NRFF Interviews Kayla Briët

Untitled design (45)

NRFF London Official Selection: Smoke That Travels (USA)


Interview with Kayla Briët

Untitled design (26)

Director / Writer / Producer / Composer

13 min 03 sec • Documentary / Web / New Media

What happens when a story is forgotten? A personal documentary by 2016 Sundance Film Festival Ignite Fellow Kayla Briët that explores preservation and loss of Native American culture and her own identity as Prairie Band Potawatomi.

New Renaissance London Nominations: Best Young Talent Filmmaker (18-24) / Best Documentary Short / Best Director of an International Short or Documentary


Congratulations on being part of the Official Selection into the New Renaissance Film Festival 2016. How does it feel to be nominated in three categories?

Thank you so much! It honestly feels unreal and dreamlike. It’s very humbling to say the least, and it is very meaningful to have a film of mine screen over 5,000 miles away from where I grew up — in a land I’ve never visited before. It’s a personal story, so I’m happy that it resonates with people and that I can share a little piece of my culture and childhood with others who may be unfamiliar with the dances, culture, and songs of my tribe. I feel very welcomed and connected to another beautiful part of the world.


Untitled design (45) Untitled design (24)

This is your first documentary film. Why did you choose to explore Native American culture?

It was an instinctive choice for me to create this film, mainly because I’ve grown up with so many fears of my culture being forgotten. I wanted to document my thoughts and fears as a newly turned adult, so I can look back and never forget what is important to me at this time in my life.

I’m Prairie Band Potawatomi, and our tribe originated from the Great Lakes region of the United States before being relocated to Northeastern Kansas during the mid-1800’s. Growing up, I learned about the traditional songs and dances from my father, but also learned early on that many of these traditions are rapidly fading away. Native history is an incredibly sensitive topic, both in the United States and globally. Communities are filled with heartbreak, anger, and suffering. As a response, I wanted to create something that was beautiful and wistful, celebrating the beautiful songs, colors, and dances — celebrating the music. Music is one of the universal languages that can unite people around the world. And storytelling is the reason why we all exist.


What is the central message of SMOKE THAT TRAVELS?

Aside from exploring the personal narrative and history of my Prairie Band Potawatomi roots, Smoke That Travels is all about a singular question: “ How are we remembered? “ As humans, we all share a lingering fear of being forgotten after we’ve lived our lives. It is a scary thought, but a thought that should be embraced. It reminds us to treasure the little moments and continue to share the stories that are important to us — like kindling a fire with tiny embers until it ignites into a flame.


How did you make and finance your documentary film?

This was a personal project that was funded out of pocket — mainly food and gas money to drive to the Morongo Thunder and Lightning Pow Wow in September 2015 — that was a fun day of music, drums and dancing.


Untitled design (25) Untitled design (23)

 Did you encounter any challenges? How did you overcome them?

Because this was a personal project, I had the fun challenge of shooting, editing, and scoring original music for the piece. Sometimes, if I had trouble expressing an idea through words, I would make music first, and the words would come together after. During the making, I would often make mental checks. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t sensationalizing any aspect of the culture. Sometimes I would get so overwhelmed and worried, but quickly concluded that worrying so much about others is a terrible use of your time! The main thing that mattered was that I was creating this story because it meant a lot to me. It is a time capsule to revisit in the future, and it is okay to be vulnerable.


Can you explain your recent involvement with Sundance?

In late 2015 I was 1 of 5 filmmakers who won an Adobe Sundance Ignite Film Challenge, and as a result, I was invited to the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and earned a year-long fellowship with the Sundance Institute! It was very incredible to visit the festival and be amongst so many talented filmmakers in Park City, Utah, USA. It was also the most snow I’ve ever seen! I loved the combination of film, music, and experimental works they featured.


You are also a musician and composer who loves science and technology? How do you juggle so many interests and talents?

I just like to make things and learn things! There’s still so much more to learn! I grew up being very shy and quiet, so being able to make music and art was one way I could express myself. I loved to play piano and write pieces at the age of 10 and tinker with producing music at the age of 13. I was also an occasional doodler in class. Being able to create things that could effect other people emotionally  gave me a sense of purpose and it made me feel beautiful from within. That gave me the confidence to tackle more subjects, like science, tech, and coding from a young age.

All of the realms are interconnected — and I consider mediums, like art, music, film, code, etc. to be languages. The more languages you speak, the more people you can communicate and connect with!



How has SMOKE THAT TRAVELS been received so far?

I feel very lucky that it has been received very well in festivals and conventions around the world. It’s played and won awards at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), CineYouth, Chicago International Film Festival, Sundance TV, The National Young Arts Foundation, Vidcon, and more festivals in cities and countries far beyond my hometown, like Sydney, Australia, Belgium, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland, and more. I can’t wait to release the short film online soon! I’ve received letters/emails from others young and old who are very supportive, appreciative, and loving — that’s what inspires me and motivates me the most.


Are you hopeful about the future for women in film?

Yes! As a society there will always be more progress to be made, and my friends are the ones who give me hope for the future. I have many friends who are filmmakers, musicians, and artists and are the most-hardworking, inspiring beings I know — a combination of both men and women who support each other genuinely and truly. Witnessing this fills me with love. It’s always healthy and nurturing to surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. You lift each other up, and before you know it, you’ve inspired warmth and passion in the hearts of others too.


What are your future plans in film?

I want to keep experimenting with different styles and mediums! Virtual reality is such a fascinating field, because you no longer have a single frame to construct, but, rather, an entire world to immerse others in. Plans to experiment with live action virtual reality experiences are definitely in store. In traditional film, my next project will be a collaboration with artists Isabela Dos Santos and Thomas Carr — we’ll be creating a short film about the topic of “Transformation.” On the tech side, I’ve been involved with MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, where blockchain technology (the tech that runs Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) is the main topic of discussion. Above all else, I’ll keep creating and making things be it music, film, and in between. I’ll be releasing more on Youtube and Vimeo! And meeting people, and going on adventures! I hope that a visit to London is in the very near future! Thank you again for this wonderful, meaningful experience!

Click here for more information on Kayla’s work.


The New Renaissance Film Festival takes place on August 20, 2016, at the Courthouse Hotel, London W1. Click here for details on the Programme & Festival Passes.

NRFF: “The top UK Film Festivals to know about!” (Metro)

Watch NRFF London 2016 teaser trailer