Frame By Frame: Senior Programmer Shari Frilot Lists 12 Groundbreaking Projects from the Sundance Film Festival and New Frontier
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Frame By Frame: Senior Programmer Shari Frilot Lists 12 Groundbreaking Projects from the Sundance Film Festival and New Frontier

Oversimplification of Her Beauty

If you’ve been following our ongoing series Frame By Frame,

you know that we recently spoke with Shari Frilot, senior film programmer of

the Sundance Film Festival and chief curator of the Sundance New Frontier

program.

As a bonus to that conversation, Shari has curated a list of groundbreaking projects to come through the Festival, as well

as projects that represent what New Frontier is about and the range of works

that they show.

FESTIVAL FILMS


Soldiers Without Swords

Stanley Nelson’s THE

BLACK PRESS: SOLDIERS WITHOUT SWORDS

This is the very first film I ever chased down and fought

for. I thought the liberation story he was telling was fresh and incredibly

important and I felt Sundance audiences needed to see and talk about it. Stanley

told me he never thought about submitting his films to the Sundance Film

Festival until I asked him to in 1998. Since then, he has won numerous prizes

and premiered the lion’s share of his singularly important ouvre of films about

African American history at the Festival.

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Ava DuVernay’s MIDDLE

OF NOWHERE

For this film, Ava made history at the 2012 Festival’s

Awards night by earning the distinction of being the first African-American female

to win the Festival’s Directing Prize. It was such a radiant triumph and a

glorious launch of the career of a truly gifted director.

Through A Lens Darkly

Thomas Allen Harris’ THROUGH

A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE and the

accompanying transmedia project, DIGITAL

DIASPORA FAMILY REUNION

This remarkable project brings us a seminal history of Black

photographers and photography in America, as well as inspires an investment by

individual black families around the country in their own family archive. Black

families are encouraged to share their archives and participate in a database

of family photographs that have since been cross-referenced to locate lost

family members. This is a groundbreaking project, that since its premiere at the

Sundance Film Festival, has gone on to play a litany of major film festivals

around the world.

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Dennis Dortch’s A

GOOD DAY TO BE BLACK AND SEXY

This is the little film that could. This first feature is so

well observed and performed that when I watched it, I felt I was taken

hilariously through the blood and guts of what it means to be in a Black love

relationship. When Dennis struggled with the distribution deal he secured at the

Festival, he decided to innovate the business model, founding his own YouTube

channel, blackandsexy.tv,which became a home to many more black filmmakers on

the internet and launched the incredibly entertaining web series, THE COUPLE,

which was recently acquired by HBO.

Precious

Lee Daniel’s PUSH:

BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE (later titled PRECIOUS)

I was the very first person beyond the film team to see

this. I watched it on the filmmaker’s edit bay, which was set up by my good

friend and publicist, Wellington Love. I was cranky and on vacation and didn’t

want to watch films, but because he was my friend, I told him I’d do it and I

reminded him of our policy of not attending screenings with the filmmakers

present and not talking about the films afterwards with anyone until we process

it with our programming team.  After the film, Wellington and I had lunch and we were barely

able to eat the food. We were as pale as two Black people could be, just looking

at each other. Finally, I burst out “OMG! I know I’m not supposed to talk about

it, but Mo’Nique is going to win an Oscar for that performance!”

Mother of GeorgeAndrew Dosunmu’s

films, RESTLESS CITY and MOTHER OF GEORGE

Andrew is an astonishing filmmaker who, before his debut

feature, was a renowned Nigerian fashion photographer and creative director. After

many years of following African cinema, I understood the importance and

freshness of how Dosunmu was infusing an entirely American perspective into the

traditionally polished look and feel of West African cinema. I’m very proud to

have played a part in launching Andrew’s career as a feature filmmaker. His

films are gifts to our community.

nullTerence Nance’s AN

OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY

This film could not be ignored. It is wildly imaginative, original

and formally incredible, and as a debut feature, really harkened the arrival of

a major talent. A kind of renaissance artist, Terence Nance is one of the most

interesting young filmmakers working today, and he continues to innovate the

field of cinematic expression through his various collaborative efforts. He is

constantly performing with his band, creating collective performances and

interactive works, and is now participating in the first New Frontier Artist

Residency established at the MIT Media Lab with data visualist Sep Kamvar.

NEW FRONTIER PROJECTS 

nullThe 3D projection

mapped storytelling of Klip Collective

In 2006, Ricardo Rivera had me on the phone for hours

convincing me that he would make what he was saying, happen. For the inaugural

year of New Frontier, he wanted to transform the furniture of the lounge in the

basement venue into moving stories. The tables, where people would take

meetings, would become fishes swimming in bowls, and skillets frying up bacon

and eggs. It was exactly what he and his collective delivered and it blew our

audiences minds.

He went on to secure multiple patents for projection mapping

and now stages big projection mapping events for clients such as Nike, NBC Sports,

and The Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Ricardo’s Klip Collective was

invited back to participate in subsequent editions of New Frontier – 2013

(“What Is He Doing In There?”) and 2014 (“What Is He Projecting In There?”) –

with large scale works that projection mapped the entirety of the New Frontier

and Egyptian Theater venues, transforming their architecture into interactive stories

that resonated with what’s going on inside.

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 Joseph Gordon

Levitt’s hitRECord.org

In 2009, Joe was excited about a new business model for

making movies that involved new media technology. He wanted to collaborate with

a community of thousands of talented people he didn’t know, to make films that

involved hundreds of creative artists at a time, on common ideas they

discussed. What we know as crowdsourcing was starting to gain traction back then,

but no one had done it quite the way Joe and his brother Burning Dan were going

to do it.

The two brothers re-inaugurated their website, hitRECord.org,

and launched it at the 2010 edition of New Frontier. We built them a studio

where they would bring in a constant stream of talent from the festival, as

well as incorporate a myriad of creative elements being contributed online

internationally. At the end of the fest, Joe presented a live show of completed

films that captivated two sold out shows. hitRECord went on to become a

traveling show that filled venues as large as the Orpheum Theater in Los

Angeles and a television show that is presently broadcast on Pivot TV.

Miwa MatreyekThe theatrical works

of Blast Theory, and animator/performer, Miwa Matreyek

2010 was a tough year. The economy was in the dumps and New

Frontier had moved to a venue with some smaller spaces. But the audiences who made

it inside were made speechless by the performances from animator/performance

artist, Miwa Matreyek. Miwa incorporates her own shadow into the projection of

her exquisitely rendered animations to tell stories of the environment and

human creation. Popular demand brought Matreyek back to the 2014 edition of New

Frontier, where she received standing ovations in the Egyptian Theater.

The broken economy also didn’t stop us from creatively

forming a commission for geo-locative cinematic work. We teamed with Canada’s

Banff Centre and the Zero1 San Jose Biennial for Art on the Edge to create a

commission that would inspire an original work that made a cinematic story out

of the geography upon which these festivals existed. The UK collective, Blast

Theory, won the international competition and developed A MACHINE TO SEE WITH, a

LARP (Live Action Role Playing) that created bank robbers out of willing

audiences.

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Chris Johnson and Hank

Willis Thomas’ transmedia work, QUESTION BRIDGE: BLACK MALES

Chris and Hank were talking about creating an intimate,

vulnerable and nearly impossible conversation between Black men in America nationwide.

This unprecedented conversation would happen man to man, where one man would

ask a question, and the other man would answer it.  But their vision was not for a grand convening. They would

put each man in a room alone with a camera, outside the society’s scrutiny, and

have them either ask a question, or answer a question posed by another man. This

consistently brought out a level of vulnerable candor rarely seen. They found

men on street corners, prisons, art studios, Hollywood, and Capitol Hill to

participate and in 2012 Chris and Hank and their team of producers would take

these questions and create a transmedia piece (installation, website) that

stitched the interviews into a dynamic and seamless conversation that blew

people’s minds as it elevated the conversation about race as much as it redefined

what a social network can be. There hasn’t been a piece yet at New Frontier

that has gotten the amount of heartfelt fan mail as this work did.

Hunger in LANonny de la Pena’s

HUNGER IN LOS ANGELES & The Oculus Rift

In many ways, this work represents so much of what New

Frontier is all about. Nonny is a noted journalist who was determined to find methods

of telling the news in immersive ways.  To this end, she took a fellowship at USC and set up a media

lab to experiment and explore. When I visited her lab back in 2011, the work

that struck me the most was a virtual reality experience she created with 19-year

old technologist Palmer Lucky of an eyewitness account of a homeless man

passing out from a diabetic coma on a hunger line.  

The role of a journalist is to inform a broad audience of

the news, but Nonny’s piece engaged one person at a time for 10 minutes in a

cumbersome contraption consisting of a VR simulator that involved a backpack

and umbilical cord, an animated sim world, and a large room filled with sensors

tracking the position of the user to feedback into their experience inside the VR

sim environment. I asked Nonny – “This is a powerful experience, but what are

you after with this line of exploration as a journalist? You can only speak to

one person at a time.” She replied “I don’t know yet, but I know this is how people

must experience the news.” She was so convinced, and the work was so

convincing, I rolled the dice and brought it to the 2012 edition of New

Frontier.

So what do you get when you bring together a noted

journalist experimenting with the form of her craft, a creative technologist

obsessed with Virtual Reality, an audience of storytellers, and a film oriented

press corp? You get enough momentum to envision and create a new mainstream media

platform. Technologist Palmer Lucky used that momentum to Kickstart a consumer

version of his VR simulator – he set the goal for $250,000 and raised $2.5

million – and founded the consumer VR simulator, Oculus Rift. Pioneering

storytellers such as Chris Milk, embraced this platform and created brand new

ways of telling stories with the cinematic image. With behemoths like Facebook

and Samsung (and now Google and Sony have branded VR simulators) virtual

reality is poised to make a comeback much like how mobile phones reincarnated

from Palm Pilot to the wildly popular iPhone.

Putting storytelling talent, new technology, and an open

audience under a single roof to create something that is much larger than the

sum of its parts is what New Frontier is all about.

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