The Most Inspiring Events At My First Weekend In Sundance

This year at the Sundance Film Festival 2017, droves of producers, directors, enthusiasts, and celebs came to Park City to watch the best of independent filmmaking compressed into a few blocks of Utah. And while films like Dolores, Ingrid Goes West, and Raw became instant, post-watch tête-à-têtes for cinephiles, an underlying draw of this year’s festival was the smattering of big budget exhibits and intimate programs along Main street.
I slushed my way up and downhill awaiting entry to some of the coolest spots in town along the central Sundance strip. I was determined to come back to the east coast recounting more than celebrity encounters (even though my tiny brush with Mary J. Blige on the dance floor was truly something I will forever cherish) and attended a handful of praiseworthy and provoking sights.
Women’s March On Main
If there is one thing to stress about this march, it is that there was major snowfall the night prior and that morning — making the trip to the start point an epic hike to the top of Main street and an icy parade to the bottom for the rally. Thousands of women and allies marched down Main street adorning pussy hats and cleverly-crafted signs, disregarding the weather conditions of the day, to join other marches from around the world as the largest inaugural protest in history.
While this wasn’t a high-tech demonstration or a profound panel, it was a powerful display of grit in the face of opposition. Chelsea Handler, Jessica Williams, Aisha Tyler, and Connie Britton all took the podium to call for unification to the charged crowd and sent speech-after-speech of unwavering strength as a message to the newly appointed administration.

stay nasty #marchonmain

A photo posted by laura (@lauradelarato) on

Stella Artois’ Women In Film Panel
The clandestine, chalice-adorned lounge was teeming with attentive onlookers as moderator Dominic Patten (Deadline senior editor) highlighted the successful film careers of the five producers on the panel. Christine Vachon (Carol), Daniela T. Lundberg (The Kids Are All Right), Rachel Shane (Divergent), Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack), and Cathy Schulman (The Edge of Seventeen, President of Women In Film) are brimming with individual accolades deserving of a platform. Each filmmaker elaborated on their own experiences creating films, faced with the struggle to make a commercially viable piece that has teeth.
But even with the best of intentions, subject matter, or crew, the relationship between female-made films and financing is a contentious one. The 2015 study "Gender & Short Films: Emerging Female Filmmakers and the Barriers Surrounding their Careers” was cited by Vachon during the discussion as one case for the lack of representation and rich storylines around the female experience. The study showed that 58% of female filmmakers reported that they experience major funding obstacles trying to make a feature film.
Schulman furthered the conversation by reminding the audience that women live through such triumphs and tragedies every day worthy of real, mass portrayal and financial backing — sampling a somber moment from her film Bad Moms in which character Amy (Mila Kunis) admits that at least once a day she feels like the worst mom and sits in her car and cries. It's not the most blockbuster-y moment, but it’s a communal experience. “People think that an eventized film means it has to be a superhero film, and what I’d like to point out is commonality of an experience can also be eventized.”
We at Refinery29 are very excited to see change being made to the glaring statistics surrounding women behind the camera. We are also committed to putting talented women filmmakers to the forefront of the conversation, which is why we gave 12 female directors a chance to tell the stories they wanted to express with our Shatterbox Anthology series. Only 7% of 2016’s top films were directed by women, we want to change that. Two of our films were featured at this year’s Sundance: Come Swim directed by Kristen Stewart and Sundance's Short Film Jury Winner Lucia, Before and After directed by Anu Valia. Watch new films every month on and Comcast Watchable.
HEROES: A Duet in Mixed Reality created by MAP Design Lab, MPC VR and Helios
Over by the Chase Sapphire Lounge, located at the halfway point of the primary drag, a nondescript door led attendees upstairs and into a dark art space swarming with people waiting in line to get a taste of the newest in alternate viewing experiences. HEROES is a two piece adventure that explores space, sound, and the strange interconnectedness of Augmented Reality. Each part centered around two dancers and their exceptional dexterity to move, and carry each other, around the artificial space that you, the user, is experiencing.
The first bite into the experience involved me holding onto a railing while sporting VR gear by Oculus and headphones — a true sensory deprivation if there ever was one. I was immediately transported inside the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles standing on stage while two incredibly athletic dancers swayed and shifted to the iconic song “Heroes” by David Bowie. The second piece was a Microsoft HoloLens AR experience that allowed for users to interact with the dancers with voice and touch commands.
This new headset still allows you to see the room you’re standing in, but the dancers and floating objects appear seamlessly in your own reality. The user can command the dancers to get bigger or smaller with subtle voice commands. At one point, I was able to reach my hand out to allow the dancers to continue their rhythm on my hand — I must have looked childish by people who couldn’t see what I was seeing: a man and a woman dancing in the palm of my hand. Unequivocally psychedelic.
Melissa Painter, Creative Director of HEROES and Principal at MAP Design Lab, along with Choreographer and Key Collaborator Laura Gorenstein Miller stood with the testers as well tried each section of the exposition; always leaving the virtual space bewildered by the enveloping technology we were experiencing just by merely putting on a headset. I stood there post-VR discerning our rapid approach into expanded reality and how it’s much closer than we realize — and with a female perspective. Lily Baldwin's Through You, Rachel Rossin's the Sky is a Gap, NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism by Hypen-Labs, and Nicole McDonald's Hue took up virtual space along the Sundance belt as the next in beautiful, refreshing pieces coming out of VR.

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