Left to right, Jana Mashonee, Tonantzin Carmello, Inez Jasper, Drew Lacapa, Keith Secola, Ras K’dee
SAN FRANCISCO — On Sunday, November 9, 2014, the 39th Annual American Indian Film Festival returned to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This larger and more prestigious venue fit the scope and importance of the filmmakers, actors, and musicians.
In addition, this year’s Awards Ceremony was broadcasted live on cable television to five cities: San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Phoenix, and Fort Lauderdale.
“We are hoping that there will be a broader net cast with this broadcast on cable tv. Every year we feature an outstanding amount of performers that very few people know. Hopefully this will begin to change the situation for actors, directors, writers and others involved in film making,” said Mike Smith, Executive Director of the American Indian Film Institute.
This year the Awards Ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Misty Upham. The program notes state about Misty: “From her 2002 first film role in Skins, to DreamKeeper, Edge of America, and Expiration Date, from Frozen River, Django Unchained, and Jimmy P., to August: Osage County, and Cake, Misty delivered powerhouse performances and unwaveringly and unforgettably altered viewer’s perceptions of American Indians—both in cinema and in real life.”
Charlie Hill, Billy Frank, Jr. and Saul Zaentz were also remembered and honored during the evening. The presenting sponsor was the Cour D’Alene Casino Resort and Hotel, Idaho.
Yaaw Tei Yi Dance Group
he evening’s live entertainment featured a performance by the Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers, a 21-member traditional Tlingit dance troupe from Juneau, Alaska. They employ ancient drums, rattles, and songs into their dance performance. Yaaw tei yi means, “hearing rock” and refers to a kiks.adi Clan story. Animal crests such as frog, eagle, coho salmon and killer whale are colorfully and intricately designed into their dance regalia.
Violinist Swil Kanem performed a mesmerizing original violin composition honoring Misty Upham. He was followed by Jana Mashonee, Lumbee/Tuscarora recording artist who performed a song and dedicated it to the memory of the late Charlie Hill. She also performed her signature Sam Cooke tune, “A Change Is Gonna Come” that she sang at the American Indian Inaugural Ball of President Obama. The highlight of the evening was Apache/Hopi/Tewa comedian Drew Lacapa’s stand up, or in this case, his “sit down” routine, also dedicated to his good friend, Charlie Hill. His routine was about his first time in a sweat lodge with much larger, and very wide Indian men. It was truly hilarious, and very worthy of Charlie Hill’s memory. Guitarist Keith Secola also spoke about Charlie Hill and dedicated two songs to his memory.
Desirae Harp and Ras K’dee of Audiopharmacy
The surprise musical piece of the evening was the excellent performance by Audiopharmacy. This local Bay Area world music group is composed of Ras K’dee (Afro/Pomo), vocalist and producer, Teao Sense (Chinese/Euro), guitarist, and singer Desirae Harp (Wappo/Dine). Their sound is a combination of reggae, funk, rhythm and blues, yet infused with a definite California Indian vibe. The vocal style of Desirae Harp was infectious and had the entire theater audience up and moving to their rhythms.
This year’s Best Feature Film award went to “Drunktown’s Finest”, directed by Sydney Freeland and produced by Robert Redford. Best Actress award was given to Cara Gee for her performance as “Lena” in “Empire of Dirt”. Best Actor was won by Glen Gould (Mi’c Maq) for his role as “Joseph” in “Rhymes for Young Ghouls”. Best Documentary Feature award went to “This May Be the Last Time”, directed by Sterlin Harjo. This film was an amazing historic look at music and how it has evolved for Native communities due to Christianization and colonization. Best Music Video was presented to the Style Horse Collective for their video entitled, “We Shall Remain”. This powerfully moving video by young people was about youth on the Cour d’Alene reservation committing themselves to success. Each youth promises to avoid negative behavior such as alcohol, drugs and instead succeed. They set high goals for themselves and the viewer has no doubt that they will achieve their goals. The Best Animated film award was won by ” Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Rio Grande” directed by John Jota Leanos. Best Public Service award went to “First Language-The Race to Save Cherokee” directed by Neal Hutcheson and Danica Cullinan of the Eastern Band, Cherokee, North Carolina. This was another touching and evocative film about efforts by elders and others to create a Cherokee language immersion school for the youth in this community. This year’s Eagle Spirit awards were presented to Hank Adams and LaDonna Harris.
Best Actress Winner Cara Gee (Ojibwe)
As a tribute to the late Billy Frank, Jr. a special screening of the documentary film, “As Long As the Rivers Run”, directed by Carol Burns was also shown. His son made an appearance during the film’s screening and spoke about his family. The film was made between 1968-1970, and traces the struggles of the Nisqually Indians of Frank’s Landing, Washington. The film documents the often brutal and violent attempts by Washington state police and politicians to deny the treaty reserved fishing rights of the tribes and the civil disobedience tribes used to restore those rights. It also depicts the seizure of Alcatraz Island by tribes, including the Frank family as well as the occupation of Fort Lawton in Seattle.
A very notable film nominated for best live short was “K’ina Kil: The Slaver’s Son” directed by Jack Kohler. This excellent film was produced by Kohler and Anicita Augustinez of “On Native Ground”. The film tells the true story of the over 15,000 young girls who were regularly kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery during the brutal gold rush period in northern California. Native California tribal languages are spoken throughout the film (with English sub-titles)as we follow the story of a young man whose mother was forced into sexual slavery by a white slaver. He is finally a free man, and we view his struggles to re-connect with his tribal community. The director and producer plan to create a ten episode drama for television that will truthfully tell the history of California’s tribal nations, with native languages spoken by the actors in each episode. Their intent is to re-write the state history curriculum so that it is much more accurate, and to educate non-native audiences so that they will finally understand that California’s native communities do still remain, and are vibrant, creative, resilient, and strong.
Photos by Nanette Bradley Deetz