“He wasn’t just broke. He was broken.”
“I was born after three attempts to abort me.”
“I’m a champion. Do you know what that means? Now, my children and their children – they will all be fighters.”
So began three powerful film pitches at Independent Filmmaker Day on Tuesday, January 28th at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Going to this premier movie festival has always been somewhere on the far edges of my personal radar, but work obligations, family, and other business travel have always come first. My packed schedule could hardly fit in another trip in the first quarter of this year, but after I was invited to attend by a colleague of mine, several people told me, “If you get invited to Sundance, you say yes – and then figure out the rest later!” I could appreciate this Cheryl Sandberg / rocketship approach, so my yes found me with a suitcase full of furry things to keep me warm at 7,000 feet, and I was off.
Attending the independent filmmaker pitch competition was one of the highlights of my time at Sundance. I had a front row seat as twenty-five hopefuls passionately presented their stories to a panel of judges in the entertainment industry. I was blown away by how concisely each individual presented his or her project in the high pressure, Shark Tank-esque setting. Presenters were required to know not just their stories, but their target markets, above-the-line and below-the line budgets, similar projects, potential top talent attached to the project, and any number of other details involved in the business of filmmaking. The winner of the pitch competition received $50,000 in consulting services to help bring their project to the next stage of development.
We have a few different projects at various stages of development, so I was at Sundance primarily for business meetings and to attend Independent Filmmaker Day. What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming support I felt from the many different women I met during my time in Park City.
Vulnerability in storytelling seemed to be at the heart of all of my conversations at Sundance. Many people were talking about the #MeToo movement, which affects almost everyone in business, regardless of industry. When women are harassed and suppressed by their male counterparts – or by anyone making sexual advances towards them in the workplace – their work and their lives are in jeopardy. It is only through talking about how these issues affect us that people can start to navigate such murky waters.
A major highlight of Sundance was the fireside chat with Angela Lawson, Ph.D from Northwestern Medical Group in Chicago on the challenges women face in the context of the #MeToo movement. Dr. Lawson has worked with many women over the years who have been traumatized by sexual harassment and assault and says that women who come forward with their stories should be taken seriously, rather than be belittled or not believed.
One of the greatest joys of my time at Sundance was getting to know Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Yvette Landry, who lit up the private party Sunday night with several of her hit Cajun songs including “Dead and Gone.” Yvette’s story is remarkable in that she didn’t even begin seriously playing music until 2004. Yvette says, “My motto in life is simple: If someone asks you to do something, just say yes, even if you don’t know how.” This can-do attitude led Yvette to the Grammys and to write a bestselling book about Warren Storm, the Godfather of Swamp Pop titled, “Taking the World by Storm.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Though I didn’t see any films while I was at Sundance, there were quite a few movies people were talking about. First on my list to see is the documentary The Prison Within: Untreated Trauma Imprisons Us All, whose logline reads: Inside notorious San Quentin Prison, men incarcerated for murder work with survivors of violent crime to unearth the root cause of their own violence, revealing how all of us, on both sides of the wall, can break out of our own personal prisons. You can learn more about The Prison Within here.
The entire vibe at Sundance was of artists supporting other artists, women supporting women, and inclusivity across all genders and races. Creative people are happy people, and attending Sundance 2020 was an experience I’ll never forget. The massive creative and positive energy at Sundance came from a tribe of people who simply don’t see obstacles: people who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it.
I am especially thankful to Rubenstein and Associates, the Sundance Institute, Mondays Off Main Street, the Santa Fe Film Festival, Artists United, Women in Entertainment, and the many other gracious host organizations who put on such fantastic events and gathered together so many vibrant, creative, like-minded people into one magical place.
I’m curious to know: when when was the last time you were creatively inspired at an event? I would love to hear your stories, so please email me at Kris@martinezcreativegroup.com – I’d love to connect!