NEW YORK —The 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York will bring an indigenous hemisphere together from March 31-April 3, at a free festival that celebrates the diversity and expression of contemporary Native filmmaking.
“The festival brings you Native storytelling at its best—wrenching at times, touching, risky, ironic, hilarious and experimental,” said Elizabeth Weatherford, director of the museum’s Film and Video Center, which puts on this biennial event.
The festival attracts filmmakers from Native communities across the Western Hemisphere, and offers them training workshops, panel discussions and networking opportunities. Weatherford is proud that many a professional connection has been made at this festival, generating new works.
“This festival will have the largest representation of Native women filmmakers, and many films of the last two years address the stories of Native peoples immigrating and immigration,” Weatherford said.
A movie that will make its premiere at the festival is “Apache 8” by Sande Zeig, about an all-woman Apache wildland fire-fighting crew that has worked together for 22 years. Zeig said that all the firefighters would attend the festival, which she said was the best venue for the movie’s world premiere.
“The Native American Film + Video Festival is the preeminent Native American film festival in the United States. I have been a supporter and fan since the early ‘80s,” Zeig said. “We are honored to have been chosen.”
The festival predates even the National Museum of the American Indian by 10 years, having started at its predecessor, the Museum of the American Indian in New York. When it started in 1979, only 10 percent of the films were by Native filmmakers, but 32 years later, 95 percent are Native-made. And the diversity among Native filmmakers is great.
Four groups of tribal youth filmmakers plan to attend the festival, including Camille Manybeads Tso, 15, a Navajo who wrote and directed a 20-minute short as a 13-year-old eighth-grader, “In the Footsteps of Yellow Woman,” which is all in her tribal language. The center became aware of Tso after she wrote a letter explaining the needs of her school near Flagstaff, Ariz.
One of the distinctions of the Film + Video Festival is that a four-person panel, drawn from the ranks of indigenous filmmakers, selects the films that will be screened from those submitted. As a result of this process, the films chosen represent a wide range of Native film making. And the festival isn’t driven by awards; and it doesn’t give any.
Instead, it is driven by what Weatherford calls the “creative energy” of indigenous directors, producers and creators. People involved in the films that will be screened come from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Suriname and the United States. Many of the films are short documentaries of the kind that often air on PBS, while the feature-length films that will travel a circuit of festivals and art-house theaters after their premiere.
Some of the celebrated films scheduled for this festival include, “La Pequeña Semilla en el Asfalto” (The Little Seed in the Asphalt) by director Pedro Daniel López, Tzotzil. It features four Native people from the Mexican state of Chiapas who have moved to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas to attend school, and their reactions to the prejudice they face as indigenous youth.
Others include “Kissed by Lightening,” the debut film by Shelley Niro, who is Mohawk, and co-produced by Annie Frazier Henry, who is Blackfoot and Sioux. The 2009 film is inspired by an ancient Iroquois story about an artist who in grief immerses herself in her painting only to realize that she has to let go and move on. The film is set in the contemporary on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. “Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian” by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond documents the portrayal of North American Natives in a century of cinema. Another, the horror film, “File under Miscellaneous” by Jeff Barnaby, who is Mi'gMaq, is about a Mi'gMaq man who wants to be white.