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“I’m Talking Emotional Tension in the Room”: Taietsarón:sere “Tai” Leclaire on Sundance Native Lab 2022

Sundance Native Lab 2022 fellow Taietsarón:sere “Tai” LeclaireSundance Native Lab 2022 fellow Taietsarón:sere “Tai” Leclaire

With the Sundance Native Lab having returned to a (hybrid) in-person model for the first time in two years, Filmmaker asked 2022 fellows to reflect on their recent experiences through short diary entries. Read the rest of the 2022 cohort’s responses

After a week of online Zoom meetings and activities, it was finally time to fly to Santa Fe for our in-person portion of the Native Lab. My first time traveling in ages. One of the rare flights during the end of the pandemic. As soon as I got to the gate, I immediately recognize two other people going to the lab and the bond is immediate. It’s the one thing not in any of the brochures—explaining just how quickly and powerful of a connection you create with the other filmmakers, writers, mentors and program workers. Five minutes into chatting, we already have a game plan on how to save seats near each other on the plane. This experience doubled in size when we landed in Albuquerque and met with an even larger portion of the group. We shared stories, showed beadwork we brought with us and laughed the entirety of the way to Santa Fe.

The program itself during the week started and went on without any bumps. We started  our mornings with a group table read of someones script, then spent an afternoon screening of one of the mentors films at a local theater, had mentor one-on-one interviews and then the always amazing group dinner. The dinners were the places with the richest conversations, especially day after day of wild amounts of inspiration. It was a wonderful moment of reflection on the mountains of creative work that was happening.

The most surprising thing to me personally, and most shocking of the lab, is that we weren’t allowed to work on our projects that we submitted for the entirety of the two weeks that the lab took place. At first this terrified me, because naturally I always want to present everyone with my latest and greatest draft. The idea of letting my words sit still for two weeks was going to be wildly uncomfortable. How was I going to expand the story if I don’t have access to the story?

It turns out, not being able to work on my project during the lab was the single most useful piece of advice I got while we were all together. It really helped me to understand that sometimes the best way to make good work is to step back from it for a little while. To let it breathe and let your mind wander in other directions. To be fully present. Now, while I wasn’t allowed to work directly on the script, I was rewarded with many moments of clarity and clear inspiration that I hastily noted down on my Notion app.

All of these workshops and readings led to our final event, our writing workshop with Joan Tewkesbury. It. Was. Intense. I’m talking emotional tension in the room. It was perfect. Joan challenged us in ways I haven’t been challenged in a very long time. She really ingrained in us how important it is to understand every single aspect of our characters lives, because it turns out in the process of doing this, you’ll also discover more about yourself.

Now I was very frustrated during the workshop, not at Joan, but with myself. I really struggled to answer some of the tasks we were asked. But I’m working on it! (I promise, Joan!) We ended the week with a day off. A wonderful moment when we could all go explore the city, meet locals and just get more precious time together. I also dropped some dollars at the Christmas Store, but that’s on me.

The Native Lab at Sundance was the single most validating experience in relation to seeing myself as a filmmaker and storyteller. I was creatively challenged, inspired, and given the space to reflect on the aspects of myself that help make my stories unique. Despite already having a foot in the door professionally, Sundance was able to further assist in pointing me in the right direction of where I can take my career next. They really did champion the self and facilitated a creative incubator to let our ideas flow. I’m so proud and consider myself wildly fortunate to have been a part of this program.

Follow Taietsarón:sere “Tai” Leclaire @tai_leclaire on Twitter and Instagram

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