Though Indigenous Eyes: The 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival
The 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival, hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian, took place at the George Gustav Heye Center (GGHC) in New York City from March 31 to April 3. It was the first film festival I have ever attended. In case you missed it, there are many reasons why you should attend next time, in 2013. From my observations, each film and video expressed authentic Indigenous experiences from Native people who live in cities, rainforests, reservations, and even on the Arctic ice!
The 2011 festival began with the symposium Mother Earth in Crisis. During the symposium, award-winning Indigenous filmmakers from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States screened their films that engage Indigenous responses to climate change. The Opening Night film, Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, by Zacharias Kunuk (Inuit) and Ian Mauro, asks contemporary Inuit people living in Igloolik and other communities throughout Nunavut to share their observations of global warming and the impact of climate change on their daily lives. The intent of this film is to relate the message that global warming is a human rights issue affecting the Inuit people's environment, economy, and culture, and most importantly, their survival.
As the festival progressed, festival guests had the opportunity to visually visit Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Suriname, and multiple sites in the United States. Some films are expressed in the actors’ indigenous languages, with subtitles. Hearing the protagonists’ voices from various hemispheric locations adds a component of realism concerning how indigenous people view themselves and their communities. In turn this provokes viewers like me to encounter each filmmaker’s piece through indigenous eyes. It would have taken countless years and a small fortune to visit these communities in real life and achieve what was available to see and think about in one weekend!
Immediately after the screenings were discussions and question-and-answer interactions between filmmakers and the audience. Some filmmakers wore their traditional clothing and spoke their first languages; interpreters stood by to translate answers to each specific question.
“From the more than 400 entries that were received, nearly 100 outstanding shorts, features, and documentaries were screened,” said Elizabeth Weatherford, founding director, Native American Film + Video Festival. “Throughout this week, the festival brings you Native Storytelling at its best: wrenching at times, touching, risky, ironic, hilarious and experimental.” I have to agree, as I felt a wide range of emotions as I watched each film.
One refreshing aspect of the festival was Saturday’s program of youth short films. In numerous ways, Indigenous kids are just like other youth around the world. In other respects, however, day-to-day living in Indigenous communities offers unique challenges of maintaining culture, language, and even survival. These young people’s ability to express their creativity through the use of media is a wonderful achievement. One youth film I particularly liked is titled Big Foot, made by Antony Poucachiche (Algonquin) and Kelvy Poucachiche (Algonquin) from Canada. Through the use of both realism and animation, these two young filmmakers describe their Big Foot encounter! I look forward to seeing future works by these promising filmmakers,
Another highlight was the Saturday evening screening of Reel Injun by Neil Diamond (Cree). This film is full of humor, including parody and juxtapositions from a Native perspective. One scene that garnered huge laughter and applause reveals what Indian actors were actually saying in their Native languages in early westerns. But I won’t spoil the punchline. It’s on you to go see this highly entertaining perspective on the history of Indigenous representations in film.
At the screening of Reel Injun, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Gary Farmer, a First Nations actor well known in Indian Country. Native actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians, and cultural activists were on hand to support their and their colleagues' works. While rubbing elbows with other festival participants, I was able to gain inside knowledge from industry professionals from Los Angeles, New York, and, yes, Moose Factory, Canada. Movie distributors were also on hand to select films to take back to their networks for broadast to wider audiences, including representatives from the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and a new Native Television Network that is preparing to make its national debut.
For more information about the 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival, visit the Native Networks website, friend the NMAI Film + Video Center on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, and see what’s being shown on the NMAI F+V YouTube channel. Then join us for the next Native American Film Festival, currently scheduled to take place two years from now!
From Voladora/A Flying Woman, directed by Chloe Campero, produced by the Center of Indigenous Arts, Vera Cruz.
From Turix: Drangonflies without Borders, directed by the Turix Collective, produced by Yoochel Kaaj.
From Reel Injun, directed by Neil Diamond (Cree), produced by Rezolution Pictures International in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada and in association with CBC Newsworld.
From Big Foot, directed by Antony Poucachiche (Algonquin) and Kelvy Poucachiche (Algonquin), produced by Wapikoni Mobile.
From Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, directed by Zacharias Kunuk (Cree) and Ian Mauro, produced by Igloolik Isuma Productions and Kunuk Cohn Productions.
Cover of the program for the 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival. Image from the film Down the Mighty River, Episode 1, directed by Ernest Webb (Cree) and Lisa M. Roth, produced by Beesum Communications.