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Sundance Women Directors: Meet Sydney Freeland

Indiewire By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood January 22, 2014 at 1:00PM

"I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation, and growing up I never felt like I saw the people and places that I knew represented on film. On a really basic level, I just wanted to tell a story about those people that I knew and give them a chance to be represented on film."
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Still from "Drunktown's Finest"
Still from "Drunktown's Finest"

Drunktown's Finest is Sydney Freeland's feature film debut and her response to a news story that characterized her hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, as "Drunktown, USA." She has worked for a number of organizations, including the Food Network, Comedy Central, the National Geographic Society, PBS, and Walt Disney. She is a 2004 Fulbright scholar and has an MFA in film and a BFA in computer animation.

Drunktown's Finest debuted at Sundance on January 18th.

Please give us your description of the film.

Drunktown's Finest is a coming of age story of three Native Americans growing up on a reservation: a rebellious father-to-be, a promiscuous transsexual, and an adopted Christian girl. 

What made you write this story?


I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation, and growing up I never felt like I saw the people and places that I knew represented on film. On a really basic level, I just wanted to tell a story about those people that I knew and give them a chance to be represented on film.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Finding funding was a big challenge for us. Fortunately, I had two amazing producers in Chad Burris and Mateo Frazier. They were able to secure funding and we were able to shoot this past summer in New Mexico. 

What advice do you have for other female directors?

I think I sometimes have a tendency to try and please everyone. One valuable thing I learned after going through the labs was the idea of making the movie you want to see. If you can do that, all the other stuff will sort itself out.


What's the biggest misconception about you and your work? 

On a broader level, I feel like there are some misconceptions about Native Americans. Like, we are all drunks, we are all looking for government handouts, etc. One of my goals with this film was to show that, while these issues do exist, there are a lot of other people who are doing just the opposite.


Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

Personally, I think things like the Internet and VOD are a big opportunity. Everyone is now able to tell their story and because of this, you need to stand out. I think the way you do this is by telling a really good story. I think this gives truly original content a chance to succeed.


Name your favorite women directed film and why. 

Off the top of my head, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. I was so tense during the last act of that film. I love when a movie is able to get that type of a deep reaction from me. 


This article is related to: Drunktown's Finest, Interviews, Sydney Freeland, Women Directors, Sundance Film Festival, Film Festivals, Diversity