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This year’s Sundance film festival got off to a strong start over the weekend as celebrities and fans (and reporters) descended on Park City to catch some of this year’s most anticipated movies and events as well as star-studded panels. While the entertainment menu ranged from foreign documentaries to Lil’ Jon and Post Malone performances, one thing is for certain- there were some serious themes that overshadowed the festival.

This year was one of the most diverse Sundance showcases ever, with the festival’s lineup of female-written, directed, and produced movies making up 44% of all festival showings.  In addition to appearances by notable female celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Issa Rae, Mila Kunis, Glenn Close, and Sienna Miller, along with dozens of new and seasoned female directors, some famous names also shared how they’re using their talents to get involved with political activism efforts.

The Source caught up with Kerry Washington at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s “Women Breaking Barriers” panel discussion where she shared the importance of women being allowed to tell their own stories and encouraged the importance of women participating in not just film, but also politics, business, and more. She also touched on politics as it relates to our free speech, describing the ACLU lawyers that she profiled in her documentary The Fight as “the real deal Avengers at the front lines of this battle against our civil liberties that we are fighting in this country right now.”

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At the same as Washington was speaking to a packed house, Insecure creator Issa Rae and showrunner Penny Prentice sat down to discuss the upcoming, highly anticipated Season 4 of the hit HBO comedy series during “A Lowkey Conversation with Issa Rae and Prentice Penny,” hosted by HBO and The Blackhouse Foundation, moderated by Bevy Smith. Some secrets of their collective success? Collaboration, pulling others up, and being true to oneself.

Sustainability was also an important topic as many films focused on global warming. The Source visited the Wellhaus spa, health, a wellness and CBD/cannabis-focused event platform that offered festivalgoers a variety of unique health & wellness services such. vitamin-infused IV’s, organic and healthy treats, massages, and panel discussions on cannabis in Hollywood and other topics. Most importantly, the Wellhaus can boast the honor of being the first multi-day experience activation during the film festival in Park City to go zero waste. “Historically, festival lounges and activations generate an enormous amount of trash and part of the ethos of Wellhaus is that living well also means doing well, and so we’re very environmentally conscious and as we are looking at what we do in the practical setting of these lounges, we decided to scrap things like the vinyl media wall that just goes into a landfill and can’t biodegrade. We’re doing 100% compostable disposable items for all of our food and beverages or sticking with glass and reusable. There’s no single-use plastic, straws are out,” said Ryan Kyle, founder of Wellhaus.

A variety of backgrounds were also represented at the festival with 34% of films directed by one or more filmmakers of color and 15% by one or more people who are LGBTQ+. Filmmakers from all over the world were represented as well as events and lounges that focused on the LGBTQ, Latin, Asian, and Black experiences and representation. This year’s festival was also one of the first to focus on disability inclusion by hosting a variety of panel discussions and including filmmakers and artists with disabilities. The Source caught up with some of the festival’s deaf participants who were guests of honor at The Blackhouse on Friday night. We sat down with Jade Bryan, the industry’s first black deaf filmmaker and Ashley Mingo, a deaf actress and singer (and a huge fan of hip-hop). When asked about how she hopes to make the film industry and culture more inclusive, she stated that she hopes to use her talents to show that deaf individuals are humans beings and that deaf doesn’t define who they are. “It’s just that my ears drum aren’t working, she explained. “I’m still able to do full self-expression regardless. It is now year of 2020 and I want to step out of my survival mode to show that we have our passions where everyone else also have the same. I want to have more exposure in more communities and mediums.”