their Dakota reservation and its border towns, discovering insight into who they are and glimpses of an outside America overflowing with racial prejudice, Cold War patriotism and pop culture materialism.
Blake Pickens (Chickasaw Nation)
Blake Pickens is an Emmy Award winning Chickasaw filmmaker and comedian. Blake began his career writing satire for The National Lampoon, publishing numerous feature articles. Most recently he was a part of A Tribe Called Sketch, the first all Native American sketch show on a U.S. Second City Stage. He can be seen performing stand up all over LA. Blake was selected for the Sundance Native Producing Lab and the Sundance Producing Fellowship for his film, The Land. The film premiered in 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically by IFC Films. He has produced commercials that have won a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions two years in a row, and won a 2018 Emmy for his P&G commercial, The Talk. He also won an MTV VMA for his work on John Legend’s music video, Surefire. He just completed production on Wild Indian, a Sundance Labs project. Blake is a graduate of the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC, has an MBA from LMU, and is also a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.
Project: The Wildest West
A workplace comedy that takes place at Seven Flags Over Texas.
Shaandiin Tome (Diné Nation)
Shaandiin Tome is a filmmaker and director from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Snaandiin was put on the map as a writer/director with her breakout short film, Mud (Hashtł’ishnii), which was selected and premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Her film went worldwide. In her upcoming feature, Dibé, she was a participant at the Sundance Creative Producers Summit 2019 and Sundance Talent Forum 2020. At the beginning of 2020, she was selected as a finalist for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Her current work spans documentary, commercial, and narrative work with National Geographic, Al Jazeera, Vice, Levi’s and Merrell. Her unique perspective allows her to capture other trailblazers in the Indigenous community. She lives in Albuquerque, aiming to bring resonating imagery in convergence with story, illustrating her perspective as a Diné woman.
At a suburban high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, several native students begin to realize their varied paths when one of their peers commits suicide.