NYWIFT @ Sundance: In Conversation with Amanda Culkowski

By Tammy Reese

During the 40th edition of The Sundance Film Festival I had the chance to interview fellow NYWIFT member Amanda Culkowski, the Executive Producer of As We Speak, a thought-provoking documentary that delves into the intersection of art and justice. Focusing on Bronx rap artist Kemba, the film sheds light on the alarming trend of rap lyrics being weaponized within the United States criminal justice system and beyond.

As We Speak unveils a disturbing reality, as it uncovers how law enforcement agencies have covertly utilized artistic expression as evidence in criminal cases. Through this powerful exploration, viewers are confronted with the profound impact that creative works can have on an individual’s freedom and their ability to express themselves freely.

A still from As We Speak by J.M. Harper, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.


With Amanda Culkowski’s expertise as both an Executive Producer and a member of NYWIFT, this interview promises to provide valuable insights into the making of As We Speak and its significance within the film industry. It also highlights the importance of amplifying marginalized voices through storytelling, and how this documentary contributes to broader conversations surrounding social justice.

The Sundance Film Festival serves as an ideal platform for such discussions, bringing together filmmakers, industry professionals, and audiences alike who are passionate about thought-provoking cinema. Through this interview, we can expect to gain a deeper understanding of As We Speak while also appreciating Amanda Culkowski’s contributions to fostering meaningful dialogue through her work.

Please enjoy our interview here:

More About As We Speak:

Bronx rap artist Kemba explores the growing weaponization of rap lyrics in the United States criminal justice system and abroad — revealing how law enforcement has quietly used artistic creation as evidence in criminal cases for decades.

J.M. Harper’s self-assured directorial debut unfolds like an original odyssey, shedding light on the intersection between the weaponization of rap lyrics and threats to freedom of speech. Traveling with Kemba grounds the international exploration in the perspective of an artist. He guides us through the origins of gangster rap to drill, studies on racial bias in music, discussions with legal experts, and candid conversations with influential artists like Killer Mike to reveal a profound history of targeting Black music and artists. Harper’s seamless transitioning between restructured interviews, animated sequences, and imaginative reenactments reveals an audacious vision that also reflects the depth and interconnectedness of the issues at hand. Harper’s sophisticated and immersive journey merges style and substance, boldly weaving through a web of issues, and ultimately shining a light on the First Amendment, provoking crucial questions about whom it protects.


Amanda is also Executive Producer on LOLLA: The Story of Lollapalooza, which also screened at Sundance.


Follow Amanda on Instagram @MandyCulk.  



Tammy Reese

Tammy Reese Tammy Reese is a Central New York award winning Actress/Writer/Journalist. She is also a Filmmaker and Publicist.

View all posts by Tammy Reese

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