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Film looks at reality of rez life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Olga Valanos was destined to make a film. In fact, the Albuquerque filmmaker was chosen to make the documentary “Generation Red Nation.”

“I always wanted to make a documentary that would cover aboriginal subject matter,” Valanos says. “It just happened that I met a Native American elder in Vail. He was a holy man and he knew that I wanted to make a documentary film. It’s a cool story because I had never met this man, but he knew this about me.”

After nearly a decade in the making, “Generation Red Nation” is a reality. The film takes a look at the American Indian socio-economic issues that plague reservations around the country.

To learn more about “Generation Red Nation,” visit

Valanos says unemployment hovers around 89 percent on the reservation and there are deplorable living conditions, environmental degradation, houses placed near toxic waste and non-potable water is common.

The documentary also takes a look at the following:

♦ The subpar educational system, which is underfunded and leaves people with inadequate skills;

♦ More than two-thirds of the population in Pine Ridge, S.D. are substance abusers;

♦ The climbing teenage suicide rates and the commonality of gang violence;

♦ The crumbling family structures, which are riddled with domestic violence;

♦ The abbreviated life spans, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, trailing only behind Haiti.

“These are issues that have been swept under the rug and not reported on,” she says. “I felt like I needed to immerse myself in this environment to get a complete understanding of it.”

With the film being shopped around to various film festivals, it has already been received well.

The documentary had its world premiere at the Red Nation Film Festival in Beverly Hills, Calif., in November. It was named best documentary at the film festival, which was founded in 2003 and features projects from Native American filmmakers.

“It was an honor because this was the first festival that we screened at,” Valanos says. “I knew it had the power to resonate with so many people.”

Valanos says she submitted the film to the festival based on advice from Russell Means. Means was an American Indian activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee. He died in October.

“Russell simply told me that I had to screen the film,” she recalls. “He was also on the board of the film festival and it helped the film get some footing. He was a huge support of this film.”

Valanos says the documentary took her to various locations in the country. The bulk of the movie takes place near Denver. Post-production was completed in New Mexico by Sterling Grant III and David Garcia of Halflife Digital, David Aubrey of Lightningwood Pictures and Andrew Click Productions.

“I wanted to focus on life on the rez and what life is like trying to get off of it,” she explains. “I went to leaders and elders to help tell the story. It was important to get the community involved in telling this story.”

Valanos says “Generation Red Nation” enables people to see the problems, and the music guides the listener’s visceral feelings with musical lyrics interwoven between interviews. She says the music selections by Grammy winner Jim Wilson guide the viewers from sorrow and feeling completely lost to a renewed hope.

“Jim passed away last year and this was his last completed work,” she says. “We were fortunate to have him on board to tell this story.”

Valanos also has started a Kickstarter campaign – – to try and get the documentary into more festivals.

“By exposing the problems, we can begin healing ourselves, our nation, and our Earth. Part of the healing mentioned in the documentary includes a celebration of Indian culture, families and traditional values of the elders,” she says. “Another part of the healing is raising public awareness of America’s secret human tragedy. Knowledge empowers the public to enact positive change.”

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