On the Road
Sundance Film Forward
Photography: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Launched in late 2010, Film Forward is a cultural initiative of Sundance Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, in partnership with US federal cultural agencies. It reflects the institute’s mission of presenting independent films to new audiences around the world to inspire cross-cultural dialogue.
This past year, Film Forward traveled to 14 US and foreign locations, bringing independent films to underserved rural and urban communities from the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to refugee camps in Uganda. The screening locations varied from the Cinémathèque de Tanger, a restored 1938 Art Deco theater in Morocco, to a screen strapped to the side of a truck in a field in Kenya.
A carefully curated collection of 10 documentary and narrative films, chosen for their artistic excellence, diversity of story, and potential to promote mutual understanding, was screened in each location. The filmmakers travel with their films to share their personal journeys and the filmmaking process, participating in master classes, workshops, and discussions of the film’s themes. Here’s a brief look at five of the films, both American and international, that traveled with Film Forward in 2011.
Director and screenwriter Debra Granik’s low-budget Winter’s Bone, the gritty tale of an Ozark mountain girl hunting down her missing father, was developed at the Institute’s Directors Lab with the support of the Feature Film Program. This American story has universal themes of justice, conflict, and family loyalty that resonate with international audiences.
Last Train Home
Chinese filmmaker Lixin Fan’s documentary Last Train Home, supported by a grant from the Documentary Film Program, chronicles the ordeals of city factory workers on their journey home, an annual migration of 200 million Chinese people. It will be the first independent Chinese social and political documentary film to be commercially released in China.
Cherien Dabis brought her script for Amreeka to the first Sundance Lab in Jordan, thinking it might be too political and too controversial. Supported by the Feature Film Program, her story of immigration and the meaning of home was screened on cracked classroom walls at Abi bakr Errazi Junior High in the slums of Tetouan, Morocco.
The recipient of support from both the Native American and Indigenous and Feature Film Programs, New Zealand director and screenwriter Taika Waititi honed his second festival film, Boy, at a Sundance Screenwriters Lab. The comedy/drama about an 11-year-old Maori boy who must reconcile reality with fantasy when his dad returns home became the highest-grossing film ever in New Zealand.
Acclaimed filmmaker and MacArthur Fellow Stanley Nelson is also a creative adviser at the Documentary Lab and a veteran with four festival films. His documentary Freedom Riders is the story of six months in 1961 when a courageous band of young activists boarded busses and challenged segregation throughout the South. An audience member at a screening in Tunisia said the film revealed that “the power of truth is the same everywhere.”