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An Xiao Busingye Mina  www.anxiaostudio.com

Sabaah Folayan and Elizabeth Rodriguez in conversation at the Brooklyn Museum. Folayan co-directed Whose Streets? with St. Louis native Damon Davis, which documents the actions in Ferguson after the killing of Mike Brown in multiple chapters, working with found and original footage. Although Ferguson had international resonance, Folayan largely showed the perspective of local activists. She avoided the usual narrative arc of a documentary that focuses on a single person, instead opting to show how the community worked together: “Social change is really an ecosystem, and it involves every one from the youngest to the oldest.”

So much of #Sundance is a celebration of storytelling and story. At the world premiere of Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock, director Cody Lucich noted that he wanted to tell the story of Standing Rock from a Native perspective. And indeed in the film this is what we see — there is almost no mention of the climate change narrative that dominated headlines. The election of Donald Trump comes and goes only in context. As many in the film argue, the person in charge of the nation is less consequential than the broader systems and structures that allowed for just the idea that the pipeline could cut through Native territory, let alone various mechanisms of violence to push the pipeline through despite fierce resistance. As the film notes, the pipeline did eventually go through, and it’s spilled at least 6 times. These are the stakes people face.
Akicita means protector, and many of the water protectors featured in the film were in attendance, seeing themselves on screen and cheering throughout the film. Lucich said the film is a work in progress — I’d agree, but it’s also already a powerful perspective as it is. The film takes an intriguing turn toward the end, highlighting indigenous struggles in Tibet, New Zealand, Norway and Canada, arguing that a new global movement is beginning.

Directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Brady Jandreau, The Rider tells the story of an up-and-coming rider in South Dakota’s Lone Pine Reservation who suffers a traumatic head injury. Shot almost entirely during the state’s gorgeous golden hour, the film captures the pain of Brady’s character as he comes to terms with his injury and how to find meaning in life when the thing he loves most can no longer be his. I was frustrated at times with the dialogue but was stunned by the cinematography and the poetic ending, which spoke to injury, survival and healing from something you can never heal from.
One interesting decision of this film was that Zhao worked with non-actors who lived in the reservation, and many of the characters were named after the actors who played them. She made a comment during the Q&A, noting that folks living in reservations are so used to being filmed in a documentary context. A narrative film based on reality offers the safety of distance and narrative agency - and indeed Zhao co-created the story and dialogue with the actors. This got me thinking about the possibilities of collaborative storytelling in film, especially when working with people from marginalized communities. #sundance [screenshot from the online trailer]

The standout film for me at #sundance has been On Her Shoulders, directed by Alexandria Bombach. It reads less like a documentary or biopic and more like an epic, with lush visuals and sound design and an elegant powerful score. Most importantly, it brought me into the world of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist and refugee who has become the public voice of her people after fleeing captivity by the Islamic State. As Bombach noted, her film is a story about storytelling, of Murad having to relive and recount her story countless times, of the price and power of celebrity. I left with a deep sense of Murad’s humanity and the unfathomable inhumanity that drives people to war and genocide. I only wish we’d seen the other story: what happens when people want to turn away refugees or disbelieve and devalue their stories. [screenshot from the teaser trailer]

An excellent screening of RBG, featuring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and produced by an almost all-woman crew. RBG herself was in the house, and both she and the film received a standing ovation. The film itself offered a sweeping look at her pioneering career in civil rights law, as well as a glimpse into her personal life: the man she fell in love with, her grandchildren and children (her granddaughter calls her Bubby), and even her exercise routines. It borders on hagiographic, offering very limited critique of her work, but it also packed in a ton about her impact on American life and her personal journey. It even touched on the many memes made about her, starting, of course, with the Notorious RBG. #sundance

#MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) action on Main St. Park City in the midst of #sundance (a festival whose namesake I believe is a Native dance but does not itself appear to center Native perspectives). Just as 2017 saw increased attention to immigrants’ rights in the United States, it has also seen increased attention to the rights of Native communities, from Bears Ears to MMIW and the solidarity built during Standing Rock. MMIW is an urgent and underdiscussed issue. .
From Ruth Hopkins in Teen Vogue:
“There is an epidemic of missing and murdered native women throughout North America, but even though it’s been going on for decades and many native families on the continent can recount stories of loved ones who’ve gone missing or been murdered, there remains insufficient data on the problem because there’s been no centralized database for keeping that information. In 2013, the Canadian government began a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, but the United States has yet to take such action.
The statistics we do have are astounding. In the United States, native women are murdered at 10 times the national average rate on some reservations, according to a 2008 report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Westwood: Punk Icon Activist was a good documentary about the life of fashion designer turned activist Vivienne Westwood, who helped pioneer and popularize the punk aesthetic. I’m not sure if this was the intent, but the film left me wondering how much to take her seriously as an activist, as it focused largely on her fashion empire and her outsized personality. That said, editing was crisp and hip, making the source material come to life, and the designs were amazing to see, and I left with a newfound appreciation for her role in fashion history. #sundance

One year after the original #WomensMarch, which I attended in DC and which compelled me to pick up a camera again after almost 7 years of dormancy as a photographer. The art, memes and resistance in DC convinced me we’d entered a new era for protest in the United States, especially as I started tuning in to other marches around the country. One year later I’m at the march in Park City, UT, coinciding with #sundance, and it’s clear that the #MeToo movement and now #TimesUp grew from the March, one of many manifestations of the anger expressed and community built a year ago. Ever since January 20, 2017, when someone important to me lent me their camera to help me scratch an itch, I’ve been carrying a camera of my own with me everywhere, because there are so frequently new practices of creative resistance worth documenting.

Amazing world premiere of Anote’s Ark at #sundance , a documentary film by Matthieu Rytz and starring Anote Tong and Sermary Tiare. It follows their two lives — one, the former three-term President of Kiribati and the other, a mother of six forced to move to New Zealand as life in the country becomes untenable. Climate change is literally destroying the country — even if all countries recognize the Paris Agreement, Kiribati will be underwater by the end of the century. I was disappointed to see a mostly white film crew and that the film sometimes fell into tropes about Pacific Islander life (it never showed, for instance, the paved roads of the capital or the wide use of tech on the island, and instead painted a stark contrast with “developed” New Zealand) but overall found it to provide a touching, personal perspective on an issue that is typically told with numbers and statistics.
The best treat was that Anote Tong himself was able to attend, and he received a standing ovation for his work. His ark? A multimillion dollar purchase of land in Fiji to provide a new home for the Kiribati people. #sundance #sundance2018

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