Sundance cultivates creative comradery

Students learn how to engage with films at festival.

Jessica Goddard, Writer

Emilio Mazariegos, freshman cinema media arts major, tiredly stumbled to his airport terminal at 3 a.m. about to leave Utah, host state of the Sundance Film Festival. He heard a man coughing, and looked to see the filmmaker of one of his favorite films from the festival.

Growth in community

Not wanting to bother him but excited to see him, he said, “Excuse me, I really liked your film.” The man responded humbly, treating Mazariegos as an equal, as another artist who loved and understood film.

For the 13th time, Biola’s Cinema and Media Arts Department hosted a class in which students attend the Sundance Film Festival. The class provided students and faculty alike the avenue to experience a community of like-minded film artists as well as growth as a film academic and as a Christian. They also had the opportunity to experience Biola on the film map for its first year as an institute associate.

Association with the festival signifies a level of sponsorship. Before each film, a trailer of this year’s festival would come on, and at the end would show different memberships and sponsors in the credits. To everyone’s delight, the credits listed Biola next to other esteemed organizations and schools, such as Netflix and NYU.

“I think we — as humans — love stories, and I think film has taken such a predominant presence in the way that we view stories and the way that we tell them,” Mazariegos said.

The importance of listening

Twenty-six students and a few faculty flew to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, during interterm. The students watched around 15 to 20 films, talked with filmmakers and learned how to engage with films in a Christian manner.

Each morning, they joined the Windrider Forum held by Priddy Brothers Productions for discussions and panels of Christianity and how Christians should respond to film. Then, the students would go to different theaters around to watch movies of their choice, which usually included a Q&A with the filmmakers.

“A tendency sometimes in Christian circles is to judge before you listen, and so we’re trying to cultivate that concept of listening first. And Sundance is really a good place for that,” said Lisa Swain, one of the CMA professors who has attended Sundance with the CMA class almost every year since 2006.

Students learned how to navigate the buses and the town while assimilating into the festival’s culture of artistic thinkers. Sometimes during their commutes to different theaters, they would run into various filmmakers and get to talk with them.

“There’s filmmakers and film lovers and people who are just there to engage with the biggest festival in the world,” said Dean Yamada, CMA professor.

A transformative experience

In the evening, many of the students would sit around the fireplace at the dormitory they stayed in, warming up from the snowy weather outside and talking to their professors and friends about what they liked and disliked in the films they had seen that day. Some of the deepest conversations and learning experiences happened around that fireplace, according to Swain.

During the festival, schools and organizations will have cocktail parties or mixers on Main Street, and this year, Biola held its first mixer alongside them. The CMA department hosted a guest list of around 200 people at a restaurant downtown, which allowed Biola to reach the ranks of other schools and organizations that attend.

“I’ve read all their papers that they had to write for the class after the experience, and there’s story upon story of just transformation of how this festival experience changed the way they saw themselves as filmmakers,” Yamada said. “[It] changed the way they viewed films as Christians, changed the way they engage with Hollywood and independent filmmakers.”

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