N. Bird Runningwater – Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival
Published July 5, 2019
LOS ANGELES — N. Bird Runningwater, director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, has been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of the Members-at-Large Branch. Runningwater joins the 2019 class of 842 artists who have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures, which also includes Institute colleagues Paul Federbush and Brenda Coughlin.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the world’s preeminent movie related organization behind the Oscars. It is comprised of more than 8,000 accomplished men and women working in cinema. The Academy recognizes and upholds excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspires imagination, and connects the world through the medium of motion pictures.
Academy membership is limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically released motion pictures. The Academy has 17 branches for the crafts ranging from Actors to Writers, and two categories—Members-at-Large and Associates—to accommodate individuals who work in motion picture production but do not fit into one of the branches.
Runningwater received the news from his family’s home on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, where he is attending his tribe’s summer ceremonies. “The most humbling part of hearing this wonderful news is that I’m home on my ancestral lands with my Mescalero people and relatives,” said Runningwater. “I’m very grateful to the Academy and thrilled to join the ranks of other stellar peers and colleagues, who make up the Academy.”
Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribes and was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Since 2001, he has carried out the mandate of Sundance Institute Founder Robert Redford getting the films of Native American and Indigenous filmmakers made and seen. Based in Los Angeles, California, Runningwater serves as the Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program overseeing the Native Filmmakers Lab, the Native Producers Fellowship, and the Sundance Film Festival’s Native Forum. He was recently appointed to co-lead the Institute’s Outreach and Inclusion work across all programs.
Highly sought after for his expertise and knowledge, Runningwater has led workshops and been featured on panels ranging from the Sundance Film Festival’s “From Oral Tradition to the Screen: Indigenous Screenwriting” to “A Conversation with Merata Mita” at the MessageSticks Film Festival held at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He was a panelist at the Raising Voices Conference hosted by the Hubert Bals Fund at the Rotterdam Film Festival in the Netherlands, exploring training programs that will stimulate the next generation of culturally distinctive and authentic filmmaking voices. And, he has been featured as the Opening Keynote Speaker at the Indigenous Film Conference hosted by the Sami International Film Centre in Kautokeino, Norway.
Runningwater currently serves on the Comcast/NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Council and the Boards of Directors of the First Peoples Fund, IllumiNative and the Arctic Indigenous Film Fund. He is a past
member of the Board of Jurors for the George Foster Peabody Awards, and was honored recently as a Distinguished Alumni of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Arts and Sciences.
Runningwater has served on competition juries for film festivals such as the Berlin International Film Festival (Germany), São Paolo International Film Festival (Brazil), Sydney Film Festival (Australia), Guanajuato International Film Festival (Mexico) and Cinemalaya Film Festival (Philippines). Most recently he was featured in Time Magazine’s 2019 Optimist Issue, guest-edited by Ava DuVernay, as one of “12 Leaders Who Are Shaping the Next Generation of Artists.”
Runningwater has identified, developed and gotten made and distributed 37 films written, directed and produced by Native American and Indigenous filmmakers. Under Runningwater’s tenure at Sundance Institute, 140 different Indigenous filmmakers have been identified and supported by the organization. More than 120 films, written, directed and produced by Indigenous filmmakers have been curated by Runningwater to premiere at Sundance Film Festival.
Over the past 10 years alone, Sundance Institute has welcomed through its programs nearly 90 different Indigenous nations and tribes from around the world. Of all these filmmakers, ten have been invited to join the Academy: Sherman Alexie, Danis Goulet, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Alanis Obomsawin, Diane Obomsawin, Rachel Perkins, Heather Rae, Ivan Sen, Warwick Thornton and Taika Waititi.