Bird Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribal Nations, and grew up on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Since 2001 he has guided the Sundance Institute’s investment in Native American and Indigenous filmmakers while building a global Indigenous film community. He has nurtured a new generation of filmmakers whose films have put Indigenous Cinema into the global marketplace. Based in Los Angeles, California, Runningwater serves as the Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, where under his tenure 140 different Indigenous filmmakers have been mentored and supported through Labs, Grants and Fellowships. More than 110 films written, directed and produced by Indigenous filmmakers have been curated by Runningwater to premiere at Sundance Film Festival, and over the past 10 years alone Sundance Institute has welcomed nearly 90 different Indigenous tribes and nations from around the world. Those artists he has supported to get their work made and seen include Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muskogee Creek Nations), Taika Waititi (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), Billy Luther (Diné/Hopi/Laguna Pueblo), Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiaq), Aurora Guerrero (Xicana), Sydney Freeland (Diné), Ciara Leinaʻala Lacy (Kanaka Maoli), Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr. (Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga), Shaandiin Tome (Diné) and Elle Maija TailFeathers (Blackfoot/Sami).
Highly sought after for his expertise and knowledge, Runningwater has led workshops and been featured on panels ranging from the Sundance Film Festival's "From Oral Tradition to the Screen: Indigenous Screenwriting" to "A Conversation with Merata Mita" at the MessageSticks Festival held at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He was a panelist at the Raising Voices Conference, hosted by the Hubert Bals Fund at the Rotterdam Film Festival in the Netherlands, exploring training programs that will stimulate the next generation of culturally distinctive and authentic filmmaking voices, and has been featured as the Opening Keynote Speaker at the Indigenous Film Conference hosted by the Sami International Film Centre in Kautokeino, Norway. Runningwater currently serves on the Comcast/NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Council, the Boards of Directors of First Peoples Fund and Illuminative, and is a past member of the Board of Jurors for the George Foster Peabody Awards. Runningwater has served on competition juries for film festivals such as the Berlin International Film Festival (Germany), São Paolo International Film Festival (Brazil), Sydney Film Festival (Australia), Guanajuato International Film Festival (Mexico) and Cinemalaya Film Festival (Philippines). In Time Magazine’s 2019 Optimist Issue, Runningwater was listed among “12 Leaders Who Are Shaping the Next Generation of Artists”. Most recently he was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars.
Before joining Sundance Institute, Runningwater was based in New York City and served as executive director of the Fund of the Four Directions, the private philanthropy of a Rockefeller family member. Prior to joining the Fund, Runningwater served as program associate in the Ford Foundation’s Media, Arts, and Culture Program. A recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s National Fellowship in Public Policy and International Affairs, Runningwater is also an alumnus of Americans for Indian Opportunity’s Ambassadors Program and the Kellogg Fellows Program. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with degrees in Journalism and Native American Studies, and he received his Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.