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In Football We Trust Sundance Premiere - by Tony Vainuku & Erika Cohn

Posted on February 25, 2015

Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn, the director and producer of PIC-funded program In Football We Trust share their experiences premiering their film at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

By Director Tony Vainuku

Having grown up 20 minutes from Park City Utah, where as a local I was lucky to get into a few private Sundance parties, when the call from Trevor Groth (Sundance Director of Programming) came telling me they wanted to represent our film at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it was a dream become reality. “The call” of acceptance was just the beginning.  

As a first time director, and the first Tongan director to be accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, the whole experience became surreal. We found out that our world premiere was going to be at the Grand, which was once a high school that I grew up just blocks away from. Our film was the first ever to be screened in that theater as part of the Sundance Film Festival.

Being from Utah didn’t necessarily help our odds with getting in, since they haven’t had a local team with a local story in the festival for approximately 10 years. In our case, however, it worked to our advantage as we were able to put on more events than any feature at the festival including a fundraiser "Haloti Ngata's Strike 4 Scholarships." We were also able to practice press interviews with local networks before having to do Q&A’s in front of our live audiences, and an interview with the great Larry King!

A personal highlight was a call from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson just a couple hours before our world premiere. I was so excited to talk with him, and was so stoked that he enjoyed the film. He told me “It’s rare to come across a sports documentary with so much culture, and spirit.” He said he cried as he watched it. After that call, I was able to sit back and take one more piece of advice The Rock gave me, which was to "enjoy your moment."

After we finished up four large events in our first three days, I was able to really enjoy spending time with our team and my partner Erika Cohn, who worked so hard to get us to this moment.  Throughout the week, we were fortunate to catch the documentary “Dreamcatcher,” and the film “Don Verdean” which was directed by Jared Hess who is a close friend and mentor of mine. Both films were inspiring and served as a much needed escape from the busy world of Sundance.

The icing on the cake was really just the overall festival experience for the families in our film and my team. The Bloomfields came to all the Q&A’s and every event, and they loved every minute of it.  It was such a beautiful experience to share with Fihi, Harvey and the Bloomfield brothers. After five years in the making, sharing the the Sundance experience with my own family, close friends including Sydney Seau (daughter of Junior Seau), my team, and our families in the film was as good as it gets.

By Producer & Co-Director Erika Cohn

In January, In Football We Trust premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, our home state. Our first screening opened the new Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City, close to where Tony and I grew up. It was the Grand Theatre’s maiden-voyage in film and our first public screening. I can’t describe how special the experience was...to screen with 1,200 people from our local community that had nurtured us as filmmakers and the film’s five year long process, and with our subjects’ families and friends was incredibly powerful.

Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah


Bird Runningwater, a Sundance programmer, had commented that it was the most diverse, beautiful audience that he had seen at Sundance. Tony and I were so nervous and it seemed as though the audience was too. When Bird announced us, the filmmakers, prior to the film we received a standing ovation and once the film started rolling, you could hear a pin drop. Our stomachs were in knots and the whole experience seemed so surreal. We pinched ourselves throughout the screening as audience members cried, laughed and sat forward in their seats with anticipation. It was after this screening that I was finally able to take a deep breath and fully enjoy the Sundance journey.

The lead-up to the festival was an absolute blur. Our team had planned at least one event per day during the first week including a premiere after-party with community leaders at the Salt Lake Community College and a “Bowl-off” on the first Sunday of the festival. The latter was entitled “Strikes for Scholarships,” where A-list NFL players who had flown in to support In Football We Trust bowled in a tournament with community sponsors to raise scholarships for underprivileged Polynesian students. All of our events helped to create a buzz on and off Main Street. We were fortunate to have ITVS, Pacific Islanders in Communications and Relativity Sports as wonderful partners throughout the festival who were cheering the film on and able to offer advice and insight as to what to expect.

Clockwise from top left: Tony Vainuku, Erika Cohn, Cheryl Hirasa, PIC Director of Program Development & Content Strategy, and Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Deputy Executive Producer


Our publicity team facilitated endless press opportunities and interview opportunities, one of which was the Women in Film panel “Unstoppable.” There I spoke with 5 renowned women directors about the importance of gender equity and the making of our films. Another special moment for me personally was meeting Robert Redford, who 14 years ago via the Sundance Institute and Spy Hop Productions had created a program for high school students to express themselves through documentary filmmaking. I was fortunate to participate in this program, the catalyst to my career. For other highlights follow @erikaidlewild!

Looking back at the Sundance experience, it was a launching pad for In Football We Trust and our careers. I think we knew this to some degree prior to the festival, but weren’t fully able to predict what would come. We are hoping for a theatrical release this summer and are embarking on a wide reaching outreach campaign, which was partially funded through our successful kickstarter campaign. I can’t fully disclose everything that is in the works...so continue to follow the twitter buzz @footballwetrust and our IG infootballwetrust – for daily updates go to www.facebook.com/infootballwetrust and our website: infootballwetrustmovie.com.

Categories: Film Festival, Producers' Post