ASU Online film and media studies student awarded Sundance fellowship
It takes a couple of weeks to arrange an interview with Miciana Hutcherson.
She’s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working on the set of a film titled "Fancy Dance," and she’s busy day and night, weekdays and weekends.
The film, which Hutcherson co-wrote, is about a Native American woman living on the reservation whose sister goes missing. The woman then kidnaps her niece to try to keep their family together and out of state custody.
It is Hutcherson’s entry into the world of film, a world she has dreamed about since she was a little girl, a world that became possible because she Googled “online film programs” one day and read about the opportunities at Arizona State University.
“That’s what opened the door for me,” said Hutcherson, a senior who recently was awarded the Sundance Institute's Women of Sundance Adobe Fellowship. “ASU has been a huge blessing in my life.”
That door opened only because Hutcherson, who hopes to graduate in December, wanted what was beyond her grasp.
She grew up in Juneau, Alaska, a member of the Tlingit tribe. (Her Tlingit name is Aak’w Tu Shaa.) She hunted and fished and was a member of the All Nations Children Dance Group, but also spent a lot of time indoors and bored because, in Juneau, she said, “It rains like 300 days a year and snows the other 65.”
Hutcherson knew she wanted to see and experience what was beyond Juneau. Movies at the local theater became her aspiration, even if they were make-believe worlds spooled onto a screen.
“I was not a small-town person mentally, so going to the movies was the quickest way to escape,” Hutcherson said. “I could see the outside world, learn about other people and stimulate my imagination. And then once I found out that you could make it a career, I was sold.”
There was just one problem. Haskell Indian Nations University, where Hutcherson first attended college, did not have a film program. So after earning her bachelor’s degree in Indigenous and American Indian studies and needing an online program, she put Google to work.
Up popped ASU at the top of the search engine.
There’s good reason for that. ASU Online, which has 503 students enrolled this fall in the film and media studies online program, has consistently been ranked by websites like careersinfilm.com, bestcolleges.com and educationplanetonline.com as one of the top five places to get an online film degree.
“I wasn’t in a position where I could go to a physical college and commit to being there every day and doing that for four years, and ASU’s degree seemed really flexible and really accessible to someone who is working on the side doing these other things. And it’s really worked out that way,” Hutcherson said.
In 2018, Hutcherson participated in the Department of English’s Sundance Film Festival internship, and the relationships she made there encouraged her to apply for the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program Fellowship. That experience led to the Adobe Fellowship.
“Access provides opportunity,” said Kevin Sandler, an associate professor in the film and media studies program and the internship coordinator. “It increases the chance that you can make something out of it, especially if you are talented and have gumption, charisma and drive.”
The Women of Sundance Adobe Fellowship awards all eight fellows mentorship, skill-building workshops, coaching, introductions to industry contacts, referrals to career development opportunities and a $6,250 cash grant.
It also provided Hutcherson a treasured support group.
“Some of the women in the program are producers, some are writers, some are directors, some are all three,” Hutcherson said. “So it’s really a way for us to learn from each other.
“Film is a male-dominated field. At times, you feel as a woman like you’re alone in the void, so to have this fellowship where other people are feeling the same way as me, they’re going through these same creative struggles and coming from a similar point of view is really important. It feels like we’re the ones that are creating more space for those filmmakers that are coming up behind us.”
In addition to "Fancy Dance," Hutcherson has written "Nancy’s Girl," which led to her acceptance into Sundance’s Indigenous Program. "Nancy’s Girl" is about a young woman whose dream of living in Los Angeles crumbles, and she’s forced to move back home and live with her mom in a small town.
Both "Nancy’s Girl" and "Fancy Dance" draw from Hutcherson’s life.
“You don’t see women in film depicted in a way that feels like it honors women as 360-degree, fully dimensional, fully fleshed characters,” Hutcherson said. “They’re always falling into a category of like the siren or the angry chick or all these sorts of things.
“So, I’m really drawn to stories of women who are able to explore all of their emotions and share all of who they are, because those are the women that I was raised by. I was raised by a single mom. My mom was raised by a single mom. I come from this long line of women who had to be all these different things. That’s something that really speaks to me.”
Hutcherson has achieved her first dream. The life she envisioned outside Juneau has come true. But now she has another dream, and this one, ironically, has her returning home and opening up a production studio in Alaska.
“It’s really hard to film up there,” Hutcherson said. “But it is so rich in stories and characters that the world hasn’t seen or had access to. I really want to give back to my community in that way.”