A Reflection on Sundance: A First Timer’s Perspective

By Sara Clausen

This past week, I took my first trip ever to Sundance!

Here are some things that I learned:

Being a student = a license to learn. Sundance is an incredible platform to showcase the voices of up-and-coming filmmakers, and being a student puts you in the prime position to listen. The student card is a great way to get advice from filmmakers: it’s unintimidating, but credible. Play it wisely, and play it often.

Try Sundance solo! There’s no better place than Sundance to push your comfort zone – both creatively and socially. I went on this first adventure to Sundance on my own, and it was a transformative experience. It allowed me to reflect on my tastes and meet an incredible amount of people. Not having the safety net of a friend to talk to can be scary at times; looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made. I left the festival with a much stronger sense of my artistic voice and a better idea of what kind of stories I want to tell.

Expectations are, well, expectations. My experience at Sundance was constantly evolving. Leaving myself open to absorbing every moment—the good, the bad, and everything else in between—without getting too caught up in my expectations, this was key in helping me keep a positive attitude. Which leads me to my next point.

You can’t have them all. Two unsuccessful waitlists in one day, the choice between sticking around to meet a key creative behind a movie that just blew me away or getting in line for the next screening on my schedule, films that I didn’t quite agree with or ones that just didn’t sit right—Sundance isn’t without disappointment. That’s part of it the experience. There is so much to see in a short amount of time, and until we humans have learned to clone ourselves (hey, a girl can dream), you’re going to miss a few things here and there. Do your best to focus on the decisions that payoff—they will be the ones that you remember.

Everyone has an opinion. This isn’t a bad thing. While standing in line and making conversation, I came to realize that people really love to talk about what they think. Use this to your advantage! It’s a great way to observe what gets people going and what shapes their world views. These opinions can help you create more impact in your own work.

Finding your voice, and those who share it. As young filmmakers, we have a unique set of experiences that set us apart from other generations of filmmakers. There seems to be a growing concern that, in the postmodern world, filmmakers are running out of stories to tell. This one trip to Sundance quelled that notion. The films that succeeded in making an impact on audiences this year were the ones that knew their voice. Finding the story that you want to tell—and the people you want to tell it with—is everything. It just so happens that film school is the perfect place to find both.

Connecting… Deeper. My favorite film of the festival was, quite fittingly, the last one I saw: a Polish documentary called All These Sleepless Nights. It was poetry in cinema. The psychological realism, the aimless yet beautifully eloquent reflections on what they were feeling, filled an emotional void that I had been searching so desperately to fill but had all but given up on finding. Stunned, amazed, electrified; I stuck around to thank the filmmakers and had a short but meaningful conversation with the Production Manager, Janusz Bąbkiewicz.

This brings me back to my first observation: the advantage of being a student at Sundance. Being a student not only gives you a reason to start a conversation with someone whose work you admire, but also creates an opportunity to share their insight, making an impact on the next generation of cinema. Every filmmaker I spoke to was more than happy to spec about their work, a testament to the collaborative and encouraging environment that surrounds Park City this time of year.

Jansuz and I talked about the technicality of the film, how they went back to ADR for over 60% of the film in order to make the crew less invasive during shooting. Had a laugh about how we are our own harshest critics. “I can see the mistakes,” he joked. I assured him that I didn’t notice. He smiled and seemed relieved. Sensed that we were feeling the same thing, an unshakeable connection of a deeper level of understanding. He knew that I had heard the message in his film. So there I stood, outside the Egyptian keeping warm in my white SC beanie while talking to the very people that were responsible for the film that had so deeply moved me just moments before. It was one of many memories that made this trip so special.

I came to Sundance to learn, to explore, and observe. Although I left Park City with more questions than answers, I gained a new source of energy to keep seeking those answers. The trip was a reminder of the power of cinema and the ability to share knowledge, gain perspective, and evoke powerful emotions, tap into our humanity. Sundance was a truly amazing experience. Cannot wait to channel this newfound creative energy into my own work here at SCA!

– Sara Clausen, Class of 2017