2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: WORDS FROM A BEAR

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jeffrey Palmer

Jeffrey Palmer explores the work and influence of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, N Scott Momaday.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgments of Native American literature and the vibrant contemporary culture it described. Now, Momaday’s transportive words come to life in this cinematic biography of one of the most celebrated Native American storytellers.

In Jeffrey Palmer’s directorial debut, distinctly expressive animations intersect with stunning footage of the Great Plains as Momaday draws from his Kiowa ancestry and identity to pose universal questions about how we connect to our origins, each other, and the earth. In a series of intimate interviews, Momaday expounds on his life and its many challenges, while insights from the likes of Joy Harjo, Robert Redford, and Jeff and Beau Bridges reveal the impact of his literary contributions. WORDS FROM A BEAR reveals the inspiring beauty of Momaday’s work while also guiding audiences through the grave historical struggles that Native American communities have faced. The result is a profound celebration of not only Momaday’s writing and history but also the art of storytelling itself.

Some Background:

  • Jeffrey Palmer
    Past Sundance docs:

    ISABELLE’S GARDEN (2015, short)

    Palmer previously has been a Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program fellow and participated in the Creative Producing Summit. He is an assistant professor of film at Syracuse University, and previously taught at the University of Central Oklahoma.


  • Youngsun Palmer
    Past Sundance docs:


    Palmer has directed several short films and shot and cut ISABELLE’S GARDEN. Jeffrey Palmer is her husband.

Associate Producers:

  • Jhane Myers

    Myers was a Sundance Institute | Time Warner Foundation Storyteller fellow for this project. In addition to producing films, she has served as a Native American cultural advisor, dialect coach, and community engagement liaison for other film projects, including Sundance fiction feature WIND RIVER.

  • Desiree Hill

    Hill is an assistant professor at University of Central Oklahoma, focusing on journalism, media, and production. She has a background producing for public television.

Supervising Producer/Editor:

  • Nancy Novack

    Novack is an Emmy-winning editor who has cut many docs for American Masters, American Experience, and HBO. She previously cut the Sundance fiction feature DROP BACK TEN.

Supervising Producer:

  • Sally Rosenthal

    This is the first Sundance credit for American Masters’ Emmy-winning Rosenthal. She most recently produced SAMMY DAVIS JR: I’VE GOTTA BE ME.

Executive Producers:

Why You Should Watch:
Palmer celebrates Momaday’s literary achievements, using beautiful animation and the author’s own distinct voice to bring his decades of stories to life for viewers. Like Momaday’s work, this portrait reaches beyond the individual to connect with the larger story of the place of Native Americans in US society as a whole.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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