Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on January 26, 2017
With the Oscar nominations recently announced, minds turn to the pending awards for specific titles and actors. Many of the technical awards are meant to highlight the people working behind the scenes and who make the movie magic happen. But what about the people behind the people behind the scenes? That’s where the Sundance Institute comes in. As a result, cinephiles who read through the end credits of the movies they watch are surely familiar with the Sundance Institute name.
The Sundance Institute oversees the Sundance Film Festival, currently underway under a foot of snow in Park City – and a lot happens there beyond screening the latest crop of indie titles. Last Sunday, for example, the Sundance Institute held a Meet the Artist Diversity Dinner with over 200 filmmakers, producers and programmers from diverse backgrounds to discuss ways in which they might help each other foster their visions and see their ideas to full fruition.
Unlike the nation’s premiere film festival, which takes place every January in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Institute is a non-profit entity that has events and activities year-round which are meant to help aspiring filmmakers with experienced tutors, helpful labs and all manner of resources. Their mission is “dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences.” Their programs focus on features, documentaries, music and include both a Theatre Program (these are creative environment retreats for artists of all kinds) as well as a Native American Initiative “which facilitates the participation of Native and Indigenous artists in the Institute’s artistic development programs and the Sundance Film Festival.”
The Sundance Institute has a vision we very much need in our troubled times, which includes sparking “new levels of empathy and understanding,” which they hope will “lead to social change.” A perfect example of this is Chasing Coral (2017), the documentary I saw two days ago. Full disclosure: the director, Jeff Orlowski, is a regular player at my weekly poker games. But he is also, as listed in the Sundance catalog, “the inaugural Sundance Institute Discovery Impact Fellow for environmental filmmaking.” His documentary about coral bleaching is one that should be seen by any one who loves to scuba-dive, or cares about the ocean, or the human role in changing the environment, or anyone concerned about fishes and humans, or, well, let’s just say it should be seen by anyone and everyone. Now, thanks to a packed Sundance screening that was met with a standing ovation, it was picked up by Netflix for global release, getting anyone and everyone to see it will be that much easier.
Jeff’s success is but one example, among many, where the Sundance Institute can say “mission accomplished.”
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