Ritual of demolition derby

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Albuquerque resident Tatanka Means stars as Jim Sundell in the movie, "Derby Kings."

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tatanka Means is always looking for roles to challenge him.

When it came to the script for “Derby Kings,” Means was drawn by the fact that it was a movie about Native Americans and demolition derby – without being too obvious.

“It’s great because the viewer can see that the actors are Native American,” he says. “But the script never really addresses it. It’s just a story about a family and their struggles. All of whom happen to be Native American.”

The film has been circulating in the film festival arena and even picked up some awards at the Edmonton Film Festival, where Means won for best male actor.

“It’s a film that resonates with a lot of people,” Means says. “I think that’s what is going to make it have some legs in the circuit.

“Derby Kings” is a short film written and directed by Valerie Bischoff and stars Means and Jerry Wolf.

It follows Jim Sundell, played by Means, as he struggles to make sure his younger brother, Ace, played by Wolf, appears at an impending trial.

Ace, a demolition derby diehard, has other plans.

With the local demolition derby looming, Ace makes a bold move that forces Jim to step far outside of his comfort zone and the film explores how the ritual of the derby reinforces strained family bonds.

Bischoff says she was excited to write this film after going to her first demolition derby in Nevada about five years ago.

“I felt the need to learn more about that world,” she says. “I then started working on a documentary about the derby and found out what motivates them to crash cars together. (What) I found in the core of all the stories is that it was a family ritual and tradition.”

She says the characters were simply inspired by the people she met.

“All of the people welcomed me with open arms and wanted to educate me on derby,” she says. “It was a great experience all around.”

“Derby Kings” will screen as part of the 2013 Native Cinema Showcase beginning Tuesday, Aug. 13 and running through Aug. 18 in Santa Fe. The film screens at 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15 at the New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln in Santa Fe.

Means also liked the fact that the story was told in contemporary times.

“They are facing issues that people today face,” he says. “It’s really a story about how family sticks together and really comes together in hard times.”

While filming in Nevada, Means says he was exposed to demolition derby for the first time.

“When we went out there, I found out how serious people are about it,” he says. “I got to take in the sport but didn’t get the opportunity to drive and do my own stunts.”

Bischoff says there were some bumps in the road while making the film.

“We weren’t finding the right actors until we hooked up with a Native American casting director,” she says. “We had Tatanka as our No. 1 pick for the film and soon after getting the casting director, Tatanka signed on. That’s when things started to get rolling.”

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