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Daughter’s documentary celebrates Momaday’s life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jill Momaday has been on a journey for the past six years.

It’s a story that’s been in her heart for more than 20 years.

It is told with three different layers – the historic, the cultural and the personal.

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival will present her film,”Return to Rainy Mountain” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

N. Scott Momaday

The documentary celebrates the life and legacy of the author – and her father – N. Scott Momaday and the rich cultural history of the Kiowa people.

A panel discussion will follow the film with the elder Momaday, recipient of the SFIFF Lifetime Achievement Award, Jill Momaday, and mentors Chris Eyre and Kirk Ellis, Emmy Award-winning writer and producer.

Jill Momaday says working on the documentary was one of the most difficult things she’s done.

“It’s so incredibly personal,” she says. “I carried this project around in my heart and gut for about 20 years. Then back in 2010, I was clearing away the dishes in the kitchen one evening in the fall. My husband was stirring the fire, and my girls were playing. Then I hear this voice say, ‘But you’re the magic link.’ It was the voice of my grandmother. It became clear in the coming days that I had to work on it.”

Momaday doesn’t think she separated herself enough.

Instead, she let the entire documentary unfold organically.

“I knew I wanted my voice, and I knew I wanted my father’s voice,” she says. “I wanted the historical element of the Kiowa people. Personally, I wanted to weave back and forth between my father’s voice and his written pieces. I wanted to intertwine those with my voice and pieces of prose, as well as bringing in the ancient myth and legend of our Kiowa people.”

“Return to Rainy Mountain” retraces the sacred journey of the Kiowa people to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and Rainy Mountain in southwestern Oklahoma, landmarks that inform the Kiowa oral traditions passed along for generations.

After Momaday’s aunt died, she felt a need for the documentary.

“I realized with her passing that many stories would be lost,” she says. “It made a profound impression of the importance of preserving them, as my father has done with his writing.”

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