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Sundance 2019: Catching Sundance Fever

From the moment I arrived in Park City, I caught the “Sundance Fever." I honestly did not expect Utah to be so breathtakingly beautiful and for the sun to feel so warm in a place covered in snow, but nevertheless the light shined bright. 

After seeing over ten films, some of my favorites were Rashid Johnson’s “Native Son,” Kirill Mikhanovsky’s “Give Me Liberty” (pictured at top) and Alma Ha’rel’s “Honey Boy.” These three movies were vastly different, but gave me perspectives I have not explored before of people's lives. 

As a journalism major, I always knew there were similarities in journalism and filmmaking, but I did not realize the degree to which the souls of both are based in storytelling. The “Sundance Fever” made me feel limitless; I realize it is not a far-fetched idea for me to be a movie producer, journalist, and all-around storyteller. 

My days at Sundance were jam packed with films, panels, networking events, my first press line aka “the red carpet,” and of course, star-filled parties. Amanda Seales’ “I Be Knowin’” HBO Comedy special premiered opening weekend of the festival and she was on a panel the following day, discussing all things related to industry, sex and black women. My first ever press line included the members of Wu-Tang Clan and Sacha Jenkins, director of the new Showtime Wu-Tang documentary, "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men." I will admit, it was surreal interviewing a member like Ghostface Killah, whose music I have first heard in the car with my mother, but whose sound will resonate with me forever. 

The parties were a ton of fun, but the ones I missed gave me a serious case of FOMO, including the Wu-Tang after party, which both the members and Amanda Seales attended. “The Blackhouse,” a foundation that supports Black cinema, hosted parties every night of opening weekend, with open bars and a DJ who knew how to play the right “old” and “new” tunes for the crowd. The night me and another Ebert Fellow did not get into the Wu-Tang party, we jumped in a Lyft with a bunch of strangers and attended a small party at a warehouse. It was one of the coolest venues we had been to and its brightly colored decor felt extremely psychedelic and “Hollywood.” 

Over the course of the long week, I attended dinners and brunches with people from various parts of the industry, like “Minding the Gap” producer, Diane Quon and those critical of the industry, like #OscarsSoWhite Creator, April Reign. It refreshing and inspiring to be in intimate spaces with game-changers, especially since they also want to see me and my cohorts change the narrative of media. 

"This is Personal"

I attended the premieres of “Native Son,” Clemency” and “This Is Personal,” and the post-premiere Q&As were extremely insightful, offering in-depth perspectives into how the director and cast felt about various aspects of their films. It was at these sessions where the mission of the Roger Ebert Fellowship was displayed most, as the directors often spoke about trying to evoke empathy and compassion in their films. Even though I feel the broader industry hasn’t made enough strides in displaying such qualities, many of the films I saw at Sundance promoted the ideals of empathy, kindness, compassion and/or forgiveness.

Flying first-class was also a part of my Sundance experience, and while it was quite luxurious and relaxing, I may have to create a film about traveling first-class while black. Because though no longer rare, the presence of black people in these spaces clearly makes some people feel uneasy and seems to warrant them openly questioning whether we are truly priority passengers. 

I ended my Sundance adventure with a ski trip down the fabulous Utah slopes and it was epic. Chicago’s harsh and unforgiving winters make it seem like a terrible time of year, but Utah made winter fun and enjoyable.

My “fever” has not died. I cannot wait to see where I am able to go as a storyteller, and who I will have the chance to collaborate with, to share brilliant stories are often untold or unheard. 

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