Na­tives in Ta­male­wood

Cin­e­matic Arts and Tech­nol­ogy

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Robert Nott

Cin­e­matic arts and tech­nol­ogy

RAZELLE BE­NALLY is on lo­ca­tion at Fort Marcy Park on a hot sunny Fri­day af­ter­noon, film­ing a scene from her short movie I Am Thy Weapon, about a young Na­tive woman who re­turns to her home­town to pay homage to her late sis­ter. Be­nally is busy herd­ing six cast mem­bers and a crew of a dozen or more. “Noth­ing else in the world com­pares to that feel­ing of when you see your vi­sion come to life,” Be­nally, an Oglala Lakota/Navajo stu­dent at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts said dur­ing a break in film­ing.

Be­nally is one of 40-some stu­dents who have been ma­jor­ing in IAIA’s cin­e­matic arts and tech­nol­ogy pro­gram, which im­merses them into all facets of film­mak­ing, from screen­writ­ing to pro­duc­tion to di­rect­ing to film his­tory.

The pro­gram in its cur­rent form is barely three years old and hasn’t yet seen its first full co­hort of stu­dents grad­u­ate. School pres­i­dent Robert Martin hired film de­part­ment chair James Lu­jan, a play­wright who pre­vi­ously worked as pro­gram di­rec­tor of In­ter­Tribal En­ter­tain­ment, a work­force de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tive of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia In­dian Cen­ter, Inc., to run the pro­gram. Be­fore that time, IAIA of­fered stu­dents a de­gree called new me­dia arts un­der the um­brella of the mov­ing im­ages and graphic/in­ter­ac­tive design pro­grams, Lu­jan said. It was felt those two tracks were not quite com­pat­i­ble, so Lu­jan was brought in to re­design the pro­gram to fo­cus on pro­duc­tion with an em­pha­sis on sto­ry­telling.

Lu­jan got some good news last week when another 20 in­com­ing and trans­fer stu­dents an­nounced their de­sire to be part of the film pro­gram. “More proof that the word is get­ting out,” he said. The col­lege, he said, is the only tribal one of its kind in the coun­try to of­fer a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in film.

Most of the stu­dents come from var­i­ous tribes and na­tions around the world, Lu­jan said. “It’s an ex­cit­ing time and place for Na­tive film­mak­ers to come to­gether and ... make an im­pact on main­stream cul­ture, not just with Na­tive sto­ry­telling but sto­ry­telling in gen­eral.” (Non-na­tives make up about 20 per­cent of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at IAIA.)

Lu­jan stud­ied film at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. There, he said, the art of sto­ry­telling was not em­pha­sized. “You came out with a knowl­edge of tech­nol­ogy but with no abil­ity on how to say what you wanted to say,” he said.

At IAIA, the story is at the cen­ter of the pro­gram. All stu­dents must take at least one class in ev­ery film com­po­nent — di­rect­ing, writ­ing, broadcasting, or edit­ing. In 2010 IAIA un­veiled a dig­i­tal dome — sort of like a mix be­tween IMAX and a plan­e­tar­ium

— that is 24 feet in di­am­e­ter, 12 feet high, and can ro­tate from zero to 90 de­grees. Stu­dents can use the dome to in­ter­act in real time with art ob­jects — per­form­ing a three-di­men­sional vir­tual dis­sec­tion of a piece of pue­blo pot­tery, for in­stance. The dome fea­tures sur­round sound and six film pro­jec­tors.

Mats Reinius­son, Dig­i­tal Dome and Pro­duc­tion Re­sources Man­ager, said he is not sure how of­ten Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents gain ac­cess to a pro­gram that hon­ors their cul­ture and al­lows them to use new tech­nol­ogy like the dome to honor and pre­serve it. How­ever, Kahlil Hud­son, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ment, said that while stu­dents of all cul­tures can prob­a­bly find a way to use tech­nol­ogy for film­mak­ing and learn the ba­sics of screen­writ­ing, the mix of stu­dents from around the world — he used Mex­ico, New York, and New Mex­ico as three ex­am­ples — “re­ally make this pro­gram work. They are the sup­port sys­tem and your in­spi­ra­tion. They bring each other up.”

IAIA Navajo grad­u­ate stu­dent Feli­cia Nez agreed. She said stu­dents sup­port one another on their in­class films, which means they also act as gaffers, cam­era as­sis­tants, boom mike op­er­a­tors, and ac­tors. “We all just kind of help each other out when we need it, it’s re­ally col­lab­o­ra­tive,” said Nez, who is now work­ing on earn­ing her mas­ter’s de­gree in screen­writ­ing at the in­sti­tute. “There is such a cre­ative vibe, not just in the film de­part­ment, but all around the cam­pus. You may have a friend over in the graphic design de­part­ment so you go ask him to help you out. We all kind of come from the same tra­di­tion of sto­ry­telling so we all have a pas­sion to tell good sto­ries and we are will­ing to help each other make these sto­ries be­come a re­al­ity.” Nez is work­ing on a new sci-fi com­edy ti­tled The

World Is Screwed But Me and You Are OK, which she work­shopped this past sum­mer in a writ­ers’ lab run by IAIA and the Sun­dance In­sti­tute. The pro­gram teamed as­pir­ing screen­writ­ers like Nez with es­tab­lished writ­ers to al­low stu­dents to re­work their scripts for a staged read­ing. It’s one of the com­po­nents of the IAIA film de­part­ment that Nez likes: “Pro­fes­sional ad­vis­ers from LA flew in and we had one-on-one meet­ings about our scripts. They read it and helped me break it down, not­ing what they liked about it and what could be im­proved.” Thanks to that sum­mer ini­tia­tive, she re­fo­cused the script from melo­dra­matic hor­ror to comedic sci­ence fic­tion.

Stu­dent Syd­ney Isaacs of the Tlin­git Na­tion of Alaska said one of her cousins handed her a brochure for IAIA one day and said, “This school looks per­fect.” She had re­searched other film pro­grams around the coun­try and couldn’t find what she was look­ing for — to­tal hands-on pro­duc­tion tech­niques that would teach her ev­ery­thing she needs to know to make a film. “There are classes where you spend the en­tire time look­ing over the cam­era, go­ing over cam­era safety, pass­ing it around to other stu­dents,” she said. “I got to check out lights, the com­puter soft­ware for edit­ing, work on a cast­ing call, work out a bud­get — they teach you the A to Z of mak­ing movies.”

So far it’s work­ing for Be­nally. “IAIA has helped me for­mu­late the know-how to get to where I am to­day,” she said. “IAIA’s stu­dents are not try­ing to make films about fa­thers or tom­a­hawks or te­pees. We’re adamant about push­ing ev­ery­body’s unique per­spec­tive and try­ing to cre­ate and cul­mi­nate ev­ery­one’s vi­sion.”

Above, Razelle Be­nally with first as­sis­tant cam­era­man Ryan Be­gay and di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy David Sch­weitzer Op­po­site page, Be­nally with ac­tors Morn­ingStar An­ge­line and Ehren Kee Natay; pho­tos Pe­shawn Bread/Au­tumn Bil­lie

IAIA’s stu­dents are not try­ing to make films about fa­thers or tom­a­hawks or te­pees. We’re adamant about push­ing ev­ery­body’s unique per­spec­tive and try­ing to cre­ate and cul­mi­nate ev­ery­one’s vi­sion. — film stu­dent Razelle Be­nally

Stu­dent Kenneth John­son (Creek/Musko­gee) dur­ing the 2015 IAIA Safety Sum­mit; be­low, on­looker dur­ing the 2014 IAIA Pow­wow; pho­tos Ja­son S. Or­daz

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