Cornell students explore opportunities in film at Sundance

Doctoral student Nia Whitmal has been working on documentary films with the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem since 2023. Her trip to the Sundance Film Festival with the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA) this January helped her see another side of film production. 

“I got to meet Theda Hammel, director of “Stress Positions,” which was at Sundance, starring John Early,” Whitmal shares.  For one evening of the festival, Whitmal and Early watched documentaries until past midnight, and then talked. She and other Cornellians spent lots of time at a local steakhouse with Cornellians working in the film industry. Sundance also gave Whitmal the chance to meet with her friend Tarek Ziad, another actor in this film.

Whitmal and other Cornell students traveled to Sundance on a trip led by Kristen Warner, associate professor in PMA, who wanted to introduce her students to all sides of the film industry. “Part of my interest as a film and TV scholar is thinking about industry - part of the work in this festival is that films are being bought and sold at the festival,” Warner said. “Park City becomes a global business hub for the film industry for a temporary time each year.” 

And since Whitmal’s doctoral research focuses on socioeconomic community issues in Harlem, she was able to view two documentaries that reference Harlem,” Soundtrack of the Coup-d’État,” which documents global politics and the impact of jazz, and “As We Speak,” which spotlights the art-making spaces in inner-cities.

The Sundance Film Festival is unique for its focus on independent films, and also because it is one of the only film festivals where directors are actually selling their films at the festival. Students, including Whitmal and Liv Licursi, ‘25, who studies theater, got an inside look at the film industry and the people who make it happen. 

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		Students sit at table in restaurant under bright lights.