Independent Film

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Twenty years ago, filmmaker Kimberly Peirce came to the 1997 Sundance Directors Lab to workshop her film Boys Don’t Cry. The film is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena—a trans man from the small town of Falls City, Idaho, portrayed by Hilary Swank—who adopts his male persona among an unaware new group of friends. As he tries to find love and acceptance in his newfound social circle, he begins a relationship with Lana Tisdel (played by Chloë Sevigny), who doesn’t know about his gender history. The intense story eventually culminates with the cruel and violent crimes committed against Brandon by two of his acquaintances. 

Director and writer Kimberly Peirce is pictured above at the Directors Lab at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Provo, Utah, working with actress Summer Phoenix (sister of River and Joaquin) as she workshops the script. Boys Don’t Cry was released two years after her time at the Directors Lab. In 2000, Swank took home both an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for her performance as Brandon, and Sevigny received nominations for both an Oscar and Golden Globe as well.


© 1997 Fred Hayes for Sundance Institute. Film stills courtesy of Boys Don’t Cry.

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I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn’t, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn’t realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea. Because it’s the halves that halve you in half. I didn’t know, don’t know, about the in-between bits; the gory bits of you, and the gory bits of me.

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Euzhan Palcy: Trailblazing black female filmmaker

After French West Indian filmmaker Euzhan Palcy’s debut film, Sugar Cane Alley, earned her France’s distinguished César Award for best first work in 1984, an impressed Robert Redford personally invited her to attend the 1985 Sundance Institute Filmmakers Lab (depicted in the above photos). There she workshopped her adaptation of the novel A Dry White Season, about South Africa’s then still-prevalent apartheid. A few years later MGM would produce the movie, making Palcy the first black female director to helm a major Hollywood studio title. Her dedication to an unrelentingly accurate portrayal of apartheid in the film drew Marlon Brando out of his self-imposed, years-long retirement to accept a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and made Palcy the first black director—male or female—to direct an Oscar-nominated performance.

Photos: © 1985 Roger Christiansen | Courtesy of the Sundance Institute Archives

Have I mentioned how incredibly fucking proud I am of this film? Because it’s everything I wanted it to be, everything I want in a movie that I’ve never seen before. It has moments that make me cheer, and nothing I dislike. Sorry for the egotism but damn it, I made a movie and it’s all I wanted it to be and more.

If you want a funny, cerebral movie about how people might actually act given superpowers, please check it out. It’s free on YouTube and Vimeo.