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The Anchor of Our Work at the Native Lab: A Dispatch from Adam Piron

30/04/2024

By Adam Piron

In anticipation of this edition of the Indigenous Program's Native Lab, it actually dawned on me that this will be our lab's tenth year in Santa Fe. Previously, our lab took place further south in New Mexico, specifically in the beautiful Mescalero Apache homelands of our program's previous Director, Bird Runningwater. Since moving to our current location, our lab has evolved over the decade from a focus on short film writing and directing into the current model that concentrates on feature film and episodic screenplay writing. Santa Fe, a city with a long history of Indigenous arts and innovation, undoubtedly has come to have a hand-in-glove feel when it comes to our lab's creative DNA and the center of reflection and inspiration that it has given each year's artists.

Following Robert Redford's original mandate, our program's prime directive has been to support Indigenous artists and the stories they want to tell through the moving image. The work since that foundation was first laid has yielded a long-ranging legacy of creative successes in the artists that have come through our program. The Native Lab is one of the primary anchors of how we do that work and every year brings a new cohort of filmmakers, each with works-in-progress that are markedly unique and shaped by their distinct voices. From a purely selfish standpoint, it's witnessing the revelation of these artists, the blossoming of their creative efforts, and the possibilities that their work presents that gets me going each morning at the lab. It's as much of a launching pad to reach the next phase of their films as it is a catalyst for their creative practices as filmmakers and Indigenous artists.

Outside of the cold reads, one-on-one's with lab advisors, screenings, and creative discussions that take place at our lab, I'm always asked what the secret ingredient is to the success of this creative mechanism that our program has fine-tuned over the years. While there is absolutely plenty of heavy lifting done by our operations team and the Indigenous program staff that keep all of the wheels in motion, it all boils down to one thing: listening to artists.

As a medium, film and its artistic power are ultimately defined by the quality - and not the quantity - of the artists engaging with it. This is even more so when it comes to Indigenous artists. If we truly believe in the sovereignty of Indigenous people, why would we ever tell them what they should or shouldn't do with their own voices, let alone work where they engage with their own understandings of their Indigeneity? Each of these artists has a voice unlike those that came before them and this lab's function is to help strengthen and sharpen them on their own terms and conditions. We provide the tools and the ultimate reward for our program, as well as Sundance Institute overall, is when these artists come back with something beyond what we expected, precisely because it's unprecedented and expands our understanding of Indigenous Cinema and its possibilities.

The horizon is endless, but we're glad that one of its many entry points can be found every May in a small corner of the city of Santa Fe.
LINK: https://www.sundance.org/blogs/the-anchor-of-our-work-at-the-native-la...
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