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Taking back the narrative

SANTA FE, N.M. — “I’m a living example of how racist this state is,” said Jaima Chevalier as she pointed to a state history textbook she used while studying at University of New Mexico in the late 1970s.

After recently looking back at the book, she noticed that it refers to native people as “savages” and now realizes it has only one reference to the leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt – Po’pay.

The non-Native filmmaker, who was raised in Santa Fe, said she also never paid too much attention to the city’s Entrada, which depicts the Spanish re-occupation of northern New Mexico 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt, while she was growing up.

Now, she’s spent two years documenting the history of the Pueblo people, up to the protests of the Entrada pageant during the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe celebrations in recent years.

Since she finished her film, “Veiled Lightning/Native Voltage,” she says she’s become an “impassioned advocate” for those who feel Santa Fe is celebrating the violent subjugation of indigenous people through the Entrada. Fiesta organizers say the event instead commemorates a moment of peace between the Spanish and the Pueblo peoples.

Though Chevalier has screened small sections of the documentary in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the full version will premiere at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Oct. 21 and 22. The festival kicks off Wednesday.

The festival will screen two versions: one is a 10-section, 57-minute film and the other is a 1-hour-42-minute director’s cut that delves deeper, including stories she says non-Native people probably “aren’t ready to hear.”

Both versions include footage of the 2015 and 2016 Entrada protests, interviews with Pueblo artists who use the revolt as a theme in their work and discussion of how indigenous people are now taking back the narrative of their history.

Chevalier interviewed about 90 “informants,” mostly from local pueblos, including the film’s producers, Ashley Browning of Santa Clara and Pojoaque, and Gomeo Bobelu of Zuni. The film also includes archival footage, and photos and artwork from Pueblo artists.

“No matter where you come out on the issue, you want to understand it,” she said of covering how the history relates to the current day. “We tried to faithfully represent the strands of everything that went into it.”

“Veiled Lightning/Native Voltage,” which will premiere in full at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, documents the history of the Pueblo people from the 1680 revolt to present day, including footage of the 2016 Entrada protests in Santa Fe. Jennifer Marley (pictured), who was interviewed for the film last year, was arrested at this year’s Entrada. (Courtesy of Brian Fishbine )

The premiere follows by a month this year’s Entrada where there were about 150 protesters, eight of whom were arrested, which Chevalier called a “turning point” for the city and the pageant. She said the film’s message is timely also because of the national call for review and removal of historical statues of Confederate generals or other controversial historical figures following the riots in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

“We were fighting an artistic uphill battle because, nationally, there wasn’t much of an audience for an obscure, quaint, old-fashioned pageant … it was hard to explain to people why it was so important,” she said. “But after Charlottesville, Charlottesville was a watershed for us. We’re really proud of the fact that our film was the first to point out the parallel of the battle to remove statues and the battle to remove the living statues, if you will, of conquistadors.”

The film’s crew hopes to make a sequel with footage from this year’s protests and arrests, as well as additional coverage of what the city plans to do about the Entrada moving forward and the legal proceedings in the case of Jennifer Marley, a protest organizer who was accused of striking police officers with a sign. The District Attorney’s office dropped the felony charges against Marley on Wednesday.

Marley, along with other organizers like Elena Ortiz, who helped lead this year’s protest, were interviewed for the film prior to the 2016 Entrada.

Ortiz, of Ohkay Owingeh, also says the film will resonate with audiences now more than ever, given the current local and national political landscape.

She said if anything were to come out of both the protesting and the film, she hopes it is for local Pueblo people to be given “dignity,” with actual changes in city traditions, and for indigenous children to learn their history in school.

“We don’t want to be the ‘other’ anymore,” said Ortiz. “That’s what we’re speaking up about.”

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