Why did we go to Sundance? I am asked that quite a bit. Did we have a film in the festival? No, but I'll claim that for a future festival as ImPossible is now in post production. We go because there is something about the energy when you touch down on the mountain. The magic starts as soon as I begin to see the snow capped mountains of Utah on our 1300 mile drive from Texas. On the mountain it is a giddy happiness, a euphoric feeling like that of kids on Christmas morning, and a kindness to strangers to meet and chat and inspire each other. Some might call it altitude sickness, but I call it pure openness to discovery. Discovery of new stories, new inspiration, new talent, new ways to activate, and new experiences. You can even see the excitement on our baby girls face to be in the midst of all of this energy.
It is only our third trek up the mountain, but each time when we descend, we come down with a handful of project ideas, new people to work with, and new people to watch. Some stories are hard to watch, tragic, and painful, others are refreshing and clever, and others are just confusing, but all leave you a little bit different than they found you. And that is the point right? If you can't attend Sundance, get out and attend your local festival. You might be surprised at your local talent and how their voice inspires your own. Creativity begets creativity.
So, what inspired me at Sundance? I didn't see as many films as I usually do this time, but there are a few I want to mention. Magazine Dreams, the second feature from Elijah Bynam is a gut wrenching examination of what it means to be different in this fame driven world. Killian Maddox (Jonathan Majors), an aspiring body builder takes his quest to fit in, to be liked, to be famous to an obsession that is so toxic it is heart wrenching. Jonathan's performance is so powerful and so affecting it is hard to watch. He honestly deserves an Oscar for the portrayal and I don't throw those words around lightly. I have never watched a film that made me want to go hug the actual actor in Q&A because his character endured so much. Even though Killian Maddox wouldn't have allowed it, Jonathan Majors was so kind to ablidge a photo.
Aside from the features, I personally love seeing the shorts. I know I'll see those directors on a major feature soon. A few films stuck out for me. Nocturnal Burger by Reema Maya follows an attack on a young girl on a Mumbai rickshaw. Reema opens the story with a beautiful shot of an innocent child before revealing the story in such an interesting order you are on the edge of your seat for the horrible mystery to unfold. Once you understand, you are furious at the perpetrator, but also at the patriarchal infrastructure. You feel the women in the system suffering in every turn. Most suffering in silence whether they are in a position of power or just a small child. The actress that hit me the hardest was her female police officer. Having power while also being marginalized. There are those that sit and watch injustice and those that push against the status quo, and takes action. Which one are you? Well Reema takes action, in the Q&A we find out that the film was based on a real event she witnessed and intervened herself. Kudos to her.
Family Circus by Andrew Fitzgerald follows a Vietnamese American family on a snowy night when an accident happens. The evening turns into a potential powder keg when the policeman arrives and they try to protect the family. This is suspenseful and intense but also light and quirky. The characters are fun and you root for them to make it through the night without handcuffs. By the end I was smiling and grateful for the crazy ride I was just a part of.
Walk of Shame by Dane Ray follows a woman dealing with loss as she tries to purge at the local thrift store. Seeing her things reappear later in the day leads her down a path to need closure. The actress in this film was so pure and authentic. I felt her longing in my heart and wished for her peace. The journey of a simple day running errands turned into a collective exhale for the character and the audience by the end. This tender story about letting go would be cathartic for anyone who has dealt with the pain of loss themselves. Ironically the entire story was inspired by a single piece of clothing the Director saw at a thrift shop. He had to buy it and the story of its origin and who let it go began from there. You never know where a great idea will come from!
There were a couple shorts that I couldn't work out my schedule to go see, "Ricky' by Rashed Fret and "They were meant to be" by Tari Wariebi. I heard great things about them both and met some of their filmmaking teams. Hopefully they will play at some other festivals and I will get to see them there. Please check them out if when you can.
Of course, I wouldn't be a marketer without mentioning an awesome brand activation. My former colleagues at Frito Lay working on the Stacy's Pita Chips Brand premiered their short film Rise with an on-site activation. The film was done in collaboration with Hello Sunshine, was directed by the amazing Nisha Ganatra and featured poetry by Rupi Kaur. The film follows three women founders on their journey to continue the legacy of their business. Rooted in the strength of their forefather and ancestors, they stand on their shoulders to foster businesses that support their culture. What makes this film so special is that it was created as a part of Stacy's Rise project, providing funding and mentorship to Women-owned businesses. Stacy's brand was created by an entrepreneurial woman in Boston who began selling pita chips from her pita sandwich cart. Today the brand continues to support female empowerment through programs like Rise. I love when brands activate in this way. Using their influence to make a positive community impact, leveraging entertainment to amplify the message and in the process, raising their brand awareness and loyalty. So proud of the team! Its come a long way from when I led holiday innovation for Stacy's. Gingerbread is still my favorite flavor!
Lastly, I have to give a moment to say thank you for the Sundance 2023 experience. Thank you to the Macro Lodge and Black House Foundation for keeping the culture connected. Thank you for long lines for screenings and cold bus rides that enable conversations with strangers and wonderful connections. Thank you for the raw and honest Q&As after the films that tell so much more about the story's intent and the filmmaker's heart. Lastly, thank you to the complete stranger who gave his own scarf to my husband Brandon because he left his in the room and looked cold. That in a nut shell sums up the Sundance experience!