Fest Gives a Voice to Tribal Women

Sto­ry­telling high­lights a de­mo­graphic of­ten ig­nored in Hol­ly­wood films

Variety - - Focus - By NICK CLE­MENT

What started out as a sem­i­nar in my class­room ... has be­come some­thing very spe­cial to a lot of peo­ple, and it’s a re­ally big event for all of us.” Joely Proud­fit

“Through Black Spruce,” stars Bran­don Oakes and Tanaya Beatty and cen­ters on a miss­ing First Na­tions woman.

Cal­i­for­nia’s Amer­i­can In­dian and In­dige­nous Film Fes­ti­val will shine a spot­light on Na­tive Amer­i­can women who pro­duce, di­rect and act in films and tele­vi­sion. It will fea­ture a pow­er­ful lineup of fea­ture-length ef­forts, shorts and doc­u­men­taries, many of which were made by and star Na­tive Amer­i­can and in­dige­nous women.

The sixth edi­tion of CAIIFF runs Nov. 1-3 and co­in­cides with the start of Na­tive Amer­i­can Her­itage Month.

“We are the largest Na­tive Amer­i­can and in­dige­nous per­sons film fes­ti­val in the United States,” says ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Joely Proud­fit, who also serves as the di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia In­dian Cul­ture and Sovereignty Cen­ter. “What started out as a sem­i­nar in my class­room at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity, San Mar­cos, where I’ve taught for 24 years, has be­come some­thing very spe­cial to a lot of peo­ple, and it’s a re­ally big event for all of us.”

CAIIFF aims to high­light Amer­i­can In­dian sto­ry­telling tra­di­tions, which help to con­nect the cur­rent com­mu­nity to the fu­ture. CAIIFF is co­or­di­nated by the Cal­i­for­nia In­dian Cul­ture & Sovereignty Cen­ter (CICSC) in part­ner­ship with many tribal and com­mu­nity and cam­pus spon­sors.

The im­por­tance of this year’s ros­ter of films high­lights the de­sire to get sto­ries told from the pointof-view of the Na­tive Amer­i­can fe­male, a group that has be­come largely pushed to the side in terms of filmed en­ter­tain­ment.

“I’m a Na­tive Amer­i­can woman my­self, so I see the need to get these films out there for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence. Most of these films don’t have na­tional dis­tri- bu­tion, so we’re look­ing to el­e­vate women’s voices in the medium,” says Proud­fit. “Most peo­ple’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Na­tive Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence has been the wrong in­ter­pre­ta­tion. The films we screen at the event look to cor­rect that.”

The fes­ti­val also of­fers stop mo­tion-an­i­ma­tion labs, and is put­ting an em­pha­sis on en­gag­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can youth within the world of cin­ema, and will screen a se­ries of short films made by Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dent film­mak­ers.

This year’s film se­lec­tions fea­ture the U.S. pre­miere of Don Mckel­lar’s “Through Black Spruce,” which tells the story of a young Cree woman whose dis­ap­pear­ance trig­gers events in two worlds: in Moosonee, the re­mote North­ern On­tario com­mu­nity she fled to years ago, and Toronto, where she mod­elled be­fore van­ish­ing.

“I’m greatly an­tic­i­pat­ing the re­lease of the film,” says lead ac­tress Tanaya Beatty. She “read the script as a teenager and was blown away by the themes, and I com­pletely fell in love with the char­ac­ter of An­nie. It’s a pas­sion for me to sup­port in­dige­nous voices on-screen, so work­ing on this project was a tremen­dous per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The film re­cently had its world de­but last month at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val, and on Nov. 3 Amer­i­can au­di­ences will be able to see the pic for the first time.

At heart, “Through Black Spruce” puts a First Na­tions spin on the pop­u­lar “girl­gone-miss­ing” mi­lieu and ties it into a larger so­cial dis­cus­sion.

“It’s very rare to read ma­te­rial that ex­am­ines a more re­mote cul­ture,” says co-pro­ducer/co-star Tina Keeper. The film “re­ally res­onates with in­dige­nous women, and I’m so grate­ful that the fes­ti­val is high­light­ing in­dige­nous women in film. Miss­ing women are a sen­si­tive topic in Canada, and the film def­i­nitely has some­thing im­por­tant to say.”

And show­cas­ing a film such as this ties into the over­all mes­sage that the fes­ti­val is try­ing to con­vey. “We’re look­ing to bring im­por­tant and ex­cit­ing films to the com­mu­nity that have some­thing to say about the world we all in­habit, and this year’s se­lec­tion speaks to the gen­eral qual­ity of the work that was sub­mit­ted,” says Proud­fit.

The fes­ti­val will also be tak­ing a crit­i­cal look at some­thing that’s be­come an in­cen­di­ary topic within Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture and in­dige­nous tribes – the mur­ders and dis­ap­pear­ances of so many in­dige­nous women.

“This is a tragic is­sue that we all face, and on open­ing night, we’ll be screen­ing four in­cred­i­ble short films, all told through dif­fer­ent points- of-view, all re­volv­ing around this is­sue,” says Proud­fit. “It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant that we get the mes­sage out that this is a part of our cul­ture that’s be­come marginal­ized, and more peo­ple need to be aware of this painful and hor­ri­ble re­al­ity.”

Proud­fit is ex­cited for “Kayak­ing to Klemtu,” which she says, “is a fan­tas­tic movie from film­maker Zoe Hop­kins,” while also re­serv­ing high praise for the ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary “War­rior Women,” which she calls a “truly po­tent and re­mark­able char­ac­ter study.”

The fes­ti­val, which is be­ing held at the Pechanga Re­sort Casino in Te­mec­ula, Calif., also in­cludes var­i­ous youth ac­tiv­i­ties and Q&A ses­sions.

“It’s won­der­ful that this fes­ti­val is held on tribal land. We even­tu­ally moved the event from a smaller cam­pus set­ting over to the casino, and since we’re only 90 min­utes away from Hol­ly­wood, it’s the per­fect dis­tance for peo­ple to see some great films and sup­port some very tal­ented sto­ry­tellers,” says Proud­fit.

Cop­ing With Loss

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