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Our 2021 Full Circle Fellows Reflect on Their Journeys and What’s Next

By Adam Piron

With the generous support of the Kellogg Foundation, Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program holds an annual, open call for the Full Circle Fellowship. Centering on Indigenous young adults (18–24 years old) based in New Mexico, Michigan, and Mississippi, the fellowship offers a year’s worth of creative support and opportunities for those interested in exploring pathways into careers in film and television — including participation in the 2022 Native Lab and attendance at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

As we launch this year’s call for a new cohort (make sure to apply from March 7–21!), we wanted to highlight the experiences and voice of our 2021 Full Circle Fellows. 

Below, hear directly from Christina Zuni, Jamie John, and Sarah Liese about their journeys as they took the next step in their careers over the past year.  To learn more about the Full Circle Fellowship, please visit https://apply.sundance.org/.

Christina Zuni (Isleta Pueblo)

Being part of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program as a Full Circle Fellow has been a life-changing experience for me. I explored parts of myself and my identity that helped define who I am as a storyteller. Sitting in heartfelt conversations with people I trust changed my view of the world and how I write about it. It has also bettered my understanding of visual storytelling and the importance of having a community to support you through your filmmaking journey.

The Indigenous community at Sundance has been the most supportive group of people I’ve been able to meet and work alongside. Thanks to everyone at the program, I’ve been fortunate enough to gain new life-long friends and colleagues. Whether you need someone to help with your film or want someone to talk to, they’re always willing to sit down, listen and help you out.

Everyone I’ve encountered as a Full Circle Fellow has put me on a path that I once dreamed about and has changed my life for the better.

Sarah Liese (Diné, enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians)

As a young person early in my career, I could not ask for a better start to begin my journey as a documentary filmmaker. I am in the transitioning phase where I am about to graduate from my master’s program, and I feel more confident in my abilities as a filmmaker. The Indigenous Team at the Sundance Institute was there to give me feedback and advice related to my work and goals for the future. The team provided a safe space for myself and other fellows to nurture our ambitions and express our identities and experiences.

The opportunities that the fellowship offers are once in a lifetime. Attending the Sundance Film Festival and talking about the featured films with other Sundance artists inspired me to go out and create my own videos that could hopefully one day be featured in the Festival. If I had to sum up my experience, it would be that the fellowship helped me to believe in my capabilities as a filmmaker while providing me resources to achieve success one day — like so many other Native creatives before me.

Jamie John (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians)

I will always remember the April afternoon that I received the call from the Indigenous Program telling me that I had been selected for the Full Circle Fellowship. I had just turned 20 years old and quit my day job at Starbucks, unsure if I could even handle constant grant applications, fellowship, and residency possibilities. In my interview with the Indigenous Program team, I shared goals I have for myself, my community, and for us being free to tell our stories honestly and as individuals. 

During the 2021 Native Lab, I connected with other Indigenous writers and fighters like Sterlin Harjo and Tara Houska (both of whom I got to meet!) This empowered me to finally pen more stories and share them with others who could offer feedback and constructive criticism for my work to improve. I hope to be writing many stories, including graphic novels and more experimental films. I was also afforded opportunities for funding which has allowed me to continue my art practice without being restricted to medium or form.

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival was life changing for me as far as seeing where filmmaking fit into my practice and how powerful it can be as a medium. Overall Sundance and the Indigenous Team within it, has put my name in more rooms than I could imagine, amplified my voice as an artist, and changed my life for the better. I know that even though my year as a Full Circle Fellow is coming to a close, I will never leave the family I met at Sundance.

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