As the 2016 Sundance Film Festival underway in Park City, Sundance Institute has unveiled their latest initiative to support underrepresented creative voices. The Merata Mita Fellowship, a new annual fellowship named in honor of the late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita (1942-2010), was announced today. The first recipient is Ciara Leina’ala Lacy (Kanaka Maoli) from O’ahu, Hawai’i. In addition to networking opportunities at the Sundance Film Festival, Lacy will receive a monetary grant, yearlong continuum of support, access to strategic and creative services offered by Sundance Institute’s artists programs and mentorship opportunities.
Merata Mita (Ngai te Rangi/Ngati Pikiao) was New Zealand’s first Indigenous female filmmaker. She served as an advisor and artistic director of the Sundance Institute NativeLab from 2000 to 2009, where she championed emerging Indigenous talent. The 2016 Merata Mita Fellowship is supported by several international partners, including: the Embassy of Australia; New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (Te Whanau a Apanui), who has a new film at the festival this year; Indigenous Media Initiatives; and Pacific Islanders in Communications.
“As a noted activist, documentarian, and the first—and only—Māori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature film, Merata committed her life’s work to telling Māori stories from a Māori perspective,” Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Film Program Director Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) said. “Throughout her career she identified the lack of training for Māori people in the New Zealand film and television industry and, therefore, an underrepresentation of her community’s stories. Merata dedicated her life to addressing these areas. She was a global advocate for Indigenous voices and we are proud to continue her efforts through this new fellowship.”
Lacy is a documentary filmmaker whose interest lies in crafting films that use strong characters and investigative journalism to challenge the creative and political status quo. She has received fellowships from the Sundance Institute’s NativeLab as well as the Sundance Institute in partnership with Time Warner, the Firelight Documentary Lab, the Princess Grace Foundation, and the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). Her latest project is “Out of State” which is the story of outcasts, native Hawaiian prisoners shipped 3,000 miles across the ocean to a private prison in the desert of Arizona. Desperate to repair relationships with faraway family and friends, these men practice their indigenous chants and dances behind bars in the hopes of winning everything they love most.
Lacy has worked as a producer, writer, production supervisor, and production manager of both nonfiction and scripted programming. Her work has shown in theaters as well as aired on PBS, ABC, TLC, Discovery, Bravo and A&E. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Yale University and is a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools in Hawai’i. Lacy grew up dancing hula and speaks her Native language.
The Merata Mita Fellowship will be open to Native or Indigenous filmmakers around the world who are in any stage of career or production, with an emphasis on those who have a feature-length project—documentary or dramatic—in development. Fellows will receive a monetary grant and a yearlong continuum of support with activities including a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, access to strategic and creative services offered by Sundance Institute artist programs, and mentorship opportunities.