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Documentary tells the story of Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Since starting her film “Mankiller,” Valerie Red-Horse Mohl has been on a journey filled with learning experiences.

That was six years ago.

Valerie Red-Horse Mohl

Today, Red-Horse Mohl is excited to have the opening film for this year’s Native Cinema Showcase, presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“I’ve worked on the film for six years,” she says. “My biggest fear is that I wouldn’t do the film justice. This is why it took so long to complete the project.”

“Mankiller” chronicles the life of the first woman to be elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller.

Red-Horse Mohl says Mankiller is omitted from most history books despite ranking among revolutionary leaders such as Harriet Tubman or Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She was an activist and a champion to a nation, and it’s time the world remembers her name,” Red-Horse Mohl says.

The documentary celebrates a leader who defied all odds to make a difference for her people.

On location in Oklahoma, the “Mankiller” documentary crew interviews Mark Downing, seated at right, a former staff member of Wilma Mankiller’s. (SOURCE: Evan Taylor)

During a time when American Indians found themselves disenfranchised and undervalued by the United States at large, Mankiller emerged as a champion of the Cherokee Nation and became its first female principal chief in 1985. She passed away in 2010.

“I was approached by PBS, and I talked to them about a few different things,” Red-Horse Mohl says. “At the time, her family members were doing a feature film about a small segment of her life. It seemed like a good idea.”

Red-Horse Mohl says there was much material and there were many cities where Mankiller made a difference.

“Wilma the politician or the chief and her life had so many interesting twists and turns,” she says. “And she was a master at turning negatives into positives and then built to the leadership role.”

Red-Horse Mohl and her crew had plenty of archival footage from the 1960s to choose from. This is in addition to the hundreds of hours filmed for the movie.

The documentary premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival earlier this year.

“We’re finished with the festival version, which has been screening,” she says. “We’re still working on the broadcast version because we’re trying to get everything in the right format.”

Being able to screen at the Native Cinema Showcase is an honor for Red-Horse Mohl.

She fell in love with film while growing up and has been making films since 1997. She is proud of her Cherokee ancestry and strives to tell stories of Native Americans.

“My goal is to bring the important Native stories to the forefront,” she says. “I want to tell the stories accurately and respectfully. The goal is to make films that have an impact.”

Red-Horse Mohl will also take part in a Q&A after the screening on Tuesday, Aug. 15, in Santa Fe.

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