(l-r) Taylor Bennett-Begaye, Devin Weekley-Dean, Jhane Meyers, Native Program Manager Bird Runningwater, Megan Babbit, Shaandiin Tome, and Time Warner Fellow Holly Nordlum)
When she started college, Taylor Bennett-Begaye never imagined herself as a filmmaker. Now she has a foot in the business before even graduating after earning this year’s Full Circle Fellowship with the Sundance Institute.
The annual award and year-long mentorship program recognizes four promising young Native Americans in the film industry.
“I never saw myself getting into film,” says Bennett-Begaye, a senior Graphic Design major at Fort Lewis College. “But I love movies.”
Bennett-Begaye first ventured into film through her graphic design work with Survival of the First Voices, a festival focused on native youth, arts, and media, founded by her sister, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye (Athletic Training, '12). After managers of Sundance Institute’s Native American & Indigenous Film Program attended the festival, they encouraged her to apply for the fellowship.
Bennett-Begaye admits to being stunned at the acceptance, but also motivated by the honor. “All the other fellows are going to school for film,” she says. “I didn’t really know what a graphic designer does in film. But I figured, I’ll find my niche.”
Her opportunity to forge her own path began in January, with the first event in the fellowship: attending the Sundance Film Festival’s Native Forum in Park City, Utah.
Throughout the year, the Full Circle Fellowship Program will also send Bennett-Begaye to other film festivals. She will also assist with various film projects supported by the Sundance Institute’s Native program around the country.
After attending Sundance, Bennett-Begaye says she is already discovering ways she can incorporate graphic design into a film career. “Production design is like an overall view of a production,” she says. “So costumes, illustrations, sets, making it look realistic. That’s what I really want to go into.”
But even if she’s getting a better understanding of the many options open to her in filmmaking through the Full Circle Fellowship, one thing Bennett-Begaye is set on is her goal in filmmaking: to preserve her Diné culture.
“I see it disappearing in my own nieces and nephews, my family younger than me,” she says. “When I was younger, my sister and I were also ashamed of our culture in a way. But now, being at Fort Lewis has opened us to many different experiences. We can be proud of where we come from.”
“Doing graphic design projects, I always try to tie in my Native American culture. I’m proud of it,” she says. “And once you get the right community around you, your passion can be something bigger than you think it is.”