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True Brit
Filmmaker Brit Fryer ’15 adjusts his video camera

True Brit

by Thomas Rozwadowski

Photographer: David Ellis

Filmmaking helped Brit Fryer ’15 find his voice. Thanks to a Sundance Film Festival Fellowship, that voice is getting heard.

Fun in the Sun

Brit Fryer ’15 wasn’t going to waste his time passing out business cards while he was at the Sundance Film Festival. He was there to watch movies.

Fryer was one of 15 young filmmakers chosen for the 2016 Sundance Ignite program, a yearlong fellowship aimed at fostering emerging voices in film. He lived with strangers, Real World–style, for a week while he was attending the Sundance Institute’s signature festival in Park City, Utah — a career-launching celebration of independent filmmaking started by Robert Redford in 1985.

“A couple of other fellows told me, ‘Oh, I only got around to watching two movies. I was busy networking,’ ” Fryer says, incredulously. “What? We’ve been here for seven days! This is a movie festival!”

In addition to round-the-clock screenings, Ignite fellows enjoyed plenty of VIP perks at the January gala: dinner with filmmaking mentors, exclusive Q&As with directors, and information sessions on everything from pitching proposals to raising funds via Kickstarter. During his week at Sundance, Fryer mingled with Redford, Kevin Smith, and Lena Dunham, among others.

Ignite learned about Fryer through the St. Paul Independent Filmmaker Project, where he volunteered while he was attending Carleton. A native of Chicago, Fryer was a cinema and media studies (CAMS) major. He submitted his comps project — an eight-minute short titled trans•ience — as part of the application process for the Ignite fellowship. The film impressed the judges, says Bethany Clarke, a Sundance program director.

“We could tell right away that Brit had an original voice. That’s important for us, because it’s something that Sundance champions as a whole,” says Clarke. “We’re not looking for just technical excellence. There has to be something in the stories our filmmakers are telling — and the way they’re telling those stories — that feels new and fresh, something we haven’t seen 100 times already.”

From Concept to Reality

Finding that fresh filmmaking voice took some time. While Fryer was interning in Boston before his senior year, he recorded phone conversations with his mom, largely out of boredom and loneliness. Those doubt-filled recordings would give trans•ience its unique framework, though Fryer didn’t know immediately what purpose they served.

Instead, Fryer’s short film started as a single scene about a boy having a breakthrough conversation with a girl he meets at the airport. But, as he continued to refine trans•ience with CAMS professor and his comps adviser Carol Donelan, Fryer realized the film was avoiding its real autobiographical aim.

It’s more about a crisis of self, and thinking through ‘Is this who I am?’ I don’t think there are enough movies that look at process rather than the result.

“Here I was writing this giant metaphor about coming out as transgender, and I didn’t realize it,” Fryer says. “And then Carol was like, ‘What are you actually trying to say here?’ I didn’t understand how it was about me yet. It’s more about a crisis of self, and thinking through ‘Is this who I am?’ I don’t think there are enough movies that look at process rather than the result.”

The response to trans•ience at Sundance, and from strangers who saw the film online after a Buzzfeed feature on Fryer, continues to floor him. He never imagined that anyone outside of his close friends and Carleton professors would view his film. And he definitely didn’t think anyone would relate to it.

“I just figured that the people who knew me would see it and say, ‘Oh, Brit is so self-involved. He literally made a movie about himself because he’s too much,’ ” says Fryer, laughing. “But it showed me that my work can have unintended universality. It’s not a movie about a black trans person.”

Facing the Future

Away from the spotlight of Sundance, Fryer is busy honing his craft in Minneapolis. He doesn’t have a full-time job, instead opting for several part-time gigs in order to maintain scheduling flexibility. This spring, Fryer began shooting a documentary about the overpolicing of African American youth on the city’s north side. He is financing the work with a grant from grassroots nonprofit Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. Fryer also is putting the final touches on IN, a short film about a sorority sister who is struggling to understand her sexuality. The film, shot in Northfield, stars several Carleton students.

His experience at Sundance continues to open doors. Clarke and other Sundance staff members check in regularly with Ignite fellows to help establish and maintain networking contacts and to invite them to other film festivals. And Fryer’s mentor, director Malik Vitthal (Imperial Dreams), is just a text or call away. Having the support of the filmmaking community has given Fryer the confidence to move to New York City later this year to be near other Ignite fellows.

At heart, Fryer is still an avid movie buff who would rather take his creative cues from the big screen. But thanks to Sundance, he finally feels like he’s earning the right to be called a filmmaker.

“Being part of Ignite has shown me the realities of the profession,” Fryer says. “I know when I should be applying to Sundance film labs, I know the kind of shorts I should be writing before I work up to a feature. I realize how long the process is now. I have to schedule this like it’s my job. Yeah, I don’t get paid for it, but if I don’t work on it, nothing is going to happen.”