“Standing for Justice” 42nd Annual AIFF poster by noted painter Del Curfman, (IAIA graduate 2017).
Published November 16, 2017
Michael Smith, Founder/Director of American Indian Film Festival
SAN FRANCISCO – The 42nd Annual American Indian Film Festival began with an Opening Night on November 4 at a new venue, the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco’s historic Mission District. Brava Theater Executive Director Stephanie Powers Cuellar welcomed all participants and attendees with warmth and graciousness, acknowledging the honor to host as a new venue for the film festival. Lorraine Laiwa, Kashia Pomo elder, who has served as an Indian Child Welfare Advocate, Case Manager, Family Services Worker, and Program Director, as well an an ICWA expert witness, offered a beautiful Opening Prayer on Awards Night, November 11, and invited her family and relatives to share cultural dances and songs.
Established in 1975, the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco is the oldest and most prominent media showcase in the world. Michael Smith, Founder/Director of the Film Institute and Festival describes this year’s media as “a presentation to foster public truth and understanding of the social, economic, cultural, and life ways of contemporary Indian peoples. Despite a history of genocide and exploitation of our nation’s people and land base, we have persevered. We have maintained and rebuilt our nations’ infrastructure, spirit, culture, and language. This is our truth, we share it with our audiences in the coming days.”
Two films were screened on opening night, “Ah-Hos-Teend-“Retired” and “The Road Forward.” “The Road Forward” won Best Director Award for Marie Clements, Metis director from Canada. It is a musical documentary film that connects the historic beginnings of Canada’s civil rights movement in the 1930’s, Native Brotherhood and Native Sisterhood, with the powerful civil rights movements today, including Idle No More and protests against big oil interests. The film is a musical journey through history performed by First Nation vocalists and musicians in genres that include blues, rock, and traditional indigenous music. “Ah-Hos-Teend- Retired” is a live short film (20 minutes) and won the Best Live Short category. The film starred Gerald Vandever, and Ernest Tsosie III. The film focuses on questions of individual belief and cultural identity.
Abby Abinanti, Chief Justice of Yurok Tribe & Mike Smith Founde/Director AIFF
On Sunday, November 5, several full length documentary films were screened. “Tribal Justice,” directed by Anne A. Makepeace won the Award for Best Documentary Film. This film introduces audiences to the practice of restorative justice, an alternative justice system that two tribal courts are now employing in California. Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok tribe of Northern California, and Claudette White, Chief Judge of the Quechan Tribe of Southern California, the two largest California Indian tribes, are now leading the way with innovative systems that focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, preventing children from being taken away from their communities, and keeping tribal members out of prison. Both strive to find culturally relevant justice and ways of healing for all tribal members. The film focuses on three families that each Judge has worked with over a period of several years, and spotlights the many problems tribal members and their families encounter with mainstream legal practices and state court systems. In one instance, a young Quechan man is not allowed to cross over the river, back into the California side where his community is located, and is forced to remain in Yuma, Arizona, under a mainstream state system. At that point it is obvious that he will become lost, and end up back in prison. Both women have found creative ways to employ the relational values inherent in our indigenous families and communities, and will hopefully inspire others in California and nationally to do the same.
Members of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. EDC Board President Tony Pierite, Council Member Brenda Lintinger, EDC Board Member Shannon Sampson producers of Best Film, “Wind River”
“Wind River” Directed by Taylor Sheridon won the Best Film Award. Present at the Award Ceremonies and accepting the award were members of the Tunica/Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, Council Member Brenda Lintinger, Economic Development Corporation Board President, Tony Pierite, and Economic Development Corporation Board Member Shannon Sampson. The Tunica/Biloxi tribe has created Acacia Films, which worked with other partners to produce “Wind River”. It is a film that deals with exploitation, rape, and disappearance of young women on reservations. “This is a film we are extremely proud about making. It is a subject matter that is long overdue. Violence against native women will no longer be tolerated in our communities. It is time that we as native people tell our own stories, in our own way. We were not afraid to expose abuse, whether it is sexual, emotional, physical or even absence or neglect”, said Lintinger. “There were at least eleven main and speaking roles filled by Native actors and actresses, and numerous native extras. Although the director Taylor Sheridon is non-native, he lived on a reservation for ten years, and his dialogue and understanding of reservation life is authentic,” she said.
“It is important that we as native storytellers take control of the message. It is critical that we take that step so we can take our place in history. We have been dismissed and overlooked for far too long. Other minorities have somehow hooked into the consciousness and psyche of American society. There is lots of focus on their plight, but until recently we as Native Americans have continued to be locked out and a part of the larger denial of mainstream America,” said Lintinger.
Lorraine Laiwa, Kashia Band Pomo Elder, traditional and spiritual advisor offering Opening Prayer
Acacia Films has also severed all ties to the Weinstein group that had previously owned distribution rights to the film. Acacia Films (Tunica/Biloxi Tribe) is now managing all distribution rights to the film and will donate proceeds from distribution to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center located in Lame Deer, Montana. “Wind River” won awards at the Sun Dance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, and is entered in the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles, among others throughout Indian country.
“Mankiller” a new documentary feature film directed by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, focuses on the life of the late Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee Nation’s first female Principal Chief elected in 1985. This film explores her early life in San Francisco both before re-location from Oklahoma, and the shock for her family after re-location. She says in the film, ” it was like we were dropped onto another planet, the difference was so stark between life in Oklahoma and San Francisco urban life”. In the 1960’s during the civil rights era, Mankiller became politicized and involved in civil rights struggles, and joined the Alcatraz Occupation. The story is told in her own words, and through interviews with those who were closest to her. There are numerous interviews particularly with Gloria Steinem, one of her best friends, and film footage from her early life. The documentary focuses on her ability to overcome rampant sexism from those in her own tribe, and the many obstacles she overcame in her personal and political life. After her divorce and return to Oklahoma, she was re-elected for three terms as the Principal Chief, and in 1988 was awarded the Medal of Freedom by then President Bill Clinton. In 2017 the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington cited her as one of the most important leaders in America’s movement for women’s equal rights.
“Scedadx or Salmon” won the Best Animated Short film category. Adrian Baker directed this animated short film that features the voice of the late Nisqually fisherman, environmentalist and activist, Billy Frank Jr. “Salmon” takes the viewer down (or up) river through time, before contact, during contact, massive industrialization and development, and into a future we are certain to experience if we do nothing. In it he speaks about the salmon, and the importance to his people as a way of life, and how important the fish are to environmental balance. Billy Frank Jr. devoted his life to protecting the salmon, watersheds, rivers and oceans that protect the salmon and create life for the people. In 2015 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work. The musical score featured Ras K’dee and Audiopharmacy.
Best Actor category was won by Graham Greene for his work in “Wind River”. Best Actress was awarded to Deverly Jacobs who starred in “The Sun at Midnight”. Best Music Video Award went to “Stand Up/Stand N Rock #No DAPL, directed by Johnny Lee. Taboo (Shoshone and Hispanic) from the Black Eyed Peas collaborated with several Native American musicians on this project, inspired by the movement on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Film footage from the area where the largest camp was located is featured in the film. Musicians included Emcee One, Drezus, PJ Vegas, Spencer Battiest, Doc Battiest, MC My Verse, and Supaman. Best Documentary Short went to “Defending the Sacred” Directed by Kyle Bell. This short film featured footage taken of those who stood in solidarity at Oceti Sakowin while at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
Best Public Service Award went to “Essence of Healing: The Journey of American Indian Nurses,” directed by Loretta Heuer, and Candace Muggerud. This film delved into the lives of fourteen nurses who live and work in the Upper Great Plains. It looks at each nurse’s personal life and past experience to explore how and why their Native American heritage has led them into a healing profession, and increased their empathy and compassion.
The entertainment portion of the Awards Ceremony was stunning. It moved from vocal voyages of the Tuscarora people through singer, songwriter, composer, mother, teacher, and activist Jennifer Kreisberg of the acclaimed women’s trio “Ulali”, to non-stop laughter bringing tears to audience from comedians Jackie Keliiaa and actor, comedian Ernest Tsosie III. Murray Porter, Mohawk piano player from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory brought his culture and activism alive through a mixture of blues, country, and humor. Mr. Porter is the recipient of a 2012 JUNO (Canada’s Grammy) for Aboriginal Album of the year. He shared a song about the anger he feels due to the exploitation and disappearance of so many native young women. The Miracle Dolls (alternative/rock/indie pop) a band from Southern California performed on bass and guitar a mix of their own melodies.
“The act of art making, no matter what the medium one works with, is the highest form of activism,” said Director Marie Clements. The American Indian Film Festival backs her statement with very special examples of enduring proof.
Kashia Band of Pomo Indians singers/dancers
Kashia Band of Pomo Indians women dancing
Kashia Band of Pomo singers
Photographs by Nanette Deetz (Dakota/Tsalagi)