With Sundance Native Lab reverting to an in-person (hybrid) model for the first time in two years, Director asked 2022 Fellows to reflect on their recent experiences through short journal entries. Read the rest of the responses from the 2022 cohort.
I’ll start by saying that my journey to the Sundance Native Lab is anything but traditional. I was born in Lawton, Oklahoma and currently live in Wichita, Kansas where I work as a public librarian. Before 2022, the only writing anyone associated with me were jokes and memes. Cinema was one of my lifelong passions, but something that I had put aside and only resumed a few years ago. To think that I would go from writing my first feature film script to becoming a 2022 Sundance Native Lab Fellow in less than a year was hard to fathom. When I think of my experience so far, the word “surreal” comes up a lot. Honestly, I never thought I’d be here, but if Sundance has shown me anything, it’s a sense of belonging — and despite my humble Midwestern background, my stories are worth telling.
The first week of the lab, we met via Zoom. Despite virtual meeting exhaustion after two years of work-related Zoom calls, the experience was still very refreshing and I looked forward to each session. These Zoom sessions included cold reads from episodic projects and presentations from advisors, as well as time to mingle with fellow fellows. On the last day, we were treated to an incredible virtual performance by First Nations musician Sebastian Gaskin. Listening to advisors share their journeys during these sessions was truly inspiring. Just hearing their very human stories of growing up loving movies and continuing to make them had a demystifying effect that really resonated with me. “You can do it too!” was definitely a recurring feeling I had throughout the program.
The advice and support of Bernardo, Shandiin, Patrick and Erica during our one-on-one meetings was practical and really helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. One of my favorite one-on-one moments happened when I met Shandiin and she told me she really enjoyed my script. Not only was she the first native to tell me she loved him in person, but hearing it for the first time from another native filmmaker was a validating experience that I don’t know if I would have had as soon as me if it wasn’t for Sundance.
Today is Monday, May 9, 2022. Today I am leaving Kansas for the high desert of central New Mexico for the in-person portion of the lab. Due to a delay, my flight arrives late and I take a shuttle myself from the airport to Santa Fe. Once off the shuttle, I am immediately greeted by the lab coordinator Moi and my colleague Tiare. I drop my bags and head to the meeting room where everyone is finishing dinner. The sense of community is quite immediate when I first enter the room, it doesn’t feel like a room full of strangers at all but a room full of old friends. The excitement everyone is feeling is contagious.
Upon entering the lab, a recurring fear I had was the thought that I would be overcome with impostor syndrome. However, that was not the case. The environment created by the program the staff were welcoming and encouraging. The staff have done an incredible job of creating a sense of community among fellows. Having gone through similar experiences that were very competitive and alienating, I have a strong sense of gratitude for their efforts to make fellows feel at home.
Having the chance to read other Fellows’ scripts not only gave me the opportunity to see how other screenwriters brought ideas to the page, but to the lab, it was a great tour of the Indigenous world. The 5 filmmakers represented cultures from different parts of the globe and their stories reflected that. While there are a number of differences in our cultures, what stands out most are the similarities and how we as Indigenous people bond around family and storytelling. stories.
It’s Wednesday night. I’ve already had a lifetime of memories this week, but now it’s time to get to work. Tomorrow is the day of my cold reading. I don’t really know what to do, but I decided to take the time to assign parts and write an introduction. It’s weird to bring a ghost story to a town as old as Santa Fe, a place with more than its own share of ghost stories. Given that my storyline is set in a former Native American boarding school and Santa Fe’s own history with colonial violence, I felt it necessary to acknowledge this before I read on. I wasn’t the only one doing this either. Acknowledging our ancestors and thanking them for taking care of us is a commonality shared with a lot of Indigenous people and it was really cool to be in an environment where that was respected.
All in all, I was really happy to see my script come to life during the cold read. When you write a script, you do your best to mentally visualize your movie, but you really have no idea what it will look like until you have objectively experienced your script for the first time. . After the cold reading, it was obvious that I had work to do. While I quickly noticed the things that didn’t work, the biggest takeaway from the cold read was the things that worked really well and didn’t get the attention they needed in the first draft . Seeing which characters needed to come out of the background and which scenes needed to be explored further was a motivating experience. All in all, I was excited to get to work on the next project. Feedback was something I was concerned about going to the lab. I haven’t had much formal creative writing experience and given the subject of my script, I’ve had plenty of worst-case scenarios during my shower thoughts in the weeks leading up to the lab. However, the advisor and fellow feedback went better than I expected and I left cold reading feeling positive with a sense of validation that I was doing what I was allowed to do and that I was doing it well.
The biggest surprise I got from all the comments was that people thought I could lean more into the comedic elements of my story. I have a long history in comedy, and when writing the script, I hesitated because I was writing a horror film to submit to Sundance and I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. . It was really good to hear people say that they really enjoyed those elements and that stories like the one I’m telling need comedy to counter some of the darker elements of the script. At the end of the intensive writing workshop, Joan Tewkesbury came up to me and said, “You walk a hard line between light and dark, walk harder. I will never forget those words and thought about them a lot in the weeks following the workshop.
On the last day of the lab, we met in the hotel conference room where we spent most of our working time. Every day from the lab we get a guest and we go around and share our ideas with each other. This is great practice for getting to know a group of people who were strangers three weeks ago. The guest of the day was what our main takeaway from the program was. I look around at the fellows and staff I’ve spent the past two weeks getting to know. I think of our time together, all the laughter, all the tears and all the stories we shared and I was in awe of the Indigenous excellence that I have been surrounded by over the past few days. Never in my life have I been in a room with people I’ve connected with on so many levels and what I take away is I have a new family and I’m excited for what will follow for all of us.
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