Project 1324 asked this year’s Sundance Ignite Fellows to describe their experience at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and the effect it had on their filmmaking. Leading off our series is Courtney Jines, one of the five winners of our “What’s Next?” short film challenge, on her time at Sundance:
I wasn’t expecting to go to Sundance this year. My film In The Future was a heartfelt but extraordinarily last minute effort. I was proud of what we made with such little time and money, but I figured the odds were against us. So when I found myself looking out the airplane window at the vast white of Salt Lake City, two months after submitting to Sundance Ignite’s “What’s Next” film challenge, I wasn’t entirely sure it was real.
While waiting for my suitcase, overstuffed with an embarrassing amount of sweaters and cameras and long underwear, I recognized Kayla, one of the Sundance Ignite fellows, from her film Smoke That Travels. She smiled at me, and we high-fived each other. “I can’t believe we’re here,” she said.
The next morning, we met our mentors and the other Ignite fellows. I can honestly say we bonded truly and quickly. John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film festival, welcomed us to the Sundance family, and told us something I haven’t forgotten: “You are here for a reason. Everyone here wants to learn from you. You have the new ideas. We need you more than you need us.” I held onto those words for dear life. The idea that I actually had something to offer, not only gain from, the experience hadn’t occurred to me before that moment.
It really did feel like a family. There’s something about being on the mountain together- everyone’s a little closer, a little kinder, a little more open. Everyone’s genuinely happy to be there, to share and see the work of their peers. And everyone’s looking for a bathroom. (Sundance is 40% trudging through snow, 40% drinking lots of water to avoid altitude sickness, and thus in constant pursuit of a bathroom, 10% getting on the wrong bus, and 10% going to screenings and events. Note that there’s no time for sleeping or eating in this calculation.) It’s like summer camp for filmmakers. But cold.
I met so many artists whose work moved me and changed my perspective. I was particularly amazed by the depth of the exploration going on in virtual reality (VR). It’s an entirely new medium with its own unique empathy response. Google’s Jessica Brillhart told us they now refer to traditional movies as “flatties.” I wasn’t sure if I was terrified or amazed by the whole thing. A little of both. I loved it.
The day I got home from Sundance, I wanted to go back. I wrote in my notebook “It’s the people that make the place.” So in that spirit, I’ve been forging new friendships, and extending myself to connect with people I normally wouldn’t feel brave enough to meet. I’ve also committed to writing every day, which has opened up a lot of new doors for me creatively. Kat Candler, my mentor who I’m obsessed with, has helped me realize that to succeed as an artist of any kind you have to show up, dedicate yourself to the process, and create deadlines for yourself.
Every month Kat and I go over my goals for the year, and she’s been helping me navigate my way to them with confidence. I decided to write a more ambitious screenplay that had been rattling around in my mind for a while, and I’m looking forward to directing my next short, or web series. Recently I’ve been working on a video for Women For Bernie, as I’ve become increasingly concerned about our future, and engaged in the political process.
I talked to Kat about it. “I know I should be focusing on my screenplay,” I told her, “but I think this is really important.”
She agreed I shouldn’t let it go: “Look, sometimes things come up, and you totally have to go with it.” Opportunity almost never arises when you expect it to.
I found out about the Sundance Ignite challenge just a few weeks before the entry deadline. I had no crew, no budget, no big idea. All I had to push me to reach that deadline was this nagging feeling that this was my time to show up. And words can’t express how happy I am that I did.