A Developer’s Sundance Experience

Last week I attended the Sundance Film Festival where I spoke on two panels: "How Can Artists Reshape Politics," at the Filmmaker Lodge, and a talk to industry leaders on the future of Immersive Media and Interactive content.

I am Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma Deer clan, we are members of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois confederacy. I opened “How Artists Can Reshape Politics” with an Iroquois/Haudenosaunee flute song and original song I wrote for the panel before beginning my talk.

A graphic promoting the "How Can Artists Reshape Politics?" panel at Sundance Film Festival 2020. Panelists included: Amelia Winger-Bearskin, Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman, and Michelle Woo of For Freedoms; artists Kahlil Joseph (BLKNWS) and Elissa Blount Moorhead; and Tony Patrick and Robert Sinclair (Guild of Future Architects’ Futurist Writers’ Room).

This was the core of my talk:

“The seeds of our civilization are stories. Our framework for a lasting peace, a just democracy and our sustainable technological inventions are all kept inside of our stories. Our stories are our generational guidance systems, it is where we record the best of us. Stories will change formats in every generation, and our stories have changed formats with the technologies of our time.

“This is how we pass on our values: inside the source code of our democracy is the best of us. Sometimes we may feel as though our democracy has gotten some malware in it. So it is up to us to update and make sure our stories can continue to connect and strengthen our communities.”

Technologists at Sundance

Why is a developer giving talks at a film festival? A big part of Sundance is not just film, but exploring new and emerging technologies.

Sundance is home to a diverse family of creatives and technologists. It is where people who are different don’t just survive, but thrive. I have a diverse professional background as an artist, professor, organizer, community leader and creative technologist. The panel I participated in, “The Future of VR,” for tech industry leaders was part of New Frontiers, the portion of the festival dedicated to exploring new technology.

After my responsibilities wrapped up, I spent time experiencing a ton of VR. I watched my amazing friend Natalia Cabrera’s Hypha VR: a virtual reality piece in which you are a fungus. I visited the first-ever Indigenous Filmmaker Lounge at Sundance. I also went to industry and tech receptions for New Frontiers and the Indigenous Programs, film screenings and panels.

Amelia Winger-Bearskin is @studioamelia on Instagram. This shot was snapped at Sunset as Amelia experienced a VR program in which you are a fungus.

Finding Community

I’ve filled many roles at the Sundance festival, and it has become one of the most generative and meaningful communities that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of. I’ve been able to participate and give back as a lab fellow, a creative advisor for immersive storytelling with the New Frontiers program, a speaker, festival alumna and mentor to new storytellers in immersive storytelling.

It’s where I find inspiration and a place I’ve made some of the closest friends in my life.

In 2019, I spoke for the first time at Sundance on two panels, including “Reseeing the Present, Rewriting the Past,” which dealt with the erasure and misrepresentation of Native Americans and African Americans throughout the history of mainstream cinema, and the ways in which cinema is being challenged through radically reimagined aesthetics and upended storyforms.

Contentful is wherever technology is going

Contentful’s customers aren’t just the world’s biggest brands — the people who use our product are storytellers, creatives, experience-builders and leading-edge developers. We’re honored to be a part of helping people and brands connect with their audiences through amazing digital experiences.

I told the audience that “stories will change formats in every generation,” and perhaps that is an understatement. It doesn’t take more than a few years for new digital channels to emerge and challenge the way we think about storytelling.

We’ve seen firsthand the need to adapt to the myriad new formats beyond websites for telling stories, including mobile, wearables, AR/VR, conversational interfaces, digital displays and more. Whatever the channel, Contentful will be a key building block to connect storyteller and listener.

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