An Unforgettable Experience at Sundance

UGFTV Student Maqui Gaona shares her experience as one of the Horizon Award winners for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival:

I pretty much started crying immediately. I had made this film where a lot of people I really cared about believed in me- many of my friends and family donated, skipped classes, pulled all nighters, and transformed into the role of my therapists as I sought to navigate my first budgeted film that also happened to be really personal to me. I had started to submit it into festivals and didn't get the responses I had hoped for and began to feel full of doubt. My high school film teacher continued to believe in me though and insisted I submit to this opportunity known as the Horizon Award. Late at night, several months after I had submitted I received a phone call and on the other line was Cassian Elwes, producer of Dallas Buyers Club, and also my soon to be film Angel. I couldn't help but break out in tears on the phone as I felt noticed and like the stories I had to tell actually mattered. He said that he had seen my film, Channel 999 and Channel 1000, and now wanted to invite me to Sundance along with a couple of other young female filmmakers and that he wanted to mentor us a long the way with Christine Vachon (producer of Carol) and Lynette Howell (producer of Blue Valentine). I actually couldn't sleep the first three days of being in Park City. I laid awake in disbelief and in shock of where I was and why. Cassian had also chosen to bring a fierce woman from Arizona named Shanice, and two other lovely Canadian co-directors Juliette and Florence. These women were incredibly strong and kind and we would now endure this crazy whirlwind together. Cassian was also accompanied by his incredibly helpful co-worker Evan, a sweet and friendly artist named Susan, and two brilliantly talented screenwriters known as Terrell and Kristina who had been chosen as Blacklist Fellows. We explored snowy Utah, attended screenings, premiers, after-parties, networking events, panels, and each day proved itself to be an invigorating adventure. Cassian truly cared about our visions and about the fact that female filmmakers were struggling to have their voices heard. Each day felt like a dream for all of us and an enormous opportunity to learn from those we had met along the way and their passions. Cassian started each day with all of us, a warm and cozy breakfast, we would all sit around the table and share our fears, insecurities, and dreams about the stories we had to tell and the obstacles we face. Cassian answered all of our questions and welcomed each of us into his world of producing, networking and activism. He was an amazing storyteller and was always guiding us throughout the events as we met agents, producers, writers, directors, and the Sundance staff. From shopping with him at Walmart, getting life lessons from Christine Vachon, spending the day with Lynette Howell, being silly with Chloe Sevigny, seeing our films in Park City, dancing to the amazing Erykah Badu, and handing Hollywood reporter photographer Jeff Vespa my disposable camera to take our photo- each moment and in-between will forever be crystalized in my heart and will continue to ignite me and the work I have left to do as female filmmaker. I cannot thank Cassian, Susan, Evan, Lynette, Christine, Kristina, Shanice, Terrell, Juliette, Florence, Will Underwood, my family, my friends, my teachers, and my cast and crew enough for believing in me and for continuing to inspire me.

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