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IndieWire and Canada Goose Honor First-Time Filmmakers at Sundance Virtual Event

In a special event presented by IndieWire and Canada Goose, IndieWire's Eric Kohn spoke with the first-time feature directors behind this year's breakout Sundance films.

IndieWire and Canada Goose

Sundance is often a platform for first-time filmmakers. This year, there are 38 directors making their debuts at the festival. Thanks to a partnership between IndieWire and Canada Goose, selected directors discussed their respective inspirations during a virtual mixer moderated by IndieWire Vice President and Executive Editor Eric Kohn. This year marks Canada Goose’s 10th as an official sponsor of the Sundance Film Festival.

Emerging filmmakers including Hanna Bergholm (“Hatching”), Adamma Ebo (“Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul”), Violet Columbus and Ben Klein (“The Exiles”), Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeymar (“Neptune Frost”), Nikyatu Jusu (“Nanny”), and Julie Ha (“Free Chol Soo Lee”) attended the exclusive online event on Monday, January 24.

Sundance Film Festival Director of programming Kim Yutani opened the mixer by calling first-time filmmaker discoveries the “most exciting part of our jobs,” and shed light on the selection process.

“Some of you, we have been aware of for many years based on your short film work; others, we kind of stumbled upon,” Yutani said “Sundance plays such a specific role in the independent film world and in the industry. We are known as a discovery festival. To be able to bring new talent and to be able to launch careers at a festival is something very specific to Sundance.”

Yutani then opened the floor to the “people with really unique points of view, and whose careers will be launched at any given festival.”

Directors who shared their experiences included Julia Ha, who co-directed the documentary “Free Chol Soo Lee” with Eugene Yi over the course of six years. Ha said she was inspired by investigative reporter K.W. Lee’s coverage of Chol Soo Lee’s imprisonment.

“His series of stories helped trigger a landmark movement to free a wrongfully convicted man from death row,” she said. “You pay attention and it actually changes your whole world view and what might be your purpose in life. We just decided to dig in and excavate the story because we just knew it was too important not to be known.”

The over-arching theme among these first-time filmmakers was that each respective film became a deeply personal project for their directors. Jusu’s “Nanny” was birthed from watching her mother make a living through domestic work.

“I had a lot of resentment as someone who saw my mother put her own dreams to the side,” Jusu said of her character study, which incorporates West African folklore to tell the story of a Black babysitter for a white child in Tribeca. “I lived this. I am not an anthropologist. This is my life.”

“Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” director Ebo added that her Southern Baptist roots in Atlanta inevitably led to her satirical film.

“I asked a ton of questions all the time, in Sunday school, after sermons, and found myself met with a lot of resistance,” Abo said. “As I grew older, I learned this resistance was, a lot of the time, sort of a master of protection for the people in power, and also these people in power didn’t always have folks’ best interests in mind.”

“Honk for Jesus” was conceived to “start a nuanced conversation where it isn’t just bashing or making fun of or an indictment of a particular culture” following Abo’s own “reckoning” with her personal faith. “I can both find the significance and the beauty of it,” Abo said, “and calling bullshit when necessary.”

Watch IndieWire and Canada Goose’s first-time filmmaker Sundance celebration in the video above.

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