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The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s  (CRYP) award-winning documentary film, titled “Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count),” will be an official selection at the 5th annual Shining Mountains Film Festival in Aspen, Colorado next month. Scheduled for Dec. 1-2, the festival is designed to highlight Native voices, causes and life ways.

Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) will appear in the Program 2 film block on Saturday, Dec. 2, which takes place from 2 to 4:30 p.m. All films will be screened at the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. 

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CRYP commissioned the film project in 2021, with primary filming taking place during the RedCan invitational graffiti jam that July. The documentary debuted in 2022 and, surprising filmmakers and CRYP staff alike, was accepted into multiple film festivals across the country.

“The film originally was intended to share our CRYP story through the lens of RedCan,” explained Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “As the project moved forward, however, we realized the story was so much bigger than that. It was about the transformative, healing power of art in a Native community.

“The film brings viewers into the heart of our circle here on the Cheyenne River reservation,” she continued. “It allows people who have never experienced Lakota culture or visited an indigenous community to meet our kids, parents and elders, as well as the artists and partners across the country who have become part of our family.” 

To date, Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count has appeared in the 2022 Latino & Native American Film Festival, where it won a Social Impact Award; 2022 Documentary Film Awards, where it won a Gold Award; 2023 Beaufort International Film Festival, where it won the Susan A.K. Shaffer Humanitarian Award; 2023 Black Hills Film Festival; and 2023 Our Heritage, Our Planet Film Week. The Shining Mountains Film Festival will be its sixth appearance on the film festival circuit.

“We never expected that,” Garreau said. “The response to the film has simply blown us away. We’re humbled and honored that our story has resonated with audiences in so many different places.” 

The Shining Mountains Film Festival is sponsored by the Aspen Indigenous Foundation, which began its life in 2005 as the Aspen Ute Foundation. Founder and Executive Director Deanne Vitrac-Kessler met Northern Ute elder Loya Arrum-Cesspooch that year; at his request and with his support, she started the foundation to bring the indigenous presence back to the Roaring Fork Valley and help facilitate the reconnection of the Utes to their ancestral lands. 

Over the years, the foundation has developed more inclusive, broader programs that welcome and involve all Native tribes. It officially changed its name in 2020.

Garreau and Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) filmmakers Richard Steinberger and Joseph Gamble will attend the 2023 Shining Mountains Film Festival, where they have been invited to participate in a Q&A session following the screening of the film.

To see the film schedule and learn more about the official selections, visit shiningmountainsfilm.com. All-access festival passes and tickets for individual film blocks are available through the website.

Those unable to attend can view the film at vimeo.com/lakotayouth

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