One of the coolest things to happen to my home state of Utah every year is, without a doubt, Sundance Film Festival. For two weeks out of the year, Park City – aka the world’s most picturesque mountain town – is transformed into a wonderland of movies and parties and celebrities. I’ll admit the crowds and Uber surge fares can be irksome to most residents, but for me, Sundance is something to look forward to each January.
This is my second year working during Sundance Film Festival as a member of the press. I have to say, I had a shockingly different experience this year than I did in 2016.
Why? This year, I went into the festival making the conscious decision to only speak to women.
Before any angry men’s rights activists decide to leave an angry comment or fifty on my Twitter, allow me to begin my story with an anecdote from last year:
I was reporting in January 2016 for an outlet that wasn’t HelloGiggles. Bright-eyed, 23 years old, excited beyond words to have the opportunity to mingle among stars and industry execs at various parties and events. It was, in my mind, my first big break, and I was determined to make the most out of it.
I did my very best to network the hell out of myself at a party. I introduced myself (mostly to men, though I hadn’t yet noticed the pattern), smiled, shook hands, laughed at jokes, listened with interest. Every time I traded a business card, I felt a little jolt of pride that I was doing my part to move on up in the world.
Until 2 or 3 a.m. rolled around…when I was booty-called four times (FOUR TIMES!) by the men I thought I’d been networking with.
I felt dumb and naive, sure, but also profoundly disappointed. The people I’d spent all night trying to meet weren’t at all interested in me in any professional capacity. And, now that they’d directly propositioned me for sex, I didn’t want to reach out to them for professional (or, um, personal) reasons either.
Fast forward to a year later, when I signed on to cover Sundance for HelloGiggles. Considering my past experiences meeting men at the festival, and the fact that I now worked for a women’s website with mostly-women readers, I made the decision to, when given the choice, always choose talking to another woman rather than a man.
And I’m here to tell you, it completely changed my life.
First of all, I met some of the most interesting people I’d ever met in my life over the span of a few days. I met directors of short films that made me weep. I met women who traveled to Sundance to present their social justice documentaries to investors. I met an indigenous filmmaker from Australia who’d just been presented a grant to finish her feature film about the untold story of Australia’s sugar slaves. I met a spirituality and grief counselor who talked to me about love, loss, and cocktails.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Coming out of my first weekend at Sundance, I realized I’d spent the previous 48 hours having the most stimulating and refreshing conversations I’d had in years, with women who are passionate about the same things I am. More than that, the women I spoke to were making, writing, funding, and even just seeing films that represented me in ways dozens of other films at the festival did not.
I also want to point out that women dominated Sundance this year, which will hopefully reflect a growing trend of more and more female voices in film.
The Oscars broke records by nominating six black actors this year (yay!), though no female directors were nominated, and no women were behind any of the “Best Picture” nominations. Bucking this trend, “Mudbound,” directed by Dee Rees, a woman of color, premiered to major acclaim at Sundance and is officially on the short list for a 2018 Oscar nomination. How cool would that be? Band-Aid, LA Times, Landline, Diedra and Laney Rob a Train, and Water and Power, were all directed by women and met with overwhelming critical success.
Going from movie to movie, party to party, I met women who looked up to these directors – female directors! – as idols. More than that, I met women who were actively working toward goals of premiering their own films at Sundance next year, or the year after, or the year after.
Women who had dreams, purposes, and plans — extraordinary women I look up to myself.
We marched together at the Sundance women’s march, and then, bonded in that sisterhood, spent the next several days finding ways to love and support each other personally, professionally, and creatively.
Days later, I feel seen, heard, and excited about the world I live in. Honestly, after the 2016 election, I didn’t expect to feel that way again for another four years.
This morning, I woke up to some messages from women I’d met and networked with — a few emails, a text, and a Facebook friend request. They were messages of kindness and support, coffee date invitations, questions asking if I made it home safe. I feel as though I’ve expanded my group of friends with people I admire and respect, and this makes me profoundly happy.
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Women have so much to contribute.
When society ignores their voices, it sacrifices insights that can change the world. By decidedly listening to those voices this week, my worldview is expanded and improved.
I have hope, and I’m ready to go to work.