(L-R) Malia Ann, Natalie Jasmine Harris, Yero Timi-Biu, Myah Overstreet and Jazmin Renee Jones (Photo by Donyale West/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
by Jacob Graff
Bringing together hundreds of filmmakers at the picturesque Sundance Resort, the Directors Brunch offered the Sundance Class of 2024 a platform for conversation and congratulations. Kinetic energy filled the room as the creative community gathered to eat and to meet.
At the Sundance Film Festival, where the entertainment world gathers to view the future of filmmaking, the event provides artists with a sense of respite. Artists espoused a collective appreciation for the Festival’s ability to consistently center artists and storytelling even amidst the hectic scheduling of premieres and the rumors of film sales. Able to relive the processes and paths that brought them here, filmmakers expressed gratitude for the work of the Sundance Institute in supporting their journeys. Sean Wang, director of Dìdi (弟弟), said, “In the chaos of the noise of the industry and business, it is easy to get lost in what your project needs to be and what it should be,” Wang continued. “What the Institute did for me was allow [me] the permission to ignore all of that…and listen to [myself].”
Wang is a veteran of both the Screenwriting and Director’s Labs. He took the opportunity to praise the Institute for providing him with a “community of people, filmmakers, artists, and staff who care about you in an industry that can often feel so lonely…it is really, really special.”
First time filmmakers and veterans alike commemorated the influence of the Institute on their works. “I would not be the filmmaker I am today without [Sundance], and the movie would not be the movie it is today without them,” Wang noted. Ross Kaufman, the director of Winding Path and a veteran of the first Composer Labs in 2003, echoed that sentiment: “I would not be here without Sundance, and I would not be making the films I am making without them.”
Once the filmmakers had all settled down in their seats with a refreshing breakfast spread, the music and discussions dimmed as the artists got to hear from leading members of the Sundance Institute. Eugene Hernandez, Festival Director, kicked off the celebrations commemorating the restorative nature of coming together as artists. Sundance’s CEO Joana Vicente followed, taking a moment to celebrate the audience’s “transformative” achievements in the visual arts during a period where the film industry lacked any sense of stability. Despite a reality for filmmakers that threatened to shut down productions and diminish the cultural value of the arts, the artists assembled here rose above that, Vicente proclaimed, creating cutting works that reflected society’s need for new perspectives. With the willpower to realize stories that have never before been told, the filmmakers assembled in this room had one collective idea: “take risks, share truth without compromise, and create work that entertains and sparks conversation.”
Vicente then invited Institute board member Amy Redford on stage. Motivated to share the story of her father, the Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, and the impact seeing Sundance thrive imparted on him, the younger Redford repeated what filmmakers had long praised Sundance for helping them do: “Don’t let the fire breathing dragon of acquisition, representation and sales burn you. Ride it.” Redford further reflected on what it means to her to continue the legacy that her father set out, over 40 years ago, of supporting independent filmmaking. “What I am most proud of is that when my dad could have created an empire, he created a nest.” An incubator, an Eden, an artists’ utopia dedicated solely to independent film and filmmakers; that is what Sundance is and forever will be. She ended with touching words that her father asked her to share on his behalf with Sundance’s class of 2024 directors. “Welcome to this mountain. We want you to not only see this place but perhaps even feel it… Continue to persevere — bring your voice, your vision, your point of view, about the world you are living in. This is about your work and getting it seen, and we thank you for sharing it with us.”
Amy Redford’s Full Remarks Are Listed Below
In the beauty and chaos that is — and will hopefully always be the heart of the Sundance Film Festival — my favorite moment was watching my dad, who would duck the spectacle that seemed besides the point, then he would stand before you as one of you. I wish it were him here, for your sake.
It was here that his smile would return, his heart would emerge, and he would be present with his people. It’s you. It’s you that sit in dark rooms snuggled up with your insomnia, your overdue rent, your unreturned phone calls. Your loved ones wondering if you are alive or dead, fed, or maybe, finally, want that job at your uncle’s car dealership. It’s you that, like shamans, offer up your innards, families, lovers, your landscape, your good and bad, for our public consumption.
Driven — sometimes in a solitary way — by the belief that if you want to say it, someone will want to hear it. That if you need to show it, maybe it hasn’t been shown before. Well, it turns out that when you threw yourself on that altar, it worked.
You got to make your movie, your episode, your immersive journey. Not only that, It turns out you were right. Not only did someone want to hear, see, consume your stories when you pushed that boulder uphill, but then you made it to the Sundance film Festival, again.
Look around at the programmers: they sorted through the tens of thousands, seeing with everything they have to find you. Maybe ask first, but you might want to give them a hug.
I have been here in many capacities, as a volunteer, as a theater lab fellow, as an actor, and premiering my first film. Now I have the honor of serving on the board with some extraordinary people.
And having had more films rejected by this place than accepted, I know what a big deal this is.
Here is my unsolicited advice: Don’t forget to enjoy it.
Look around, each one of you is imprinting on this moment. There is more community in this room than might happen in the totality of a career. Our industry is in a state of metamorphosis. Nothing happens without your vision and sacrifice. We can carry off this mountain renewal from some of the relentless challenges of the last year.
So keep going. Do not abandon and submerge the unique tenacious you when you are told that you have to be a contortionist to belong. What is made true by you being here is that you have a show-and-tell that we want to be a part of. Stay present in that affirmation. Don’t let the fire breathing dragon of acquisition, representation, and sales burn you. Ride it.
Find your tough love, your trusted team, the ones who believe in you enough to say let’s look again. Investigate, dig deeper. Try another path. Who loves you enough to say both yes and no with equal dedication.
I’m looking at you, producers. Deities of Nuance…
“Well, did you make our day?” says the investor, the studio, the exec…
You turn without flinching and say, “ Did we make our day? Well, we sure did, We made the day Amaaaazing!” Then you high-five and leave the room to buy your director that last shot.
You fought for that actor who no one wanted you to cast, for the scene you couldn’t lose, for your cousin to get hired for craft service. You fought, you dreamed, you are here.
You are our eyes and ears. You are our front lines. Beware of those that say you just don’t understand how it is done, but be an observer, learn the portals and bust through.
One of the great lessons that I learned from my dad was “If someone says it can’t be done, it just means it hasn’t been done yet.” I had the great honor of watching Michelle Satter accept an Oscar. Yes, it’s a testament to her inconceivable mixture of grace, vision, and strength, but it is also a testament to why any of this matters.
This Festival is the front-of-house part: our work, our mission, and our labs were founded on back-of-house Ideas. Things that I learned here at this resort. My family were stewards of this place we are all in right now for 50 years. Stewardship is an idea that took me a long time to fully understand. You will hear me say that what I am most proud of, is that when my dad could have created an empire, he created a nest.
So fly, and continue to be a part of our ecosystem. You are stewards of your stories, return to the core, ask it for direction. We are on the precipice of finding new ways to engage our alumni community. You will be a part of that and we need you.
If you haven’t participated in Collab please do, we are evolving it, as you are evolving.
Thank you to Eugene, Kim, Joana, and all of the staff and volunteers that make any of this possible.
I would like to end with a few words to you from my dad:
“Welcome to this mountain. We want you to not only see this place but, perhaps, even feel it. Try to enjoy the ride and don’t get caught up in the hype. Continue to persevere — bring your voice, your vision, your point of view, about the world you are living in. This is about your work and getting it seen, and we thank you for sharing it with us.“
Go forth, eat cheese cubes, drink water and enjoy. Thank you and congratulations.