January 21, 2017
Sundance 2017

How Should Independent Film Move Forward? Women of Sundance 2017 Speak Out

"In polarized times, the need for fresh, diverse, and unhomogenized culture becomes more urgent."

It's an interesting year to be at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival to say the least. As one of the biggest summits for independent filmmaking in the world, it's a natural place to get excited about the possibilities of our medium. Add to that yesterday's presidential inauguration and today's women's marches happening across the country, and you get a festival full of ardent conversation about the future and our role in it as filmmakers.

To get people thinking about our craft, and in light of today's nationwide marches led by women and the men who support them, we asked five talented female filmmakers with work at the Sundance Film Festival about their vision for the future of independent film in 2017 and beyond. We got five altogether different answers.

Award-winning filmmaker Pascale Lamche (Stalingrad, Black Diamond) is at Sundance with her feature documentary, Winnie, a complex portrait of Winnie Mandela and her frontline fight for liberation under apartheid.

Winnie Mandela appears in 'Winnie' by Pascale Lamche, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Baha.

From Lamche:

"Independent film is by definition not subject to another's authority. It is, and has been historically, the result of permanent struggle—to carve out space for the making of each film, for independent film practice, for independent film distribution and exhibition. Complacency and mediocrity can't settle where there is permanent flux. So good work is made, and as opportunities for seeing good work multiply, audiences develop. And of course, capital generally moves to where it sees people wanting to spend time.

And in polarized times, the need for fresh, diverse and unhomogenized culture becomes more urgent. New energies are galvanized. So I think interesting struggles lie ahead, and good work may find itself a little edgier than before. Audiences may become a little hungrier for filmmakers to face up to a certain responsibility to reflect and reflect upon our world."

"So I think interesting struggles lie ahead, and good work may find itself a little edgier than before."

Writer/director/lead actor Michelle Morgan has an impeccable sense of comedic timing, and her feature narrative L.A. Times showcases a playfully stylized world of endearing characters who are navigating the L.A. dating scene.

Dree Hemingway and Michelle Morgan appear in 'L.A. Times' by Michelle Morgan, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

From Morgan:

"My vision for independent film in 2017 and beyond is one that is more inclusive, more accepting and encouraging of people that don't fit the typical filmmaker mold. It really shouldn't be a major topic of conversation that someone other than a white male is making a film. In 2017, I'd like to see less competitiveness and more of a willingness to help and encourage our fellow filmmakers because opportunities are not always equal in this business and I think we really need each other's support."

"In 2017, I'd like to see less competitiveness and more of a willingness to help and encourage our fellow filmmakers..."

Director and producer Shruti Ganguly (Yosemite, Black Surf) produced the imaginative VR film Through You which uses dance to tell a story of love born, lived, lost, burned, and seemingly gone forever.

Joanna Kotze and Amari Cheatom appear in 'Through You' by Saschka Unseld and Lily Baldwin, an official selection of the New Frontier VR Experiences program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Cameron Berton.

From Ganguly:

"My vision for the future of our industry is to speak louder, but speak clearer. To visualize with open eyes and open hearts. My vision is that our efforts and projects have a responsibility to the communities that are in our movies as well as to our audiences; that a call-to-action is generated not just at the end of the film, but in the germination of an idea. And that we help each other more."

"My vision for the future of our industry is to speak louder, but speak clearer."

Independent Spirit Award winner and Rockefeller fellow Laura Dunn (Green, The Unforeseen) is at the festival with her feature documentary Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, which traces the decline of modern U.S. agrarian culture through iconic American author Wendell Berry.

A film still from 'Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry' by Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lee Daniel.

From Dunn:

"I'd love for independent film to return to its roots, to be less flashy, less eager to chase after the trends and more independent-MINDED—to reflect visions that challenge us to imagine another world."

"...be less flashy, less eager to chase after the trends and more independent-MINDED..."

Sabaah Folayan is an activist, storyteller, and was a lead organizer for the Millions March. Her feature documentary Whose Streets?  is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising in St. Louis, Missouri.

A still from 'Whose Streets?' by Sabaah Folayan, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lucas Alvarado Farrar.

From Folayan:

"As a filmmaker, we could spend a lifetime honing this craft. I hope films like 'Whose Streets' can help to usher in a new sense of open-mindedness about what documentary can be, and the artfulness that can be applied to it. It would be great for non-fiction filmmaking to lose that stale connotation of expert interviews, dead on. And move away from the kind of exploitative, “look at all these explosions,” and move away from the bird’s-eye view style. We have this dry set of conventions. Our resistance needs to be on the plane of storytelling as well. We need to do this guerilla-style filmmaking—and that may be articulated in completely different ways by different filmmakers. But looking at these stories as media that can be used to shape and change has a potency. I’m excited to keep pushing boundaries and see other filmmakers keep pushing boundaries."

"Our resistance needs to be on the plane of storytelling as well."

Thank you, filmmakers! Stay tuned for more on the ground observations about the direction of our industry. If you have your own hopes and dreams for the future of independent film this year and beyond, share them!


For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones.     

Featured photo: A still from 'Whose Streets?' by Sabaah Folayan, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Lucas Alvarado Farrar.

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