The visibility of Native and Indigenous films and artists has been increasing over the years. One of the best examples was the 2016 invitation to five Native Program alumni to join the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For those unaware or unfamiliar with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such an invitation carries with it a membership that allows the member to become a part of the nominating and voting body of the Oscars.
This year in 2017, three Native Program Sundance Institute alumni were invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
These three Sundance Institute alumni include Zacharias Kunuk (Inuit), Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiaq) and Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki).
Zacharias Kunuk (Inuit)
Kunuk’s short film, Home (Angiraq), screened at the 1996 Festival in Beyond Borders: New Native Cinema. Kunuk was invited to join the Directors Branch of the Academy.
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiaq)
Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s short film, Natchiliagniaqtuguk Aapagalu, screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. His film Sikumi won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at the 2008 Festival. His feature film On the Ice, which he directed and wrote, screened in 2011 in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. MacLean also served as a Creative Advisor at the 2014 and 2016 Native Filmmakers Labs. Andrew Okpeaha MacLean was invited to join the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch of the Academy.
Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki)
Alanis Obomsawin is a director, producer, and screenwriter with a long Sundance Institute history. Her festival films include Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Metis Child (1987); Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1994); Spudwrench—Kahnawake Man (1998); Rocks at Whiskey Trench (2001); Is the Crown at War with Us? (2003); and Our Nationhood (2004). Obomsawin was invited to join the Documentary Branch of the Academy.
On the Sundance Film Institute website the organization lauds it’s dedication to serving the interests of Native artists. The Native Program Director N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) says, “The Native Program is proud of the role it has played to build and sustain an Indigenous film circle.”
“In fact, the history of support from the Institute predates the founding of the Institute to Robert Redford’s personal support and mentorship of Native filmmakers.”
“Each year even greater strides are made in supporting an Indigenous-created body of cinema while supporting the growth of Native American and Indigenous participation in the film industry,” says Runningwater.
“We see this most vividly in the selection of our Native alums being invited to join the world’s preeminent motion picture-related organization.”
Throughout the year, the Native Program continues its support with fellowships, labs, mentorships, public programs, and the Sundance Film Festival itself.
The Sundance Institute has been committed to the Native and Indigenous presence in film since the Institute’s founding in 1981. Throughout the history of the Institute, the Native Program has played an important role in elevating the work of Native and Indigenous storytellers to national and international acclaim.
In 2016 five Sundance Institute Alumni were invited to become a part of the nominating and voting body of the Oscars at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.