You guys—the coolest things happened during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. No, I did not meet Robert Redford (this time). I did not hang out with Zach Braff, or Kate Hudson. Instead, I got surprised by a film and some very cool up-and-coming talent—and inspired to push my own creative endeavors, further (more on that in another post). THIS is what Makes. My. Sundance. It’s the week when I have my choice of films that may never see a mainstream movie theater. And the week when I get to meet interesting producers and directors just standing in line. The week in which I always say, “Yes,” to interviewing an actor I’ve never heard of.
Enter, Shauna Baker, from a film called Drunktown’s Finest. Like Braff’s film, it was funded, in part by a Kickstarter campaign. Unlike Braff’s film, it was inspired by a story on ABC’s 20/20 that reported on Gallup, NM as “Drunktown, USA,” because of the high incidence of alcoholism and crime rooted in the nearby Navajo reservation. Filmmaker Sydney Freedland, who grew up on that reservation, made the film to highlight the struggles of coming of age in such challenging circumstances. Her presentation was artful—because while the circumstances these characters face may seem dire and hopeless, the overriding message is one of strength, resilience and community.
A few hours after screening the film, I met the Baker twins…
Shauna has a sister, Shannon, and they have built their careers together. The twins were born in the Stellat’en First Nation Reservation, as part of the Carrier Dene Tribe in British Columbia. I set out to get their perspective on why this is an important film—but I got a great chat on lots of topics, ranging from Cross-Fit (“You have to go to an all-women’s gym,” Shauna explained, in a no-nonsense manner. “It’s all about empowering each other. And you have to eat Paleo—which is basically how we grew up eating—or else you’ll bulk up.”) to building a successful acting career. (“I got my degree in business,” Shauna explains. “So from the start, I knew we’d have to treat this like a business.”)
These are women who can hunt and fish—and clean the animals they have killed—but cannot speak their tribe’s native language. “Our grandmother speaks it, but it’s a dying dialect,” explains Shauna. “She’s the one who insisted we go to college. It was a priority in our household.”
It’s that blend of tradition and modernity—an understanding of the value of both—that has led them where they are. “It was my dream to be in entertainment,” Shauna says. “But I didn’t know how to do it, and Shannon was the one who said, ‘Let’s do this, together,’ We can figure it out.”
I didn’t know how else to ask, so I just put it out there: Did their teamwork approach, the fact that they have each other, help them succeed in life “off the rez?”
Their answer was unequivocal—and practically in unison. “Without a doubt,” they said.
Interestingly, the interview could well have been for a business magazine, as the women detailed their strategy for creating their careers. Their story is equal parts bootstrapping discipline and adventurous moxie. “When we were first booking modeling jobs, we had a “business line” which was our only phone line,” Shauna says. “So when people called, they thought they were talking to our agent or an assistant, not us—it made negotiating our rates so much easier.”
Some modeling gigs followed, then an appearance on Tyra Banks’ talk show, a “fluke” of a role on Smallville—“And then I said, let’s try acting,” Shannon says, making it sound for all the world like a whim. It’s clearly anything but. “Being at Sundance just gives us the opportunity to be around talented people, to inspire us to work on our craft, more,” Shauna explains. “That’s what people don’t get—it’s not luck, it’s work, it’s dedication.”
So, tell me, when is the last time you were inspired to improve at something? What’s the “Sundance” in your life that gets your creativity flowing, your drive rebooted?