Ten True Things About Keri Putnam
My pithy salute on the announcement of her final summer leading Sundance Institute after a decade long run at the helm of an organization I care about so dearly. The last time I had the luck of seeing her in person was serendipitously at the Prospector Theatre for “Nine Days” at the 2020 Film Festival, when she appeared at a late night screening (popcorn in hand) just to support the filmmaker and producers by being there.
1) Damn, she’s got standards. I mean you better be shooting for threes every time (or trying) or she’ll remind you that you missed the line and the opportunity. Why work for anyone who doesn’t? Honestly.
2) I coined her “The Colonel” for many reasons, but most of all because I’d follow her into any crusade — that’s how much she could command your respect and your energy to help her take whatever hill needed charging.
3) She’s really fun to be around. I always remember the very special delight of seeing her think something went well; didn’t matter what small or large … but if you got lucky enough to see that satisfaction, well — it was memorable (and infectious).
4) How, seriously, can she read and digest and synthesize that many books, articles, podcasts, shows, technology, DL news, mixed media, theatre, and films all at once? She’s a literal machine of cultural consumption. Just admit defeat trying to catch up, but trust she will fill your inbox full of interesting ideas if you’re lucky enough to be on her cc list of curiosities and nudges.
5) I never really believed (until she came along) that the kind of institutional change she envisioned was possible, but she undisputedly created one of the most incredibly diverse teams ever. And it took real patience and real diligence, but she challenged every person she worked with to have a role in the change. And she told us all she was going to do it, and why it was important as hell, and then created allies in every crook and cranny of the world to actually pull it off. She has literally led cultural shifts in her field, and we should all be grateful for it. There are many more stories from many more voices in the world because of her.
6) One major note of confidence and leadership, IF YOU ASK ME, is the belief that a great idea can come from anywhere. And she supported and created that special culture for so many.
7) She will take a phone call or meeting from anywhere in the world, within any form of transportation, at any time of the day or night. It’s downright freaky.
8) She can make you work harder, because — see above. I admit sometimes it wasn’t easy, but when I look back now I only think how much less I would have learned had it not been for her pushes. I now always prefer a boss that challenges to one who couldn’t care less, and care she does deeply about everyone and everything she’s managing (professionally and personally).
9) KP is really, really brave. And bravery is in dwindling supply. We often, all of us, underestimate the cost of that. If you want to execute change, and ultimately challenge the traditions of the things that were, if you want to make the world wider and better, if you want to dare to do mighty things — you have to have the confidence and endurance to not only plow ahead yourself, but also to pull others with you. She does both. And it’s genuinely inspiring — because it’s incredibly difficult to do.
10) If you get a chance to buy her a congratulatory round in the Owl Bar this year before she heads to her next challenge, my memory is she drinks a Bob’s Beer with a High West sidecar (when the day is done), so give her a big cheers for me, will ya? I adore her and I’m so grateful to have had a chance to work under her leadership years ago.