In Park City I almost literally ran into the legendary founder of Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford. Lucky for him and especially for me, a bodyguard type gentleman threw a “mom style arm-as-safety-belt” in front of me and I halted before plowing into Mr. Redford. Running into him could have been a national tragedy, or (and I like this idea better) he would have brushed himself off and so would begin our long-lasting, deep and meaningful friendship. Alas.
The KC Film + Media Office attends Sundance to connect with independent filmmakers, producers and other industry people. We support locally-tied films that play in the festivals. And one of the highlights is the networking party that we co-host with the Missouri Film Office on behalf of Missouri and KC-connected people which is steadily gaining a reputation as a don’t-miss affair.
Kansas City area people I ran into during the Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals are only slightly less famous but no less important than the Sundance Kid:
Jeremy Osbern and Misti Boland were there as Jurors for Slamdance. Savannah Rodgers was there in a Digital Bolex showcase with her short film “Sketches” which was DP’d by Matt Jacobson (and written by Meagan Flynn-Mesmer). The Universe conspired to put Megan Mantia and I at the same midnight screening of “Antibirth” (producer Cole Payne is from Missouri). And Lonita Cook, our amazing KC writer, drove up in a pickup truck looking like a boss (because she is the boss of people at the festival), while we were waiting for one of the fantastic free shuttle buses the festival provides. She was kind enough to give us a lift.
Curious about their experiences this year and years past we have some questions for them…
KCFMO: What is your role in the film industry?
Savannah : I’m a filmmaker: I direct, write, and produce.
Matt : When I’m not teaching filmmaking at KU, I’m usually working as DP for Kevin Willmott- we’ve done seven features, two hour-long docs, and numerous other projects together.
Jeremy : I’m a Director / Cinematographer, and I make movies with my company, Through A Glass Productions.
Misti : My role in the film industry is a Director
Megan : Producer
Lonita: I consider myself a writer. I do write for performance and want to produce films. I serve the boards of CinemaKC and Kansas City Women in Film & Television because I also believe in being in service to the community. I guess I’ve tried to be one of the many champions of our cause.
KCFMO: What were you doing at Slamdance/Sundance this year?
Savannah : I directed and produced a film called Sketches, which premiered at Slamdance in the Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmaking block. Matt Jacobson, the cinematographer, and I went out there to promote it and hang out.
Matt : This year, I was the DP for SKETCHES, directed by Savannah Rodgers, which premiered as part of the Digital Bolex Challenge at Slamdance.
Jeremy : I was on the team that programmed short narrative films for Slamdance this year and my wife, Misti Boland, and I were asked to be on the Jury for this year’s festival.
Misti : This year I was at Slamdance as a juror for the Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmakers Showcase.
Megan : I’m a full time Sundance volunteer every year (have been doing it since 2012!)
Lonita : I attended the Sundance Film Festival as a volunteer.
KCFMO: How many times have you been to Park City for Slamdance/Sundance?
Savannah : 2016 was my first year in Park City! It was fantastic. It was an interesting experience both as a filmmaker and a fan of movies to be in such a film-centric space. There were so many great people there.
Matt : SKETCHES is the fourth film I’ve taken to Park City, and the first I’ve taken to Slamdance. I’ve had three feature films premiere at Sundance, as DP- BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS in 2003, CSA: CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA in 2004, and THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN (with co-DP Jeremy Osbern) in 2009.
Jeremy : This was my seventh time going to Park City for Sundance / Slamdance. Previously, I’ve been with two films that premiered at Sundance, and I’ve had two films at Slamdance.
Misti: I have been to Park City for Slamdance/Sundance five times
Megan : 5 years now.
Lonita : 2016 was my 10th year in Park City for Sundance (but I have sneaked over to Slamdance for a film and party or two over the years).
If I’d known “career suicide” was going to be like this, I would have done it years earlier!
KCFMO: Why is it important to support independent filmmaking?
Savannah : Independent film doesn’t exist without patrons. Without people who are supporting people working outside of the system, there’s no audience and there’s no support. Allowing for artists to tell their stories and being a patron of the arts in that way is crucial to their futures.
Matt : Because the important ideas and issues of our time are largely being ignored by the major studios. Independent filmmakers are making some great films right now, on subjects that Hollywood wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I left my career in the Industry in LA for a career in teaching because I was tired of working on the same old crap. My heart wasn’t in the game, anymore. My friends in LA tried to talk me out of it- they said that moving to Kansas would be “career suicide”.
Since I’ve been in Kansas making movies, there hasn’t been a single film I’ve worked on that I haven’t been happy to work on, and proud to be associated with- and they’ve been some of the most critically successful films of my career. If I’d known “career suicide” was going to be like this, I would have done it years earlier! Of course, working with a talented and outspoken filmmaker like Kevin Willmott has had a lot to do with that. Today, I’m happy to be making films that matter, and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers who realize that you CAN make great independent films in the Midwest- people like Jeremy Osbern and Chris Blunk and their team at Through A Glass Productions, or Patrick Rea, or Savannah Rodgers.
Jeremy : I’ve always said that filmmaking is the ultimate culmination of all the arts coming together to tell a story. It’s writing and photography and acting and painting – all in one. Independent Film is where we find new stories told in new ways.
Misti: Supporting independent filmmaking is incredibly important because it allows new voices to be heard that normally would not be greenlit in the studio system.
Megan : Considering that the mainstream film industry seems pretty out of ideas these days, and less and less willing every year to funnel funds toward more experimental projects or take risks on new ideas/new actors/new methods of storytelling- it is vital that we hold up the wellspring of new growth that comes from independent cinema. It’s where so many new voices are born, where incredible storytelling can emerge without corporate strangleholds, without so much pressure on it while trying to be creative, without censorship- a place we all can look to for inspiration.
Lonita : Support in general provides a sense of encouragement to the movers and shakers, letting them know they are wanted and that their work is valued. Supporting film helps the arts community and policy makers and filmmakers themselves realize that filmmaking is accepted as an art form, one that is worth investment. Film is a gift to the world. Our support helps the world understand that.
KCFMO: How has your experience affected the way you look at your future projects?
Savannah : It’s only further driven me to continue working towards my first feature film. It’s also nice to see the films they select for the festivals: now I know the kinds of films they’re looking for. I can be more strategic about what I submit to Slamdance and Sundance.
Matt : SKETCHES was a real departure for me. It was a short film, using a camera system I had never used before, working with a director who is not only one of my students, but who I’d never really worked with on a narrative project before. It was also a fast schedule- it was an incredibly short time from our first discussions about the project to principal photography. Working with Savannah was a real pleasure- she was the consummate professional, organized and certain of what she wanted. I’d definitely consider this type of collaboration again in the future. (I’m also considering directing a project on the Digital Bolex for next year’s challenge!)
Jeremy : I’m always inspired after seeing so many independent films at one time. I always come away from Park City wanting to sit down and create new stories.
Misti : Each time I attend Slamdance/Sundance I always learn something new and am inspired by the cool work I see on screen. This year I saw an amazing animation block at Slamdance that has already got me thinking of ways to make a new animated short film.
Megan : Sundance is always an interesting mix. It’s a career-making festival to get into, and it’s made a world stage for independent cinema. I do feel like there are areas of the programming that are more celebrity/press-bait and more nepotism-based in their acceptance into the fest…but the majority are unique films that not only get the chance to seek distribution but actually have the largest outlets in the world fight over them in a public way that drives their exposure through the roof. Being at Sundance makes me look forward to my own projects- knowing what’s emerging in the coming year of film before everyone else, seeing what film houses are all fighting over and paying the most for, seeing what visual themes emerge each year…it also just reminds me how much I love cinema. As a producer, I’m not always working on film, but it’s definitely where my heart lies.
Lonita : This is a tough one. My experience is mostly from a supportive role. I have written and produced one short film and been on the sets of others. I have volunteered for or attended a few film festivals and have a ton of working, serious filmmaker peers and friends. Considering all of that, I think it drives me to be as sincere as possible in my storytelling, to be myself, and to make the finished product as close to its version of perfection as possible.
KCFMO: Do you have any celebrity sitings or anecdotes you can share?
Savannah : You know, I only saw a few “celebrities” in Park City. I don’t like to fawn over actors too much as though they’re not regular people, so I didn’t really stop people on the street to get pictures with them. That being said, I saw Franchesca Ramsey (also known as “chescaleigh” on YouTube) on the street and stopped her to tell her I admired the social justice work she was doing through filmmaking and creating videos online. She was super nice. Then Matt Jacobson took a picture of the two of us, so that was cool.
Matt : Sadly, no, not this time. (I did get the chance to catch up with some old friends at Park City, though.)
Jeremy : Emilio Estevez stayed in the same condo as a producer friend of mine, so when we went to her place for a party, Emilio ended up serving us drinks and making us feel right at home.
Misti : This year I got to briefly meet Penn and Teller, Gilbert Gottfried and Emillio Estevez at different events.
Megan : I did get to see Chloe Sevingy this year! Which was like a true indie-queen sighting that made me really happy. Also the Intervention Q&A was just so adorable btw Melanie Lynskey, Clea Duvall & Natasha Lyonne. They have all been friends for 17 years and Clea wrote the parts for the 3 of them specifically. It was hilarious and moving- and seeing these strong underrated women making work for themselves after going through less-relevant times in the movie industry made me SO happy. I saw Clea and Melanie at the Awards Night after party and had the chance to tell them how much I loved the film. I told them they deserved “the Cutest Q&A Award”.
Lonita : I won’t reveal who because at this point I believe I’ve made friends, rather than contacts, but this year I, along with another awesome Sundance volunteer, had the opportunity to have dinner with a pretty well-known writer/director, husband and wife team. Going in we didn’t know what to expect, “should we have our resumes polished” but we talked politics, religion, family, hope, race, film– everything under the sun. We shut the restaurant down. At the end, the gentleman said, “we didn’t just make industry contacts, we made friends for life.”
To connect with someone, such a miracle. Better than just making an industry connection. It’s the highlight of my Sundance 2016.
Thank you all for sharing your experience with us and being such wonderful representatives and advocates for our area. We hope we’ll see you all in Park City next year!