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Road to Sundance: An Interview with Festival Co-Founder Cirina Catania

Editor’s Note: OWC will be attending the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of the festival, the Rocket Yard will share a series of articles related to all things filmmaking. Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Sundance co-founder, prolific filmmaker and long-time OWC customer Cirina Catania for a Q&A about Sundance beginnings, her use of OWC and current projects.

So, how exactly did Sundance first come about?
John Earl and I were working together on the Utah Film Commission in 1977 and our mandate was to attract filmmaking to the State. We were both friends with Sterling Van Wagenen, who was running Robert Redford’s film company, Wildwood, at the time. It seemed like a good idea! Sure, we can have a film festival! Little did we know how it would explode in the consciousness of other creatives and develop almost a life of its own.  I so admire those who work on the festival today, as they have an incredible job keeping it all together. So proud of them.

Would it have been hard for you to envision that it would evolve into what it has today?
We were so busy making our dreams come true, that we really weren’t thinking of the future. Creatives like us are always happy to share our lives with other like-minded folks and it was an incredible opportunity to meet what we were then calling “regional filmmakers,” those dedicated people who were making heartfelt projects using their own money, or borrowing from family and friends. And…wait a minute!  What has changed?) In those days, yes, before the Internet, they were hard to find at the time and we wanted to build a bridge between these artists who were isolated in their outlying areas of the country and “Hollywood.”

Cirina Catania pictured with Jimmy Stewart (second from left).

How exactly has it changed since the late 70s?
When Sundance (called the Utah/US Film Festival at the time) first started, it was designed to highlight only U.S. films and their creators. Since then, obviously, the scope has widened and it has become a worldwide festival. Our early emphasis was on the competition, the film restropectives, and workshops that would enlighten filmmakers.

Do you go back every year?
I don’t go every year, because my own film career keeps me traveling all over the world and, as happens this year, I am often tied up either in production or post on my own projects. But there is always a sense of longing, nostalgia and desire to see my “friends” who are there!

When you do go, what do you most look forward to?
I am driven to see movies and love being able to lose myself on that screen and in those stories. We are storytellers, are we not? For me, watching films is, in part, about the amazing work that others are able to accomplish. I love their stories. Being around other filmmakers renews my sense of purpose, inspires me to keep going and lets me know that there are so many others like me out there. Independent filmmaking is the most amazing career in the world, but it is sometimes a challenging and solitary venture. Particularly those of us who make documentaries. Sure, if you’re on the set on location with 400 others, it is hard work but it is also a temporary tight-knit community. When I’m traveling in the field by myself gathering images and interviews, or filming wildlife, it can be a solitary venture. I love being alone with my stories, but I also love being around my friends.

Why is it important for hardware companies such as OWC to align with Sundance? How important is reliable storage to filmmakers like yourself?
OWC is the most amazing company. The people who run it from Larry O’Connor and Jennifer Soulé, to all the supporting divisions are so committed to providing lightning-fast technology and reliable services. Their equipment, for many years, has helped me produce my work, but also help keeps me organized. If you ever have a problem, you can call their customer service and you get a real human being on the line. They stand by their products and resolve issues for us easily and quickly.

What are some of your current projects that you are excited about?
I am in post-production on a documentary about a wounded Marine, Kionte Storey, that I am so excited about. Meeting Kionte changed my life. He is one of the most positive, stoic and brave people I know, and when times get tough for me and I’m complaining, he’ll say, “Hey, Cirina, it’s all good.”  Kionte lost a leg and suffered major injuries, but, despite his struggles with PTSD and depression, moves through it. He is driven by a desire to use his experiences to help others.

The investigative docu-series I’m working on is about farmers and ranchers in this country as they face challenges from the government and private industry to maintain their industry alive so they can produce food for us even when their property, their water, and their families are under siege. I’ve been following these issues for ten years and the current political climate provides an opportunity to bring this to light.

And I have a short film about Chuck Caldwell, a ninety-year old Marine veteran who is also an amazing artist. He survived the battles on Tarawa and created journal entries using his drawings to document what he saw happening. Chuck remembers everything and, for the first time, has given a video interview to talk about it.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it! If I had listened to the naysayers, I would never have had the courage to help start Sundance, I never would have moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams and I would not have had this most amazing life! You don’t have to watch other people’s work to know what is in your heart. Just go out there and listen to your own voice. Make movies, make music videos, paint, write incredible stories, perform, write songs…whatever your heart desires.  And, perhaps most importantly, share it all with the world. You were given those talents for a great purpose.

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