Sundance Laboratories: Where Independent Films Will Thrive

By Vanessa Zimmer

Director Greg Nava proudly points out how far back he goes in the history of the Sundance Institute. He was in the first Directors Lab 41 years ago, and his Oscar-nominated screenplay The North was one of the inaugural projects.

You have probably heard of The Northa powerful and classic film that brought attention to the plight of Guatemalan refugees with its story of a teenage brother and sister fleeing north into the United States to escape government violence.

“What I’m most proud of about this film is that it had a major impact and was instrumental in helping the United States grant…temporary protected status to Mayan refugees from Guatemala, and that saved thousands of lives,” Nava said. in an interview last summer with the Sundance Institute to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary.

Nava is convinced that he might never have made this film without the support of the film professionals of the laboratory and the intensive filmmaking workshop. “It was an amazing experience,” he says. “People tell me, ‘Oh, it’s so much bigger and better now than when you were there.’ But I can’t imagine anything better than what I experienced when I was a filmmaker there.

“I mean, we worked with Robert Redford, Karl Malden, Sydney Pollack, Martin Ritt, Waldo Salt, Ivan Passer, Frank Daniel, Caleb Deschanel. Who can work with people of this caliber to help you realize your vision and read your script? »

Ferryman (Intimate lighting) advised Nava to work with non-actors. “I used (his methodology) to The North, and I’ve been using it ever since. I still have all the notes I took of all those amazing people. I still have them. I always refer to them because they were so insightful and powerful. He also made lifelong friends, such as with the late Pollack. It was life changing.

Daniel, from Czechoslovakia Film School, taught Nava the incredible value of circular writing: writing the script from back to front, starting with a strong ending. Then rewrite from beginning to end. This is another method Nava — director of films such as A time of destiny (1988), My family (1995), Selena (1997), and Frida (2002) — preserved over the years.