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Long-time Sundance Institute executive Bird Runningwater is headed to Amazon.
Runningwater has signed a first-look TV and film deal with Amazon Studios. Under the deal, he’ll develop and produce projects with a focus on bringing Indigenous voices to the tech giant’s Prime Video subscribers.
“I’m excited to partner with Amazon Studios TV to produce Indigenous stories, building on my 20 years of bringing Indigenous voices to screens while at Sundance Institute,” said Runningwater.
The Indigenous community is experiencing a significant moment — having our stories presented to American audiences — and I’m excited to partner with Amazon to make this moment a lasting cultural shift in our industry, and to serve audiences worldwide.”
Runningwater served as director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous, DEI and Artist Programs for the past 20 years. He left the institute last week, hinting at his new direction in a farewell letter published in The Hollywood Reporter: “I feel it is time for me to leave the Institute to produce my own projects. I will join our storytelling community in a new role, giving more weight to our endeavor to tell stories from our own perspectives and in our own words, which are finally being presented across screens in the U.S. and around the world.”
“For over two decades, Bird Runningwater has been a relentless source of knowledge and advocacy for more racial and cultural diversity in television and film,” said Vernon Sanders, co-head of television at Amazon Studios. “Bird’s lived experience and deep commitment to Indigenous representation will only enrich the content he produces, and we are elated and immensely lucky to be working with him.”
During his time at Sundance, Runningwater mentored more than 150 Indigenous filmmakers through the institute’s grants, labs and fellowships. He also curated some 119 movies written, produced and directed by Indigenous people that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He was recently appointed to the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress.
Runningwater is currently a co-executive producer of Sovereign, a drama about a Native American family from Warner Bros. TV and Ava DuVernay’s Array Filmworks that’s in development at NBC. That project predates his Amazon deal.
“During my 20 years at the Sundance Institute, I’ve tried to imbue my work with inflections of my own Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache cultures,” Runningwater wrote in his farewell letter to Sundance. “I saw the work of supporting Indigenous artists as a ceremony of transitioning storytellers into their full potential, much like my Mescalero community does when we ritually sing our young women into womanhood and into our matriarchy. I’ve always believed our artists needed a culturally grounded support model in order for their stories to become their strongest and to make the long journey to the screen. It seems to have worked, launching so many careers and creating a body of work that previously didn’t exist.”
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