NCSA intern attends Sundance Film Festival as Ebert Film Criticism Fellow

05.04.16 -

by Susan Szuch

There was no way that 10-year-old Sara Pelaez could have known that her interest in video editing would lead her to the Sundance Film Festival ten years later.

Now, at age 20, it seems that everything has come together for her: an undergraduate student majoring in New Media, an intern working to preserve media for NCSA and an Ebert Fellow writing film reviews.

She's also a multimedia technician at the Illini Union, which is how she met Chaz Ebert.

"First, it started with the application, and the application actually started with meeting Chaz Ebert," Sara says.

While working at the campus honors program convocation in early November, Sara heard Ebert speak and found that Ebert's outlook resonated with her.

"I remembered thinking, 'This is a woman who knows what's up.' She talked about diversity and kindness and compassion and these are all things that are very important to me," Sara says.

When Ebert spoke about how she would bring students to Sundance Film Festival, Sara immediately knew she wanted to be a part of that. After the convocation, while everyone else filed out, she went to talk with Ebert.

And just like that, she secured a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"What blows my mind about it was how easy it was—all I did was be myself and take an opportunity when I saw it," Sara says. "I saw this incredible woman standing in front of me talking about an incredible opportunity that could be mine, so of course I'm going to go up to her and ask about it."

Sara didn't hear back about the fellowship until the day before the application was due, leaving her scrambling in the middle of finals to write three film reviews and a cover letter. It ended up being worth it, though, when the email arrived giving her the news that she would be attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, as an Ebert Fellow for film criticism.

During her two weeks at the festival Sara wrote three pieces, but it was her position at NCSA and her interest in technology and science that led to her interviewing the director of programming at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

It works the other way, too—Sara says that her time at Sundance shifted the way that she looks at her internship at NCSA.

"What Sundance Film Festival helped me to do with my job here at NCSA is to realize that I'm not just an intern—I'm an adult, too, now. It informed me that you're young but you're also an adult … You work here for a reason—your contributions are valuable," Sara says.

And, as travelling often does, according to Sara, her trip to the film festival helped put her role at NCSA into perspective.

"It was also just exciting because I didn't realize how embedded NCSA is, how it's bigger than U of I. For me, I was just like, I'm an intern that takes these tapes from the basement and turns them into digital files, but the thing is, these tapes are a part of a bigger picture that I’m a part of now."