From left: Erin Lau, Sydney Freeland, and Charine Gonzales at the 2017 Native Lab in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Babak Dowlatshahi

Native Sun News Today: Native Filmmakers Lab seeks new artists

Apply for Sundance Film Fellowship while they’re hot

By Jaclyn Lanae
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - “Our narratives have been mostly warped portrayals, crafted and shared by outsiders,” writes Erin Lau, Native Hawaiian film maker and 2017 Sundance Institute Lab Fellow. “Yet in order for work to be truly empowering and emotionally effective, it has to be authentic and honest. That is part of the reason why it is so important for Native stories to be told by Native voices.”

In her blog post on the Sundance Institute website, Lau remembers fondly the historical narrative of her homeland, as told to her by her grandmother when she was just a child. Sweet and moving, her memories of a youth infused with her culture were battered by the portrayals she witnessed growing up, narratives crafted by outsiders, narratives about her people’s history, her family’s history, that were so different from the stories she’d been told. The lack of authentic voices from her own people spurned her to give voice to her own stories, and she has gone on to "write and direct multiple award-winning shorts screened at film festivals around the world,” according to

Her 2017 Sundance Fellowship award supported her in pushing her vision and her future as a filmmaker even further, encouraging her to “be true to myself, to take risks and to find strength in my culture, while never forgetting the community I represent,” she writes. In addition to grant money to help support production costs, she reaped the program’s benefits of easy access to industry professionals, one-one-one mentoring, and the “opportunity to explore and develop my voice further as a filmmaker.”


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In her post, she recalls the profound experience she had on the first day of shooting. Encouraged to begin with a prayer, Lau “remember(s) the way the hair stood up on my arms as my friend chanted in ʻōlelo Hawai’i towards the rising sun, thanking and asking for guidance from our ancestors.” Nurturing this kind of profound connection to her roots & her culture, the program empowered her to deepen her creative voice even further, and channel into her work the unique experiences that have shaped her as a person, as an indigenous person - precisely the kind of support Sundance seeks to provide.

“The Native and Indigenous Program is working to empower and enable Indigenous storytellers to take back ownership of their stories through nurturing them to become more skilled and confident artists,” she writes, noting later that “The film I made through the lab is the highest quality film and most personal project I have ever made.”

Lau’s experience is a perfect example of the powerful impact resources offered by this fellowship can provide. “Films have the ability to empower people, create empathy, and build bridges between communities. They remind us that we are not alone in our struggles or our values. They remind us that we matter,” she writes, adding that “One of the most important things I gained from the lab was the chance to be surrounded and supported by other Indigenous artists. It made me realize that we are truly stronger together. We are each other’s best ally in fighting for more Native voices in cinema.”

As Lau points out, “Our communities have talented and passionate Native filmmakers who are ready to tell our stories themselves; all they need are the resources.”

According to a representative from Sundance, “The ‘2018 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship’ application period is now open. Applications will be accepted [through] Monday, March 26, 2018.” For more information on the 2018 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship, visit

(Contact Jaclyn Lanae at

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