The Sundance Institute has two new fellowship winners.
On Saturday, during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the institute revealed the recipients of the Merata Mita Fellowship and the inaugural Graton Fellowship for Artists from California-based tribes.
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The Merata Mita Fellowship — an annual initiative named in honor of the late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita as a way to support Indigenous women-identified artists on the path towards making their first film — has been awarded to Libby Hakaraia. The Graton Fellowship, launched to support Indigenous artists from California-based tribes, will go to Tazbah Rose Chavez. Both were singled out during the Sundance Film Festival Native Forum Celebration presented by NBCUniversal Launch and Nia Tero at The Park venue on Saturday.
The event featured an opening blessing by Bart Powakee and the Red Spirit Singers from the Ute Tribal Nation and remarks from Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute board member Amy Redford, Nia Tero, Jeanne Mau of NBCUniversal and Indigenous Program director Adam Piron. Piron also announced five Native Lab fellows and acknowledged the seven Indigenous-made projects from around the world that are premiering at this week’s Sundance Film Festival.
“It feels incredibly meaningful to have Libby and Tazbah as the recipients for the Merata Mita and Graton Fellowships respectively this year. It’s also a bit of a spiritual homecoming too,” offered Piron. “Both are established artists with deep ties to their communities, the histories that these fellowships are rooted in, and we’re thrilled to be supporting their upcoming projects with these incredible opportunities.”
Hakaraia is an Indigenous storyteller with more than 30 years of experience as a director, writer and producer. She has produced Cousins and Kōkā. The fellowship, now in its ninth year, includes yearlong support with activities, including Sundance Film Festival attendance, access to strategic and creative services offered by Sundance Institute’s artist programs, a cash grant and mentorship opportunities.
Said Hakaraia: “With this support from the Sundance Institute, along with that of my mentors within the Indigenous filmmaking community, I intend to be bold and aim for new heights in storytelling. This fellowship will enable me to strengthen my skills, extend my networks, and grow my confidence — and prepare to helm a large-scale genre feature in 2024.”
The inaugural Graton fellow Chavez will receive a grant of $25,000, yearlong creative mentorship from Indigenous Program staff, access to creative and professional development opportunities and support to attend Sundance. The Graton Fellowship is made possible as part of a recently announced $4 million endowment from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the largest endowment gift in the nonprofit’s history.
Chavez is a performance poet turned TV writer and director from the Bishop Paiute Reservation. She is currently co-executive producer/episodic director on FX’s Reservation Dogs. She has worked on Syfy’s Resident Alien and Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, directed on Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, and is a writer-director on Fox’s new series Accused. She kicked off a Sundance journey as an intern as a college student for the Native and Indigenous Program.
Said Chavez: “This fellowship is vital because California is home to both the film industry and to the largest number of Tribal Nations in the country, and California Native perspectives are sorely missing from the cinematic landscape. The support from the Graton Fellowship comes at a fortuitous time, as I’m developing my first feature film.”
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