Sundance Institute announces Marja Bål Nango as 2021 fellow

Marja Bål Nango (Sami) Merata Mita Fellowship 2021 recipient
Sundance Film Festival

Fellowship honors contributions of late Māori filmmaker

Sundance Institute today announced Marja Bål Nango (Sámi) as the 2021 recipient of the Merata Mita Fellowship, an annual fellowship named in honor of the late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita (1942-2010). The announcement was delivered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s Native Forum Celebration by N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache), director of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work.

Sundance Institute selected Marja Bål Nango from a global pool of applicants, and will be awarded cash grants and a yearlong continuum of support with activities, including a participation in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, access to strategic and creative services throughout the year offered by the Institute’s artist programs, and ongoing mentorship opportunities.

Marja Bål Nango is a film director, screenwriter and producer. She has studied directing at Nordland College of Art and Film and producing at a collaborative program between International Sámi Film Institute and Sámi University. She wrote, directed and produced the short film “Hilbes biigá,” which has screened at nearly 30 film festivals, and won the UR Award for Best Film at the Uppsala Int Film Festival, and the Skårungen-award at Tromsø International Film Festival. Her latest short film, “The Tongues,” follows a woman’s psychological aftermath as she fights for spiritual survival after being raped in a snowstorm on a mountain. The film has been a success worldwide, winning four awards, three of them at Oscar® Qualifying Film Festivals. Marja and co-writer Ingir Bål are now developing their first feature film together, “I love my Reindeerherder.” 

“This annual fellowship celebrates and honors the immense artistic contributions and memory of our beloved Sundance Institute colleague and friend Merata Mita, who was a mother, an activist, a documentarian and the first Indigenous woman to solely write, direct, and produce a dramatic feature film,” said Runningwater. “The fellowship is a testament to her influence on our global commitment to supporting Indigenous artists, which we see as even more important especially during these most challenging of times.” 

“The selection of Marja Bål Nango as the 2021 recipient reflects everything that Merata possessed during her life — unparalleled talent, keen artistic vision, and lifelong creative and artistic passion for her film work,” said Runningwater.

Merata Mita (Ngāi Te Rangi/Ngāti Pikiao) served as an advisor and artistic director of the Sundance Institute Native Lab from 2000 to 2009, where she championed emerging Indigenous talent who have gone on to have impactful careers, such as Sterlin Harjo (Creek/Seminole Nations), Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Inupiaq); Sydney Freeland (Navajo), and Taika Waititi (Te Whanau a Apanui).

The Merata Mita Fellowship is supported by the New Zealand Film Commission, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, and an anonymous donor.

The Indigenous Program champions Indigenous independent storytelling artists through residency Labs, Fellowships, public programming, and a year-round continuum of creative, financial, and tactical support. The Program conducts outreach and education to identify a new generation of Indigenous voices, connecting them with opportunities to develop their storytelling projects, and bringing them and their work back to Indigenous lands. At its core, the Program seeks to inspire self-determination among Indigenous filmmakers and communities by centering Indigenous people in telling their own stories.

The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, WarnerMedia, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Nia Tero Foundation, Indigenous Screen Office, SAGindie, New Zealand Film Commission, Jenifer and Jeffrey Westphal, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, Chris Fisher, and an anonymous donor.

 The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. sundance.org/festival

As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theater, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. 

The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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