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Indigenous film: Smithsonian’s Native Cinema Showcase features 64 movies online

Forrest Goodluck, Michael Greyeyes and Kiowa Gordon in “Blood Quantum,” directed by Jeff Barnaby. (Courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

It’s been 20 years since Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian debuted its Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe during SWAIA Indian Market in 2000.

The festival normally runs concurrently with the annual summer festival.

This year is different.

“Much has changed during these 20 years in cinema, but one thing remains steadfast in Indian Country: Native filmmakers are using the medium as a catalyst to create change by telling their own stories in their own voices,” says Cynthia Benitez, film programmer for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City.

The festival began Nov. 18 and runs through Nov. 27 online.

George Attla, from the documentary “ATTLA,” directed by Catharine Axley. (Courtesy of Molt Films, LLC)

According to Benitez, the films will debut through Sunday, Nov. 22. After each film debuts, most will be available on demand for five days, and many will be available to view anywhere in the world.

The festival’s program features a combination of new works, fan favorites and conversations with filmmakers.

It includes a total of 64 films – nine features and 55 shorts – representing 49 Native nations in 12 countries: the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Guatemala, Finland, Ecuador, Norway, Peru, Argentina, Australia and Belize.

Sean Snyder and Adrian Stevens in the short film “Sweetheart Dancers,” directed by Ben-Alex Dupris. (Courtesy of Documentary Educational Resources)

Genres include documentaries, music videos, kid-friendly shorts, and films in Indigenous languages.

With the exception of three films – “Blood Quantum” and “Angry Inuk,” which are restricted to the United States, and “nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up,” restricted to North America – the films will be available to watch worldwide. “The films provide insight into the complexity, beauty and many nuances of Native life,” Academy Award-winning Cherokee actor Wes Studi says about the showcase. “It’s no coincidence Native peoples are using their talents to create films that examine social justice in the world we live in today. As we find ourselves at a moment in contemporary life where outdated notions and ways of doing things are being challenged, it is more important than ever to hear our Native stories and consider the perspectives they bring to these issues.”

Benitez highlights a few films to watch during the Native Cinema Showcase this year:

Rebecca Hill-Genia in the award-winning documentary “Conscience Point,” by filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld. (Courtesy of Women Make Movies)

• “Conscience Point” looks at the history of the Shinnecock Nation and its relationship with the Hamptons communities on Long Island. The film reveals the economic disparity of the area and injustices experienced by the original inhabitants of that land. The Shinnecock people’s continued fight to protect their land and protagonist Becky Hill-Genia will have you riveted from start to finish.

• “Angry Inuk” director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril narrates the film with passion and humor as she exposes the truth of anti-hunting campaigns. Her film provides a platform for people the animal activists rarely meet: The hunters, craftspeople and families for whom the seal hunt is a critical part of their livelihood and survival. Get angry and get educated.

• Directed by Jeff Barnaby (Mi’qmaq), “Blood Quantum” features an all-star Native cast that includes Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, and Kiowa Gordon. The film begins with the premise that a zombie virus devastates Earth’s population, with the exception of the Mi’qmaq community of Red Crow.

John Trudell, from “Trudell,” directed by Heather Rae. (Courtesy of Nels Israelson)

• “Trudell,” directed by Heather Rae, follows the extraordinary life of Native American poet and activist John Trudell (Santee Sioux Nation), from his impoverished childhood in Omaha, Nebraska, to his leadership of the American Indian Movement and his importance as an acclaimed musician and spoken-word poet.

• “nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up,” a gut-wrenching documentary by Cree director Tasha Hubbard, follows the aftermath of the death of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man. The film has captured international attention and raised disturbing questions about racism in Canada’s legal system. Sisters Rising makes an urgent call to action to end violence against Indigenous women in the United States.

• The showcase’s Arctic Program includes two shorts and the documentary feature “ATTLA.” Be inspired by the story of George Attla, a little-known Alaska Native dogsled racer who, with one good leg and fierce determination, became a legendary sports hero.

“This year we have four incredibly diverse shorts programs with films from around the world” Benitez says. “Some highlight classics from our previous showcases, and others are new. It’s a great mix for anyone interested in seeing what’s out there. We have music videos, strong female protagonists, a two-spirit powwow dancing couple rewriting the rules, an ancient courting dance that includes pulling the belt, poetry, animation, Native veterans, and a young man who starts a midnight running club to honor the life of a friend. Plus one tough Nana who has everything under control.”

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