The Russians at Sundance

The Russians at Sundance

Just returning from Sundance, where a small group of us managed to create a liminal zone of unreality for visitors of the festival and find a producer and financier for our film! We made a big splash and it was one of the more magical experiences of my life.

We created a fictional storyline designed to hit at Sundance, going as Agitprop Film, the Russian Department of Agitation and Propaganda (who stole the 2016 election)'s new film division. Our job was to buy content for the massive fake news and botnet machine, and turn it into Alternative Reality Cinema (an ARC). This was to promote "Dared", a film which will exist as a fictional event over the internet.

We made a hilarious website (, a full calendar of hilarious fictional events ("4chan Influencer Happy Hour" and "Directing Crisis Actors for YouTube", written by Ellie DiBerardino) and Eventbrites / FB events for all of them. Our publicist Katherina Volkova (played by Ellie MacBride) emailed industry people to tell them of our arrival. Meghan Schultz designed a super awesome logo of a Soviet style fist wrapped around a filmstrip, and a poster design.

Soviet propaganda posters heralded our arrival, with headlines such as "AMERICA WARMLY WELCOMES RUSSIA FILM INDUSTRY". Anatoly Sokalov, the Russian billionaire (played by Sean McCabe), Liza Popova, Assistant to the Chief (played by Ellie DiBerardino), and Pavel Mikhaylov (played by Jon Schoonhoven) walked around Sundance. (I played a slightly more flamboyant version of myself.)

Putting up posters in the early morning

Liza would roll out a red carpet and we'd place a chair, and Anatoly would greet people. He'd ask about funding movies and fake news. I would tell people that he was the billionaire who stole the election and see how they responded. (One person's response: "I love your coat!" Jon created a complex ARG (alternate reality game) which got people who RSVP'd deeply engaged in a story about the bear who became Anatoly's coat. Jon's character Pavel, it turned out, was not Russian, but actually from the American Department of Disinformation (ADD) and trying to bring Anatoly down. Later they learned he wasn't actually part of the ADD, he was just an aspiring screenwriter who wanted the members of the ARG to pitch a project to Anatoly. We told people that Anatoly was holding auditions for roles in a documentary we were creating about Anatoly. The auditions for the roles asked those people to do realistic things in various places at Sundance, and they were filmed for potential inclusion in our (real) documentary about Anatoly. We had meetings as our characters, but pitching a real film.

Then, things started to get weird. Conversations about financing films turned into talk about the nature of reality, as Anatoly asked people what was real about these interactions, what they really thought was going on, who they wanted to be, and whether they could just choose to be so. One of the most beautiful interactions came after Anatoly asked a man what he thought was really going on. "The sun is shining. It's a beautiful day here in Park City," he said. YES! I thought. That is real.

Surprisingly, people seemed to form a consensus about what was real. So much of what we say about ourselves is somewhat true and somewhat false. Truth about personality is arbitrary. Moments of connection, feelings, experiences, on the other hand, are real. Anatoly learned this lesson and was excited about spreading it to everyone he met.

And then came the CRAZIEST part \u00e2\u0080\u0094 we received an email from a very prominent Russian film producer and financier who loved our schtick and wanted to meet the creators. Little did she know that we were actually pitching a real movie!

We showed up at the meeting, exchanged Russian jokes, and then told her about the actual movie we're making. "I've been pitched a lot of things like this, and this is definitely the best and makes by far the most sense," she said, and verbally told us that we can get this movie made!!!!

The amount of creativity that came out \u00e2\u0080\u0094 rabbitholes inside rabbitholes, little details like scripts for meetings (for us to pull it out during a meeting if the other person said they didn't want to partner with us, and tell them they got their line wrong), fake badges, trying to turn our last-minute cameraperson into the subject of the documentary, and more, gave an astonishing depth to the project in only a few days.

We got trapped inside our characters. We started speaking as them, processing real-life relationship drama with them. One of us even had sex with a new person fully in character, only telling their actual name the morning after. Being in character gave us a kind of freedom, a kind of access to an entire alternate set of emotions and responses.

Doing this project made me so excited to create this art x50 across the internet as part of "Dared" with our crazy creative crew. It was also the wildest manifesting I've ever seen: we entered as a fictional Russian financier and leftwith a real one. And in the process, we demonstrated that when you blur the line between reality and fiction, people engage deeply and begin to think about the world in a new way.

There's room for you to be involved as well! Let me know if you want to be involved: as an artist, actor, investor, programmer, or other type of participant. And look out for a short documentary on our time at Sundance.