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'Art in a Time of Crisis': America Ferrera, St. Vincent, Jessica Williams and Sundance filmmakers on why they make movies now

Sundance filmmakers respond to the question, "What is the purpose of art in a time of crisis?"

People often like to refer to the "Sundance bubble" as a dismissive way to wave off whatever happens in Park City, Utah, during the annual film festival. But this year it seemed as if people in Park City were actively pressing themselves up against that bubble, puncturing any insularity by remaining well aware of the inauguration, the international women's marches and all of the news that was happening outside the confines of the festival.

I concluded a series of video interviews with filmmakers who were passing through our L.A. Times Photo Studio with the question, "What is the purpose of art in a time of crisis?"

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I'm not really sure what I expected to hear back, but I was immediately struck by the depth, thoughtfulness and variety of the responses to the question. This was seemingly something the artists had already all been asking themselves.

America Ferrera was in Park City to promote "Gente-fied,but she was there only the day after she addressed a massive crowd at the women's march in Washington, D.C. "I think the purpose of art is the same at all times," Ferrera said, "but I think in times like these, times of real, real questioning and reflection and concern, it becomes that much clearer that our role in society is to connect."

Though she was in Park City for her first lead film role in "The Incredible Jessica James," when performer Jessica Williams sat for our interview it was only a few hours after she had spoken at the women's rally in Park City. She noted, "The reason why I make art is because I love when somebody random comes up to me and tells me that something that I did deeply touched them in a way."

Dee Rees was at Sundance with "Mudbound," the film she directed and co-wrote and a tale that explores race and family in the WWII-era Deep South. "Someone might not listen to you when you're shouting at them with a sign, but they'll go see 'Mudbound' and say 'Oh, yeah, I get that idea. Oh yeah, I feel something,'" Rees said. "So I feel like culture is the long game and it's the ideas game."

Roxanne Benjamin is one of four female filmmakers involved in the horror anthology project "XX." "For me it's that I don't know how not to," Benjamin said of making art, "and this happens to be the way that I've figured out how to get all of that inner junk out."

Annie Clark was also in Park City with the "XX" project making her debut as a filmmaker, though many may know her better from her work as a musician under the name St. Vincent. "The stakes are so high from a social standpoint," Clark said, "that you're going to see a lot of people making incredibly sincere art, that isn't callous and jaded and ironic. It's like, 'No, no, no, we don't have time for that, people are suffering.'"

The movie "The Big Sick" is based on the real-life relationship between its co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, a rom-com that somehow takes in both healthcare issues and issues of cultural identity.

"What I've always tried to aspire to is to help people feel less alone, and anything I create I want people to not feel alone," Gordon said. "I want them to feel like someone else understands them, that they've got brothers or sisters in arms who have gone through what they've gone through and felt what they've felt."

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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