Sundance Institute and IAIA Announce Participants in Inaugural Native Writer’s Workshop

Felicia Nez

Felicia Nez

Native Youth Filmmaking Program to Take Place in Santa Fe this July 

SANTA FE — Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program and the Institute of American Indian Arts’ (IAIA) Department of Cinematic Arts & Technology today announced the selection of six aspiring Native American screenwriters to participate in the inaugural Sundance Institute/IAIA First Annual Native Writer’s Workshop to be held on the IAIA campus, July 15-19, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Chosen from a nationwide call for short script submissions, the selected writers include Gabe Abeyta (Santa Fe, NM), Katie Avery (Los Angeles, CA), Kelly D’Angelo (Los Angeles, CA), Felicia Nez (Albuquerque, NM), Blue Tarpalechee (Santa Fe, NM), and Kaherawaks Thompson(Memphis, TN).

Bringing with them stories that span from the Wild West to the apocalypse, the writers will be paired with professional mentors from the film and television industry, participating in a program designed to enhance their approach to the craft of storytelling, as well as prepare them for the realities ofpursuing a career in the entertainment industry.

The workshop mentors include: Beck Cole (Writer, Here I Am and Black Comedy), Jason Gavin (Writer, Friday Night Lights), Derek Santos Olson (Writer, Friday Night Lights), Sierra Ornelas(Writer, Selfie and Happy Endings), Alex Rivera (Writer/Director, Sleep Dealer), and Joan Tewkesbury (Writer, Nashville and Thieves Like Us).

“In the ever-changing field of filmmaking it’s important to provide Native storytellers with tools and pathways to advance their careers,” said N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache),Director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program. “In collaboration with IAIA and an excellent group of creative mentors I am excited to support these new artists as they refine their storytelling skills and develop their unique voices.”

“We look forward to giving these emerging writers the opportunity to receive feedback on their work, as well as reflect on the nature of meaningful storytelling,” said James Lujan (Taos Pueblo), chair of IAIA’s Cinematic Arts and Technology program. “There is a compelling need to have authentic Native voices represented in film and television.”

The Native screenwriters selected for the program are:

Gabe Abeyta (Taos Pueblo and Navajo), a writer and director who earned his diploma in Film Production from the Vancouver Film School in British Columbia, Canada. His submitted short film script, “The Beginnings of My Heart,” tells the story of Heart Girl, a young Native American who isnavigating the insecurities and trauma that arise when she falls in love for the first time.

Katie Avery (Iñupiaq), is currently attending the California Institute of the Arts where she is anMFA student in the Film Directing Program, and is also working as the Art Department Assistantfor the critically-acclaimed TV series, “Transparent.” Her short film script, “Daughters of Longhorn,”set in the 1860s, follows four Indigenous women who face violence in the town of Longhorn, a place where only rebel hearts and warrior spirits can survive.

Kelly D’Angelo (Haudenosaunee), is a comedian and writer who is a graduate from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade improve program. Her script, which is a pilot for a TV series, “8 Kinds of Milk,” is a story about eight impulsive post-graduates who ban together to get a cheap, compact house in Los Angeles with the hope of finding jobs, happiness, and a new place to call home.

Felicia Nez (Navajo), is a recent graduate of IAIA who earned her BFA in New Media Arts and a Certificate in Business. Her thesis short film, “Escape to the Moon,” won Best Animated Short in Santa Fe Indian Market’s SWAIA Classification X category in 2014. Her short film script, “The World is Screwed but Me and You Are Okay,” is a science fiction story which follows four miners struggling to survive in the aftermath of nuclear attack.

Blue TarpalecheBlue Tarpalechee (Muscogee), is a filmmaker who currently serves as the Residential Coordinator for his alma mater, IAIA, where he graduated as valedictorian in 2012. His short film script, “Crown Victoria,” is about a young mother who must leave her husband and start over in order to give her children a healthy home.

Kaherawaks Thompson (St. Regis Mohawks of Akwesasne), is a 2010 Sundance Institute Native Fellow whose short script, “Tehokkenhén:tons,” was produced in 2012. Her script submitted for the 2015 workshop, “Lefty’s Hymn,” tells the story of a Kanien’kehá:ka fiddler who finds it difficult to refuse an insistent stranger’s too-good-to-be-true offer to play a private outdoor event.

Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee Nation), President of IAIA, commented that “both IAIA and the Sundance Institute are committed to developing Native talent that permits us to increase control of the ways in which we are depicted in film”.

To learn more about the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program, please visit  \

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