The Power of Independent Film to Change Hearts and Minds
Being from Park City, Utah, independent film has a very special place in my heart. As the home of Sundance Film Festival, my hometown has a very special connection to the craft, and I myself have found that independent film has made a permanent impression on my heart and mind. Storytelling is very important to me, and there are few films that have truly inspired me the way that films I have seen at Sundance have.
My first Sundance experience was in the 7th grade. My class visited the New Frontiers exhibit, which showed off cutting edge new filmmaking technologies, and then went and watched a movie called Captain Abu Raed. This film tells the story of an airport janitor in Amman, Jordan who finds a pilots cap in the garbage while working. Deciding to keep and start wearing it, the young boys in his poor neighborhood see him, and mistakenly assume he’s actually a pilot. This revelation causes Abu Raed to start crafting stories of his time in the cities his supposed work would take him to: stories that give hope to the children who heard them.
This movie was impactful for many reasons, the primary one being that it showed the power that words have to change lives. While Captain Abu Raed may not have actually been a pilot, his stories nonetheless changed the lives of a neighborhood full of little boys, and changed himself too. Although the film didn’t have a happy ending, I remember it vividly. After it was over, my classmates and I even got to hear the director talk about what inspired this story, the painstaking lengths he went to to tell it, and why it was important to him to tell the story to begin with. As a 7th grader, this really struck a chord with me. His dedication to making an incredible story fascinated me, and I haven’t forgotten it, even 8 years later.
Another film I saw at Sundance was one that challenged my perspective on current events. Breaking Ice, a documentary about the polar ice caps made by Jim Balog, is a semi-autobiographical story that follows Mr. Balog and his team at the Extreme Ice Survey as they document the recession of glaciers through time lapse photography. Living where I lived, we often poked fun at the people who ardently believed humans were responsible for the melting glaciers because we get tons of snow every year. The year An Inconvenient Truth came to Sundance, Park City had record snowfall. In my experience, I had no reason to believe that the world was warming because I had seen no proof of it.
When I saw this movie though, that changed completely. Even in the trailer, you see Mr. Balog going to great lengths to document the changes in Earth’s geography, not just in America, but around the world. At one point, he even gets knee surgery for the third time and just a week later, he was walking up a polar ice cap on crutches! That’s not something I would ever do! He was a climate change skeptic before he went out and saw the glaciers for himself, but now he has made it his mission to show his findings to everyone! It’s not just him spouting facts about greenhouse gases, he is showing us what is happening to glaciers all around the world though time lapse video footage.
The video I have included below is from the Extreme Ice Survey, and it shows a single glacier over the course of a year. To get this time lapse, the Extreme Ice Survey used Nikon D200 and D300 camera bodies, secured in extreme weatherproof housings. These cameras were powered by solar panels, and other electronics, and were able to withstand temperatures as low as -40˚F and winds as strong as 160 mph, as well as blizzards, landslides and avalanches. Today, they have 33 of these types of cameras deployed in countries and on glaciers all over the world. Balog and his team then collect the footage and take it to events like TED in order to spread the word on what he and his team are seeing. Because of this movie, not only do I feel more aware of the actual repercussions of a warming climate, but I also have found irrefutable proof in his footage that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
I say all of this because I believe that these two films are examples of storytelling that came at great personal risks and great personal cost for those who made them. They are also good examples of what it means to work through those risks and costs to continue to make a story that impacts hearts and minds. I don’t remember any other movies I saw in theatres in 2008, but I remember a story about an old man with a pilots cap and an ability to tell stories. I don’t remember anything I learned in my high school classes about climate change, but a documentary film did more to change my opinion on the matter than any teacher, now or then, ever could. I think something that makes independant film unique is that the people telling the stories, for the most part, aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it to make a story that matters to them.
Filmmakers like Hilla Medalia, who risked her life to tell the story of two families entrenched in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a documentary called To Die In Jerusalem, and journalist Laura Poitras, who risked international condemnation to make CITIZENFOUR, a documentary telling the story of how she and 2 other journalists worked with Edward Snowden in the months leading up to and the months after the largest leak of classified documents in American history. These stories are so important to the people who make them that they are willing to risk everything they have to make sure they have done their due diligence to tell the best version of the story that they can in order to influence people’s hearts and minds! That passion is something that filmmakers and all artists need to be be willing to take with them into all projects they put their minds to. Robert Redford, famed actor, and the founder of the Sundance Institute, has been quoted saying, “[Independent Film] is about the freedom to tell your stories your own way and to take risks. It’s about the freedom of expression.” Sundance films are a shining example of what it truly means to express yourself in a passionate way and that is something I am so happy and honored to have found and experienced at the Sundance Film Festival.
Kendall is a 20-year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker from Park City, Utah. After film, some of her chief loves are those of coffee, dogs, and snow. Every week, she takes a look at the odd, uncommon, particularly interesting, and outright obscure ways that people produce creative visual art for the world to see.