IC Takes Sundance

By Marisa Thomas ’22, Chanelle Ferguson ’21, March 20, 2019
Alumni and students played many roles at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Ithaca College was all over Park City, Utah, for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Maya Cueva ’15 was at the festival as a Sundance Ignite fellow to learn from the filmmakers screening their latest projects. Among those filmmakers was Crystal Kayiza ’15, who screened her latest documentary. And all the while, a group of students from the Roy H. Park School of Communications worked as festival volunteers.

Blazing a Path

Just four years after graduating from IC with a degree in documentary studies and production, Maya Cueva ’15 was one of a handful of filmmakers from across the country to be selected for the prestigious Sundance Ignite Fellowship.

A young woman

Maya Cueva ’15. (Photo provided)

The Sundance Ignite program provides 15 fellows aged 18-24 with an exclusive ticket package to attend the Sundance Film Festival, as well as a yearlong Sundance Institute experience “designed to provide artistic and professional development, mentorship, and industry exposure for emerging filmmakers.”

Cueva, who is a Valentine & Clark Emerging Artist Fellow at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, was honored to have been awarded the fellowship, and to have the opportunity to collaborate with a mentor. “It can open a lot of doors,” she said. “For emerging filmmakers like me, we know the kind of stories we want to tell, but we often don’t get that access to industry or funding, and this opportunity provides that support.”

The multimedia producer won the fellowship on the strength of her film, “Only the Moon/ Solamente la luna,” a short animated documentary about her father’s immigration from Peru to the United States. She said the film gave her an opportunity to preserve her father’s memories and highlight the struggles of discrimination and transformation that he faced as a Latino immigrant.

Cueva said capturing her own identity while telling overlooked stories is a cornerstone of her work. “If we aren’t the one’s creating these stories, who else is going to do it?”

From Fellow to Director

The 2019 festival marked the second time Crystal Kayiza ’15 attended Sundance. In 2018, she was an Ignite fellow learning from the accomplished filmmakers screening their movies. This year, she was one of those filmmakers, screening her film, “Edgecombe.” The short documentary was one of 17 selected for screening out of more than 9,000 submissions.

“Films that are shown at Sundance and conversations that are had there are really important to the [filmmaking] landscape for the rest of the year and beyond,” said Kayiza. “To be able to have my film in that conversation was a really awesome experience.”

“Edgecombe” is an examination of the trauma that repeats and reinvents itself in rural black communities. The short documentary includes three chapters that feature three different individuals in the town of Tarboro in Edgecombe County, North Carolina.

Kayiza was part of the Culture Program at the Jacob Burns Film Center Creative when she pitched “Edgecombe,” which she said was helpful during the filmmaking process. The Creative Culture Program is a 10-month long fellowship during which filmmakers are able to produce two short film projects.

“It offered a really amazing structure for me to take risks as a director and really have a community of people to give me feedback during the production process,” she said.

While the Sundance screening was an amazing experience, Kayiza was most excited about showing the documentary to the Edgecombe community in November 2018. “I screened it at Tarboro at the church featured in the film, and it was by far the most amazing screening experience that I could have had for this project, so anything on top of that was just extra,” she said.

Students Volunteer at Festival

A group of people in pink jackets pose in front of a building

A group of students from the Park School were among the volunteers at the Sundance Film Festival. (Photo provided)

While Cueva and Kayiza were at Sundance as attendees, 11 Ithaca College students were volunteering in theatre operations, helping to usher attendees to their screenings during the festival’s second week.

The students were able to watch the films they were working at, and for every four hours they volunteered, they were given a voucher to attend a different screening. They were also able to attend film panels when they weren’t working. They saw a number of IC alumni at the panels, as well as well-known actors and directors like John Lithgow and Pippa Bianco.

“It was a great experience to be around all these filmmakers that are really invested in their work,” said Caity Schmitz ’20, who along with Devin Kasparian ’20 spearheaded the trip to Park City.

After they learned about the opportunity to volunteer at the festival, Kasparian and Schmitz worked with the Park School’s associate dean, Bryan Roberts, to secure funding to help students attend. “That made it a lot easier and much more accessible for more people,” Kasparian said.