The gang on Main Street.

The gang on Main Street.

We’ve arrived at what for some of us is a once in a lifetime adventure, for others, a check off the bucket list, and yet for others, a glimpse into future opportunities. Our compact seven person team stood awestruck at the gate onto Main Street in Park City, Utah, filled with wild imagination about what this week might hold for us as we embark on a Northwestern College first. A resounding chorus of the Sound of Music’s “Climb Every Mountain” rung through my head as we would ‘climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow till we found our dream’ in the unknown that lied ahead. But all kidding aside, none of us knew what to expect – and with that arrival at the Sundance nucleus, we knew right away we were in for a surprise!

With the relaxed bustle of Sundance attendees we became aware of the rather delightful tone of the festival: a casual camaraderie of film enthusiasts. The crowds were made up of film professionals, students, devotees, award winners, starving artists, and aspiring filmmakers – all incredibly passionate about the powerful medium of film in one way or another.

While today was meant to be simply a launching point for the rest of the week, a moment to settle ourselves in both to the festival itself but also to the Windrider Forum, it ended up being an over-stimulating experience. After checking in and divvying out the multitudes of film tickets, we had the chance to roam the downtown area. The quaint small town Main Street offered a variety of shops, restaurants, and venues for us to check out. Among such activities was a surprising and rare experience that really made the highlight reel for my evening. One of my favorite singer/songwriter, Violin aficionado, master whistler just so happened to be playing for free at an ASCAP event: Andrew Bird. Though we only had a small window of time, those one and a quarter songs of pure musical ingenuity, finding ourselves smashed between fellow film-goers in that tiny music venue, was worth the long wait! As Professor Sorenson had encouraged us, we were here, and we were going to seize any and every opportunity possible!

Following this pleasant detour, we made our appearance at the Windrider Forum opening session. Here we got the unique opportunity to view two short films (one animated, one dramatic) which have been nominated for the upcoming Oscar Awards. The first film, Head Over Heels by Timothy Reckart was a rather charming yet poignant depiction of the distance that can happen in a marriage relationship over time, but in a very literal way. The themes of sacrifice and compromise, while still embracing one another’s differences, are great reminders to a society plagued by high divorce rates and conflict over differing values.

The second film came with a more ambiguous spirit while still playing on universal themes such as coming of age, the power of a dream, and companionship. Buzkashi Boys by Sam French and Ariel Nasr, while presenting a simple story, also aimed to represent the country of Afghanistan in a way that wouldn’t be perceived as fearful or threatening to the American eye. Following the film’s screening, Producer Ariel Nasr reflected on this goal by saying the film was designed in a way to bridge cultural gaps.

And with the end of Day 1 at the Sundance Film Festival, we were already stunned by the amazing opportunities we had seized. Though we just flew in this morning, our minds feel incredibly packed with inspiration and knowledge. In this over-stimulating environment, I am forced to recall a really powerful moment which occurred while waiting for Andrew Bird to perform. We had been listening to an artist by the name of Paul Kelly who had delighted us with honest and conversational songs all afternoon. To end his set, he decided to sing an original melody set to the lyrics of Psalm 23. The pure resonance of his voice, without instrumentation, and the gripping lyrics of David’s Psalm was the reminder to be still in these over-stimulated moments and seek Christ within them. We see Christ at work through these incredible musicians and filmmakers who faithfully pursue their craft with strong determination. We use that determination to fuel us as we strive to pursue that same excellence in our work as students studying the art of film.

For now, we’ve only had a small sampling of our Sundance journey. Tomorrow, the real adventure begins – up mountains, across streams, over rainbows, or something like that.

-Anna Marie Carey


Sundance 2013: A Northwestern First

SundanceGraphic_E2_WebStoryProfessor Ann Sorenson and six film students will be making a first ever Northwestern appearance at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January. For one week Laticia Mattson ’15, David DeLeon ’14, Anna Carey ’13,  Krista Koester ’14, Chris Behnen ’13 and Mike Niedermeyer ’12 will be screening upcoming films and joining five other university groups every morning to participate in the Windrider Forum, a gathering of Christian filmmakers and students focused on faith-based discussion and learning.

Sorenson hopes the Sundance experience “widens [the students’] world in a way that will bless them,” wherever they may be in their film careers.

Mattson, excited to see potential blockbusters and mingle with filmmakers or celebrities, has had an experience like Sundance on her bucket list for awhile.

“Ever since I was a kid I loved writing scripts and making videos with my family and friends,” she said, “I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and entertaining others through filmmaking.”

The story of film at NWC

Upcoming filmmakers like Mattson are a growing breed at Northwestern, led by Sorenson’s contagious film fervor.  Prior to teaching at Northwestern, Sorenson directed theatre at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis where her love for stories lived on stage, no where near the big screen. One day she went to a “horrible movie” with a single beautiful shot in it and upon leaving, she had a passing thought: you’re going to make a movie someday.

At first, she said it was laughable, but that next summer Sorenson enrolled in an intensive film class at UCLA and came back with a wild idea.  Instead of a spring theatre production at Minnehaha, Sorenson and her students made a movie.

“I was totally over my head,” she remembered, “Naivete was bliss, but it got me out of my comfort zone.”

After that initial project, Sorenson earned her M.F.A. in Film from Columbia University and returned to Minneapolis, starting a new career in film.

“I love stories so much and I love the visual element of film.  It’s an everything art, a combination of all the art forms.”

After their time in Utah, Northwestern’s film department will be preparing for their annual Five16 Film Festival on April 15, where students screen their best flicks to a packed out audience in Maranatha Hall.