A Sundance Experience – A recap from alumnus Tyler Rabinowitz

Wednesday Feb 15th, 2017


Blog > A Sundance Experience – A recap from alumnus Tyler Rabinowitz


Director of Alumni Programs Esther Park caught up with Kayla Briet (2016 Winner in Cinematic Arts) and Tyler Rabinowitz (2011 Winner in Cinematic Arts & U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts) at 2017 Sundance Film Festival.


Hi there! My name is Tyler Rabinowitz and I am a director, producer, writer, and educator. I’m a 2011 YoungArts Winner in Cinematic Arts, U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and now I’m a 2017 Sundance Ignite Fellow. Wow, that sounds surreal.

Rewind to when I was eighteen years old at YoungArts Week: it was one of the most transformational weeks of my life, and I left feeling validated that the long, uncertain, but thrilling journey towards a career in the arts was the road I needed to take. It was a critical juncture. Forgive me for the ridiculous metaphor (I reflect on YoungArts often and find myself always coming up with outrageous ways to explain my love for it), but if life is indeed a highway then it was as if I had pulled up to a tollbooth, and the clerk in the window took a look at me, saw into my soul, stepped out and gave me a huge hug, and sent me on my way while continuing to keep me in touch and also become one of my lifelong best friends.

And then I went on to go to NYU Tisch. While I was there, I soon found that, yes, this was the path I needed to take but once I arrived near my destination there was no certainty that anyone would indeed let me in. I had a professor who told us that the entertainment industry was like a castle. He said that the only way into the industry is a small window up at the top, and that the only way in is if someone opens it and pulls you up.

But I think the castle has been newly renovated. Now, the window isn’t the only entrance.

Fast forward to today, just a week after my first Sundance Film Festival where I kicked off the yearlong Sundance Ignite Fellowship: like YoungArts, this was one of the most transformational weeks of my life. Two years after graduating NYU, the post-grad purgatory could at times feel strange and uncertain, so close to breaking into the industry yet still so far. But this week was like a glorious gift box from IKEA showing up out of nowhere with all of the instructions and tools I needed to make my own door. There was no need for that castle window to open up — I could create my own door. And I could create my own door by continuing to create work and commit to my craft.

The Sundance Ignite experience was like movie magic: I couldn’t believe it was really happening and I had no idea how they were doing it. As if I had stepped into a dream, I found myself surrounded by some of the world’s most inspiring filmmakers, and genius mentors that have offered to help us navigate this mystifying journey from pipe dreaming to having a feature film in the pipeline.

One of the most magical moments was the premiere of This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous directed by the legendary Barbara Kopple. The film’s message about Gigi’s conservative father and his commitment to supporting her was so touching that when the film concluded and the father walked up onstage, he received an ecstatic standing ovation and tears of joy filled his eyes. The Sundance audiences moved me. They hang onto every word, every image, eager to go where the director wants them to.

This year, while you could feel the anxiety running rampant in the country looming just outside of the Sundance bubble, within it there was hope and resilience projected on every screen and woven through every conversation. I did my best to bottle that up and take it with me. Among the moments I’ll take with me is the quality time I had with YoungArts rock stars Sarah Arison, Esther Park, Lee Cohen Hare and fellow alumna Kayla Briet (2016 YoungArts Winner in Cinematic Arts and a 2016 Sundance Ignite Fellow) — what a beautiful thing to have two of the most influential experiences I’ve had as an artist come together like that. I had heard about Sundance for years from YoungArts Cinematic Arts chair Doug Blush, and it really was as special as he said it was.

The best part of the fellowship is that the magic doesn’t fade away after the festival. For the rest of the year I’ll be mentored by Lacey Schwartz as I work towards my career goals. We’re planning out how I can take a pitch I did during a workshop at the festival and turn it into a short, a screenplay, and a look book for a feature. I can’t wait to see where I am in a year from now with her support.
I had been living my life thinking that at some point someone might look down from that castle window and think I was ‘ready.’ Now, I understand that the waiting game is an illusion.

Over the next year, I’ll be directing/producing work that builds upon the way I’ve been using my camera as an extension of my efforts as an activist and ally. I’m thrilled to be headed to the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival as the co-producer of a short film The Mess He Made, directed by Matthew Puccini, about the fifteen minutes a gay man’s life hangs in the balance as he waits for the results of his HIV test. I look forward to bringing more necessary stories to the screen as I continue to tackle the question of, “What’s Next?”

P.S. You MUST check out the unbelievably talented goddess of an artist Amy León. Her story, her music, and her words will change your life. I am honored to have directed her music video for Burning in Birmingham, which was recognized by Sundance Ignite and Project 1324 in the “What’s Next?” Challenge. Support her in any way that you can!