I’m still with her

Mankiller

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Though film­maker Va­lerie Red-Horse Mohl never got the chance to per­son­ally meet Wilma Mankiller, she feels as if she were born to cre­ate the new doc­u­men­tary, Mankiller, which re­lates the saga of the only woman ever to serve as prin­ci­pal chief of the Chero­kee Na­tion. The sim­i­lar­i­ties in the bi­ogra­phies of the two women are un­canny. Both are Chero­kee tribal mem­bers, but rather than grow­ing up on the Chero­kee reser­va­tion in Ok­la­homa, Mankiller and Red-Horse Mohl were raised in the San Fran­cisco Bay area, af­ter their fa­thers joined pro­grams aimed at re­lo­cat­ing Na­tive work­ers from ru­ral ar­eas to more pop­u­lated ur­ban hubs.

Af­ter Mankiller died in 2010, Red-Horse Mohl said she be­gan talk­ing with pro­gram­mers at PBS, say­ing, “Maybe we should think about do­ing a pic­ture about her real-life story.” Red-Horse Mohl said she was drawn by Mankiller’s ground­break­ing sta­tus as well as her lead­er­ship style, which in­volved try­ing to speak with any­one and every­one, build­ing a con­sen­sus ap­proach that would hope­fully unite all in­ter­ested par­ties.

“I see this film as so much more than a biog­ra­phy,” the direc­tor said in state­ment about the film. “I be­lieve it ac­tu­ally is a wake-up call. Wilma lived her life with the phi­los­o­phy of ‘Ga-Dugi,’ which trans­lated means ‘in a good way’ — and our goal is that we em­body ‘Ga-Dugi’ on this pro­ject to honor her.”

Mankiller is the open­ing-night film in the Na­tive Cinema Show­case, cu­rated by the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian, work­ing in co­op­er­a­tion with the South­west­ern As­so­ci­a­tion for In­dian Arts (spon­sors of the Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket). The film plays at 7 p.m. on Tues­day, Aug. 15, at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum (113 Lin­coln Ave.). Ad­mis­sion is free on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. Red-Horse Mohl is slated to at­tend the screen­ing, along with her pro­ducer, Gale Anne Hurd, who is best known as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer for the hor­ror se­ries The Walk­ing Dead on AMC. Hurd also pro­duced most of the Ter­mi­na­tor movies, as well as The Abyss, Aliens, and other top-flight sci-fi fea­tures. The two might not seem like nat­u­ral part­ners, but this is the third doc­u­men­tary they’ve made to­gether, fol­low­ing True Whis­pers in 2002 and Choctaw Code Talk­ers in 2010.

Hurd said she orig­i­nally wanted to make a fea­ture film about the fa­mous Navajo code talk­ers from World War II and be­gan talk­ing with Red-Horse Mohl about di­rect­ing that film, af­ter see­ing and en­joy­ing the direc­tor’s 1998 de­but fea­ture, Nat­u­rally Na­tive. Red-Horse Mohl agreed to make the film, but per­suaded Hurd to drop the idea of a dra­matic fea­ture and in­stead make a doc­u­men­tary (True Whis­pers). Since then, the two have made new doc­u­men­taries like clock­work, ev­ery seven years or so.

Red-Horse Mohl de­scribed Hurd as not only a close friend but also some­one with an in­cred­i­ble knack for telling sto­ries through film, a pro­ducer who is al­ways able to spot po­ten­tial weak­nesses and rec­om­mend changes that will strengthen the fi­nal pic­ture. For her part, Hurd said she learned from some of cinema’s great­est masters, hav­ing en­tered the busi­ness work­ing as an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to Roger Cor­man and later mar­ry­ing di­rec­tors James Cameron and Brian De Palma.

Mankiller pre­miered at the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val in June. Ad­di­tional film-fes­ti­val screen­ings are planned through the fall, with an even­tual air­ing on PBS some­time in 2018. Hurd said there could also be a the­atri­cal re­lease for the film, as a few dis­trib­u­tors have ex­pressed in­ter­est, but noth­ing con­crete has been signed as of yet.

In the mean­time, Red-Horse Mohl has a cou­ple of projects she’s pur­su­ing — a doc­u­men­tary that ex­am­ines Na­tive sports mas­cots and a dra­matic fea­ture about Stand­ing Bear, the Ponca chief who ad­vanced ar­gu­ments in the 18th cen­tury to es­tab­lish rights for Na­tive Amer­i­cans as “per­sons within the mean­ing of the law.” Hurd’s up­com­ing sched­ule in­cludes an­other pro­ject of lo­cal in­ter­est — a sci-fi tele­vi­sion se­ries based on The Chron­i­cles of Am­ber, the epic fan­tasy se­ries by long­time Santa Fe res­i­dent and late nov­el­ist Roger Ze­lazny. Val­halla En­ter­tain­ment, Hurd’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, will be in­volved, along with Uni­ver­sal Ca­ble Pro­duc­tions. — J.B.

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