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Sundance After Trump: How The Election Changed the Filmmakers and Their Films

IndieWire asked Sundance filmmakers how the election changed the way they viewed their films and careers. Their answers are as varied as their films.

"Don't Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!"

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Glauco Firpo.

The journey to Sundance is an all-consuming endeavor and most filmmakers don’t lift their heads until they land in Park City with their DCP in hand.

For some filmmakers, this year was different. The election of Donald Trump, which snapped so many into a new reality they hadn’t imagined, came just two weeks before most Sundance directors received their golden ticket to the festival. So we asked this year’s directors: Did the election change how you thought about your film, and your career as a filmmaker?

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible – Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

John Trengove, “The Wound:” The US election was a big reason why we chose to premiere in Sundance. With race and LGBT rights being such heated issues in the US, we thought it would be meaningful to bring a queer film from South Africa, together with our three main cast members, to represent at the festival. We’re opening just two days after Trump is inaugurated, so the political climate couldn’t be more heated. In terms of film in general, I can’t help thinking that the popularity of “La La Land” is a direct result of the US election. It’s as if people want to dig their heads in the sand and not deal with the horror of what’s going on. My hope is that the election inspires less “La La Land” and more unflinching, uncompromising films.

"The Wound"

“The Wound”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Geremy Jasper, “Patti Cake$:” A simple story about a heavyset white girl trying to rap and get out of her hometown suddenly became about something much bigger when the racists and misogynists were suddenly voted into power. The Jersey of the film suddenly became a nightmarish TRUMPLAND and Patti’s voice became one of resistance. Patti and her crew stand for everything this new administration is against.

Yance Ford, “Strong Island:” I thought I would release the film during the Obama Presidency, and that of course isn’t the case. “Strong Island” [an exploration by Ford into the murder of her brother, a young African-American male, 24 years ago] is important in this moment regardless of the election results because the killings of black people, especially young black men, are always ‘timely,’ aren’t they? They have not abated.

Amanda Lipitz “Step:” We were waiting to hear about getting into Sundance when the election occurred, and everyone kind of paused for a few days after the election since there was a lot to take in and deal with. I had not watched the film since Trump won and decided to sit down with the crew to view it again. Our film had suddenly become defiant in a way that it was not before. Some of the scenes really hit me in the gut. The emotions were so raw, the stakes already impossibly high became higher.

Amanda Lipitz “Step” chronicles a Baltimore high school’s Step Team as they prepare to be the first in their families to go to college.

Ramona S. Diaz, “Motherland:” I found what the film struggles with [reproductive health policy in the Philippines] to have more resonance in this country vis-a- vis the fight to keep Planned Parenthood funded under the incoming administration. Now it’s completely relevant to what is going on in this country.

READ MORE: Why the Post-Donald Trump Sundance Film Festival Will Be Even Stronger

Kyoko Miyake, “Tokyo Idols:” I see stronger parallels between what’s happening in US and what’s happening in Japan. What’s behind the idol culture in Japan is the anxiety and angst of men of my generation who feel disenfranchised and dispossessed, not being able to enjoy the economic stability and secure masculinity that their fathers could enjoy. Now that this culture is becoming more mainstream due to prolonged recession forcing many men to feel marginalized, and politics becoming more populist and reactionary, their sexist ideas and behavior feel newly validated.

Jonathan Olshefski, “Quest:” People are afraid of each other. People don’t trust each other.  I believe that “Quest” is simply a portrait of an American family. The values the Raineys hold are pretty universal, and I would hope that people will recognize that as a society we have more in common than we may initially think.

Jonathan Olshefski, QUEST


Matt Spicer, “Ingrid Goes West:” I think film and art in general acts as more of a mirror for society to examine itself rather than the other way around. That’s not to say that films can’t make a difference, but “Brokeback Mountain” isn’t what made gay marriage legal, and “Crash” didn’t solve racism. If anything, the entertainment industry is still playing catch up with the rest of society. I do think that some of the most interesting films were made during the most tumultuous times in history, like film noir in the post-WWII era or the New Wave films of the ’60s and ’70s. At the very least, I hope the result of this election inspires people to channel their disillusionment and anger into their art and take more risks.

Cristián Jiménez, “Family Life:” The whole world situation is worrying. Not just the US election. More often than not, we run the risk of depoliticizing stories with a strong political content by submitting to conventional narrative structures, which tend to focus on individual motives and psychology.

Matt Ruskin, “Crown Heights:” I don’t feel inspired to make a film that is in some way a reaction to the election of Donald Trump. The people who voted for him would never watch it, and everyone else might appreciate a distraction from the whole train wreck.



Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Ante Cheng

Justin Chon, “Gook:” This film takes place during the L.A. riots, which was 25 years ago. In some ways our country and progressed, but in so many ways it’s worse.

Cory Finley, “Thoroughbred:” I’m a firm believer that every work of art is political, whether its creator wants it to be or not.

READ MORE: Sundance 2017 — 13 Talents Poised to Break Out At This Year’s Festival

Tarik Saleh, “The Nile Hilton Incident:” It’s uncanny how much I feel my film is connected to what is happening with the rise of neo-fascism in America and Europe. I think that artists have a responsibility to hold up a torch of light when the world is getting dark.

Felipe Braganca, “Don`t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!:” My films talks about memories of a very strong genocide for the indigenous people that happened in the past in Brazil-Paraguay border. It also talks about the uprise of a new generation of women in this region who, based in their memories, will not accept anymore to treated as a second class. I think I am talking about things that are important to discuss everywhere in the world today, and that maybe got even more urgent in USA.

“The Nile Hilton Incident”

Austin Peters, “Give Me Future:” A producer on another project I was working on helped me gain some perspective when he told me how important the kind of things we all as filmmakers decided to make in the next four years would be. He helped me understand that what we put on screen and who we put on screen is incredibly important.

Kirsten Tan, “Pop Aye:” It definitely affected my view of filmmaking. I was just thinking the other day that if I were to write a film today, it would likely be a little more politicized, somewhat more urgent, as an instinctual reaction to the rising tide of rightwing populism and its deplorable need to drown out minority voices.

Adam Sobel, “The Workers Cup:”  The last year has shown us that across the world there is a growing fear of outsiders. I believe this wave of xenophobia, which coursed through the U.S. election, makes it more important to encourage diverse voices and ensure they have a platform to be heard.

Dan Sickles, “Dina:” The most recent U.S. election is a confirmation and affirmation of attitudes that have always been part of American discourse. Before “Dina,” Antonio and I made a film called “Mala Mala,” about several trans Puerto Ricans and the power of transformation and community. If we want to fool ourselves into believing that we’re working within an industry that gleefully supports bilingual films about transgender minorities living in one of the last colonized territories in the Western hemisphere, then we really need to readjust our thinking, gain some perspective, and realize that the gatekeepers of our industry can sometimes be just as closed-minded as the people who voted for our incoming President. Poisonous ideology is poisonous ideology, in politics and in art. No matter who is elected in four years, or in eight years, American artists can do their part by not only creating media that represents repressed voices, but fight hard for its dissemination as well.

"To the Bone"

“To the Bone”

Courtesy of Sundance

Marti Noxon, “To The Bone:” Part of the reason I wanted to make this film was to ignite a discussion about body image issues and eating disorders. It’s not just a film for people with clinical eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Seeing Donald Trump run for and then win the presidency only enhanced my commitment to helping people free themselves from ridiculous body standards and disordered eating so they can use their gifts for more fulfilling things, like being of service and enjoying this beautiful world.

Joe Piscatella, “Joshua; Teenager vs. Superpower:” The election did not change my viewpoint on filmmaking; rather, it reinforced it. I make documentary films about ordinary people, usually teenagers, who must rise up to challenge authority and run revolutions.

Amman Abbasi, “Dayveon:” Historically, great oppression leads to great expression. It’s the power of art. But I would say this election doesn’t change how I think about “Dayveon.” I am not clear how it will impact my thinking in the future as things progress, but currently I have as much confidence in great stories being told. In fact, I am more optimistic that even more important stories from great storytellers will come because of this.

Gillian Robespierre, “Landline:” The short answer is the election changed my everything. It shook me to my core, and it terrifies me on a daily if not hourly basis. But for the most part I locked picture with the movie I set out to make. Trump didn’t change my movie!

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