Sundance Film Festival is the Mecca of independent film. Every year, tens of thousands of attendees gather to celebrate and showcase new works produced by filmmakers worldwide. Despite UC Berkeley’s muted reputation in film, a large number of UC Berkeley alumni have been showcasing their work at Sundance for years — think George Takei, Chris Pine and John Cho.
In order to foster a tighter UC Berkeley alumni network in the entertainment industry, alumna Melanie Anne Padernal put a spotlight on UC Berkeley alumni and affiliate filmmakers who showcase their work at Sundance Film Festival through her web series “Cal at Sundance,” which she hosts and executive produces. Padernal is currently holding an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project, which ends Jan. 16.
The Daily Californian spoke with Padernal during a phone interview about the web series’s background, plans for the future and the value of the Berkeley community.
Padernal: In the Indiegogo (petition), I mentioned that two (UC Berkeley) alumni, Duc Pham and Jigar Mehta, were the ones who pioneered “Cal at Sundance.” I had met Duc (when) I was a student and he was an alumni, and he encouraged me to venture out into indie filmmaking because I was interested in entertainment. He kept on mentioning Sundance every year, and as a student at the time, I was like, “Okay, so there are all of these Cal alumni in the field that I want to go into — how do I even get in contact with them? How can I learn from these amazing Cal Bears?”
So I started interviewing a few people on campus — professor Philip Gotanda, who is at the theater department right now, and Tiffany Shlain, who was a commencement speaker for the 2011 graduation ceremony. This past year, 2014, with the support of friends and family and the Cal community, I was able to actually go to Sundance and conduct eight or nine interviews with Cal alumni in addition to celebrity interviews and Sundance panels. It’s really exciting, because even though it was such a bare-bones experiment from the very beginning, I feel like especially this year — because I brought on board more student team members in addition to young alumni — we’ve been able to get across more information on social media, so Cal filmmakers who are hearing about it are actually able to contact me now instead of having to do a ton of reach out to all of these press people.
For this year, we pushed for an IndieGoGo campaign because we want to involve more people, and we want to involve the Cal creative community. Even just from last year, every single person that I interviewed had their films picked up by larger studios, and many of them are in theaters right now. And I just think if more Cal people — students and alumni — just knew about this, we could foster a greater network and a community where we could all help each other. … Relationships are very important, and being able to find people who went to the same school and have the same mindset and goals to do well in filmmaking or to pursue filmmaking is such a blessing.
The Daily Californian: What does it take to organize this program on a yearly basis? How does it come together?
MP: That’s a very interesting question, because every single year, we’re starting to increase. In the very beginning, it was literally just me — I just got my camera and I contacted professor Gotanda and Tiffany Shlain and Cal alumni that I had met, and I was like, “Hey, can I do an interview with you?” So that’s what it was like the first year.
Then last year, the Cal Alumni Association was kind enough to help sponsor our press pass for Sundance — and they were able to do the same for this year, for 2015. So with that press pass credential, we were able to get more access and contact more alumni and interview more people. The past two years, I’ve just been reaching out to young Cal alumni and students who I met in school or who I know are working in the industry. Everyone who loves Berkeley loves Berkeley and wants to help each other out. And I don’t get any funding from UC Berkeley at all, so all of our funds rely solely on the people who donate to our project. … It’s the love of Berkeley — we all just want to help each other and support filmmakers. But it’s also because Berkeley, it’s an institution that really changes you, and I think this is our way of being able to give back and to help each other out.
DC: So, what are your goals, both in terms of fundraising and for the web series?
MP: Our goal for this year is to increase production quality and content, and to be able to secure more interviews by staying at Sundance longer.
For more information about Cal at Sundance, check out the Indiegogo campaign website here.
Contact Lindsay Choi at [email protected].
A previous version of this article misspelled Tiffany Shlain’s last name on second reference.