An Ode to Sundance

Sundance, a dream I defined within my reality that greatly surpassed my imagination. I attended the festival as a volunteer from 2013–2019 and it made me excited for winter each year. Those positive feelings toward the cold were previously non-existent.

With events moving into the virtual space, it does save on the cost of travel and accommodations, so I am not against it. However, as the FOMO has subsided after not attending the last live fest in 2020, I can look back fondly on the magical experiences that unfolded and all that I learned, and how I grew from my annual week in picturesque Park City, Utah.

I love the Sundance Institute and what it stands for. It fills me with pride to have been involved over the years. The culture that has been cultivated since 1978 is liberal, progressive, and consistently supportive of the evolution of film, art, and society. Unlike other media festivals I have worked on or attended over the years, Sundance holds that optimal balance between being star-studded and approachable. It lacks stuffiness in its nature, and it has set the standard for indie films, along with the growth of that niche within the film market.

Every year as I descended upon the snow-capped mountains, I felt like it was my time. Depending on what had happened my year prior, my brain would be clouded with different lessons to learn, but with Sundance being that break, it reminded me of my capabilities, surrounded me with inspiration, and made me feel like I was in the right place. I would have an inspirational week that fuelled me for the months that followed. I have countless stories of running into actors, directors, and media executives alike at parties, premieres, or on the shuttle bus. Everyone attending is excited but casually cool about it. It’s a highly amplified networking space, with lots of brands pouring money in from different brands. Though still a breeding ground for business deals, there is this art-driven purity that leads to integrity. The backbone of the festival has always been supporting the filmmakers.

I felt at home once I was integrated into my volunteer role and I was welcomed into an amazing group of friends, meeting new gems along the way. It was this really lovely balance of professional and personal peace. I was exhausted and ready to leave by the end of it, of course, but even the moments of houghing it to catch my connecting flights through the airports, I felt this inner calm. Best put, Sundance was my reflection of idealism. It often brought realism to my dreams and encapsulated that knowledge of what I could achieve. It reminded me of my creative drive, empathy, and to toot my own horn, my excellent networking skills. Some of my best experiences in life thus far transpired at Sundance, talking to people about a slice of their life. There was always an authenticity against the backdrop of a world-renowned film festival, and I am so grateful for the connections made over the years.

With Sundance, its history, and ties, I can recall moments that were greatly reflective of the darker side of the world. Many movies over the latter years I saw told stories of extensive racism, often hard to stomach in my sensitivity. I saw Al Gore speak to global warming at the premiere of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, I was directly behind Kevin Bacon at a Woman’s March, thus being only 1 degree away from him. With the evolution of the Me Too movement, that directly connected Sundance, I can recall specific times of being at house parties or gifting lounges with different celebrities whom I felt almost a resistance to approaching, only to have their traumatic stories revealed years later. It was that understanding of energy in those definitive moments that only now do I fully comprehend.

On the flip side of that darkness, to have also seen the meteoric rise of talent from my early years attending reminds me of why I loved films so much since childhood. It’s a cool thing to know someone, even by proxy, know their struggles and the hard work they put in to see success, all on their terms. It is an enchanting juxtaposition, and Sundance is this launch board for such talent. It has also been a phenomenon to see my personal friends evolve and to see the great things they are achieving, no matter how great or small. I know people that make a difference in this world, and that’s pretty special.

Regardless of the issue, Sundance seemed to represent this rallying for humanity, with the films premiered and other events. The energy was always palpable and apt to change depending on the scenario. Those moments I experienced left me feeling deeply rooted in the human condition, only for years later to piece together the different times I embodied that feeling of empowerment against all odds. Perhaps it’s my introspective and intuitive nature, to begin with, but aside from the stories told on screen, I was privy to slices of life from other people over the years that affected me.

Sundance made me feel capable of achieving my professional goals. It made me realize the beauty in my unique imprint. It also connected me with so many like-minded people I felt akin to, from all walks of life. People who were often so well achieved and humble about it that you couldn’t help but use them as a source of inspiration and be taken aback to be worthy of being in their presence. I have often been in positions to interact with people I perceive as notable, and it’s an uplifting and humbling experience. We are, after all, all human. However, in my first year at the festival back in 2013, I was back-to-back with The Sundance Kid himself. To turn and to see who I had accidentally bumped into, that singular moment confirmed for me that anything and everything is possible. All it takes is passion and determination and figuring out where the hell you fit in this life.

Follow the pursuit of your purpose.

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Exploring the human condition through ego integration and leading from the heart. https://www.egoxless.com

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Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Exploring the human condition through ego integration and leading from the heart. https://www.egoxless.com

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