As Sundance wraps up its final week of movie premieres, events, lounges, and exhibits, many in the entertainment industry will leave Park City with a newfound sense of fame and in all likelihood, greater opportunities for future career endeavors. For the first time in the festival’s history, a record number of participants were minorities and women- either as producers, directors, writer, actors, or other film industry role.
While there are too many excellent films to list them all here, some of this year’s highlights by women and minority filmmakers were as follows:
Knock Down the House, directed by Rachel Lears, documentary director, producer, and cinematographer. Knock Down the House follows four women—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin—who join a movement of insurgent candidates to topple incumbents in an electric primary race for Congress. At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women—all political outsiders—unite to do what many consider impossible. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.
Premature, directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, tells the story of a young woman Ayanna, who is making the most out of her last summer in Harlem before heading to college. Premature tells the story of a young woman in transition, anchored by the relationships that shape us, the friendships that bolster and push us, and the love that has the power to change everything. Director Rashaad Ernesto Green notes that he encourages people to have an active emotional experience by telling stories that are deeply rooted within the universal human experience.
Hala, expanded from director Minhal Baig’s 2016 short film of the same name, brings a vital and layered female perspective to the coming-of-age genre. Buoyed by exquisite cinematography, Hala treasures the specificity of one young American woman’s experience learning to swim in uncharted waters to discover her individuality as she navigates both her social life as a teen in Chicago and her obligations as an only child to Pakistani immigrants. With high-school graduation looming, however, Hala is bursting with sexual desire. When she meets Jesse, a classmate who shares her love for poetry and skateboarding, their romance is complicated by her Muslim faith and a father who is prepared to arrange her marriage according to their family’s cultural tradition. As Hala begins to challenge these customs, her parents’ own lives start to unravel, testing the power of Hala’s flourishing voice.
Rage Room, written by Summer Chastant and directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, premiered at Slamdance and tells the story of a newly determined woman who, exasperated with life, opens a business using her paltry alimony from her divorce. The emotionally-charged space becomes an unusual place welcoming all who seek healing by unleashing their anger through demolition and more. In an exclusive interview with Chastant, who also played the lead role in Rage Room, she describes what made her film impactful for women as being a piece of art that was “a representation of female rage and seeing female rage on screen. Each of the female characters who come to the rage room come there to work out some sort of anger in a therapeutic environment. And we don’t get to see that on screen a lot. We’ve been taught that when women are angry, they’re hysterical and that’s just not true.”
Chastant also discussed the need for change in Hollywood and movies, specifically with regard to female representation in all phases of the filmmaking experience and areas of the entertainment industry. “The change from 2016-2019 isn’t what we’ve hoped it would be. I really want to be part of that movie that pushes women forward and on my part, I write for women, I hire as many women as I can on my projects, so I feel like that is a huge objective for me. I think there’s so much room for change. I’m not at the top of the chain, but I can work from the bottom as my career grows.”
Traveling While Black is an in-person film experience based on a true book, The Green Book, which was a “survival guide” from 1936 that African American travelers relied on to avoid brutal discrimination; it listed safe places that would fulfill their basic needs. In 1958, Ben and Virginia Ali’s new restaurant, Ben’s Chili Bowl, joined the list. This installation invites viewers into Roger Ross Williams’s emotionally moving VR experience about race and restricted movement in America, and afterward connect in an intimate booth at Ben’s Chili Bowl. The Traveling While Black experience uses VR to transport participants to a 1950’s era diner and allows participants to experience traveling while black from a first-person perspective.
This year’s minority and women filmmakers were supported by several panels, lounges, and special events. The Blackhouse Foundation, an organization that was created as a platform to, educate, inspire, and support Black creative voices and executives while designing and executing programming to elevate the level of our constituent’s acumen around Financing, Production, Marketing, and Distribution, hosted one of the festival’s premier lounges for the twelfth year in a row. With Oprah Winfrey serving as the inaugural Presenting Sponsor, the Blackhouse hosted several panels sponsored by brands such as OWN, BET, and more such as American Soul, the upcoming series based on the rise and fall of the legendary Don Cornelius. The Blackhouse panel event gave fans a sneak peek of some clips from the show while creators and cast talked about the show’s historical significance.
Meanwhile, the M Lounge hosted multiple events that supported women and minorities in film, such as their “Women Doing Cool Shit in Hollywood Networking Event presented by REME.” At the event, Mariana Da Silva, the founder of El Cine, discussed the importance of Hispanic representation in film.
“As an actor, I started seeing that a lot of the roles being offered to me weren’t appropriate and a correct representation of Latin culture,” said Da Silva, noting that a lot of roles for Latin actors and actresses were limited to stereotypical roles of NARCOS-types drug dealers. “So I started showing my friends Latin films about the culture. Then my friends invited their friends and it became a thing where the demand was so high that it should be an organization.” De Silva notes that while 1/3 of movie ticket purchasers are Latino, less than 10% of roles are represented by Latinos. “The idea is to create a place educating people about Latin culture. We screen films in LA once a month now. Our idea is to take up space and bring each other up,” she says.
REME also was on hand providing VIPs with the same popular health B12 shots, Energy Boost IV drips, and Hangover IV drips that they offer to their consumers in major markets in California such as Los Angeles through their app, REME APP. According to REME’s Managing Director Moaz Hamid, “REME supports women in the film industry the same way we support all working professionals, by offering them a way to become and stay well, in order to meet life’s many demands. We offer the community, wellness services, and peace of mind so women in the film industry can bring their A-game to everything they do.”
In support of female filmmakers, Savvy Minerals by Young Living™, hosted a Sip & Lip Bar, providing festival attendees with samples from their cosmetics line as well as their NingXia Zyng™ beverage. According to ShaVonne Higgins of Young Living, “Savvy Minerals by Young Living supports women in the film industry by helping them look and feel their best inside and out, so they feel fabulous on and off the screen,” empowering women to be the woman that they want to be.
While this year’s women and minority-centric films were considered to be amongst some of the best in cinematic history, next year is sure to bring out even more amazing talent!