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Breaking language barriers: Smithsonian’s Native Cinema Showcase features 53 films from 11 countries

Adeana Young plays Hlaaya in Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown’s film “Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife.)”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The celebration of indigenous languages.

The stories of women.

These are among the subjects that will be tackled in this year’s Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe.

The event, in its 19th year, is presented and curated by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It runs from Tuesday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 18, in conjunction with Santa Fe Indian Market. All the screenings take place at the New Mexico History Museum.

Cynthia Benitez, Native Cinema Showcase program manager, said nearly all of the films were made by Native filmmakers; more than half were made by women, including the opening and closing films.

In all, the event includes 53 films from 11 countries, representing nearly 40 indigenous groups. There will also be dialogue and narration from 20 indigenous languages.

“Indigenous language is one of the themes this year,” Benitez says. “What’s great about the films is that we don’t focus just on North America. The films are stories from all over the world.”

In fact, Benitez says that in recognition of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the lineup includes films such as “SGaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife),” the first feature-length film entirely in the Haida language.

Then there’s “Wiñaypacha (Eternity),” the first feature-length film shot entirely in the Aymara language. The showcase includes dialogue and narration in 20 indigenous languages.

“Both of the films are very beautiful films,” she says. “We are always excited that we are getting more and more indigenous women making films. What attracts us to a film is the story. We are looking for films that have stories that haven’t been told before or told in a different way.”

The showcase begins and ends with portraits of strong women.

The opening film on Tuesday, Aug. 13, is “Warrior Women,” which shows the role of women in the American Indian Movement of the 1970s.

The closing film on Sunday, Aug. 18, “Vai,” incorporates languages of Oceania as it follows the journey of one woman across eight indigenous communities throughout the Pacific islands.

“After ‘Warrior Women’ is screened, we are going to have some special guests,” she says. “There will be a discussion with activist Marcella Gilbert (Lakota and Dakota/Cheyenne River Lakota Nation) and directors Christina D. King (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and Elizabeth A. Castle. We wanted to show the women behind this film. People are very responsive to it.”

Benitez says “Vai” features a different approach.

“It is made by nine Pacific islander women filmmakers,” she says. “It follows Vai’s life from a little girl to an elder. Each filmmaker puts their own stamp on each piece. These are beautiful examples of what Native women are doing now. It runs the gamut, and we’re not just doing one theme.”

“Words From a Bear” is a biographical film about New Mexican N. Scott Momaday. (Courtesy of PBS)

Other highlights include an appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), who will make remarks before the screening of the biographical film “N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15. And a “State of the Arts” talk, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, will feature Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Railyard Park, there will be a screening of Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which brings together Disney princesses, including Pocahontas, as they question the stereotypical roles they fell into during past film appearances.


Tuesday, Aug. 13

7 p.m.: “Warrior Women” — followed by a discussion with activist Marcella Gilbert (Lakota and Dakota /Cheyenne River Lakota Nation) and directors Christina D. King (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and Elizabeth A. Castle

Wednesday, Aug. 14

1 p.m. “Wiñaypacha (Eternity)”

3 p.m. “The Blessing” — followed by a discussion with directors Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan Fein and producer Laura Ball

7 p.m. “Falls Around Her”

Thursday, Aug. 15

1 p.m. “Angelique’s Isle,” preceded by “Ara Marumaru (The Shadow)”

3 p.m. “The Land Speaks” shorts program — seven short films emphasize Native knowledge of the environment and look into its future

7 p.m. “N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear”

Friday, Aug. 16

1 p.m. “Future Focused” shorts program — this program features films that present innovative stories from First Nations and U.S. Native communities

3 p.m. “State of the Art” conversation with Preston Singletary

7 p.m. “SGaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife)” preceded by “Mahiganiec (Baby Wolf)” — followed by a discussion with filmmaker Gwaai Edenshaw (Haida) and musician and composer Kinnie Starr (Mohawk)

Saturday, Aug. 17

1 p.m. Lensic Future Voices — this program includes a selection of films by student filmmakers

3 p.m. Our Stories Shorts — this program reflects the best of Native storytelling as told through family history, language and tradition, often with a dose of Native humor

8 p.m. “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” screened outdoors at the Santa Fe Railyard Park

Sunday, Aug. 18

1 p.m. Rise Above Shorts — The realities of rising above adversity, loving oneself and the journey of learning life’s lessons is the focus of this program

3 p.m. “Vai,” preceded by “Katatjatuuk Kangirsumi/Throat Singing in Kangirsuk” and “Pire”

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