Shaandiin Tome has had a film screened at the Sundance Film Festival.
That was in 2018.
The Albuquerque-based filmmaker is back at Sundance this year as the festival goes virtual.
She helped get the short film, “Long Line of Ladies” off the ground with Rayka Zehtabchi. Tome is the co-director.
“Long Line of Ladies” follows a girl (Ahtyirahm “Ahty” Allen) and her community as they prepare for her Ihuk flower dance, a girl’s coming-of-age ceremony celebrating her entry into womanhood.
The documentary short explores open and supportive conversations about menstruation through the story of a northern California tribe.
The Ihuk ceremony is a tradition practiced amongst Karuk women in their ancestral territory along the Klamath and Salmon River of northern California.
The Ihuk flower dance was revived in 1996 by a dedicated group of Karuk ceremonial families after not practicing for over 80 years.
“As an indigenous storyteller and filmmaker, it was important that the community felt a sense of ownership and was an active partner in the process versus having a team of outsiders tell their story,” Tome says. “That meant building trust between the crew and the Allen family. And respecting the sanctity of the protagonist’s (Ahty) Ihuk.”
Tome says the documentary takes a significant step forward to normalize period conversations by highlighting a culture that celebrates and uplifts its young women when they come of age.
Tome says imagine if all cultures rallied around their young women to feel proud and empowered at this critical juncture in their development.
“It’s been a long journey and I’m excited to finally celebrate the film,” Tome says. “I guess this year feels a little different in multiple ways. I’ve never premiered a film online and without an audience, it feels lonely. Sundance is doing a great job to create community.”
Production on the film began at the beginning of 2021.
“Rayka and I started out with Zoom calls,” she says. “It was a lot of fun. We wanted to talk about the issue while having the utmost respect for the family. It wasn’t difficult to inform a story around them.”
One of the biggest obstacles – aside from the pandemic – was getting on the same page.
“I’m Diné and Rayka is not Indigenous,” Tome says. “When it pertained to Indigenous subjects, as long as I’ve been in film, it’s been about representation. I’ve been on a lonely journey until this point. There were ideas that I had in my mind. I wanted to let the family shine. I wanted their ideas at the table. A lot of it was listening and taking time and really trying to hear them out.”
Filmmaking has been at the forefront of Tome’s life since she was small.
“When I was a kid, my brothers and I would film stuff with my mom’s VHS camera,” she says. “I would say the love kicked off then.”
Tome graduated from Cibola High School and then began studying film through the Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media program at the University of New Mexico.
Yet it wasn’t until she was accepted into Sundance Institute’s Full Circle Fellowship that she found her footing.
“It created a platform and space for me,” she says. “That was really helpful for the trajectory I’m on. I want to be a voice in telling Indigenous stories. I really hope there are chances for Indigenous youth and families to watch it. I also hope that non-Indigenous people will watch the film and respect the traditions. By watching films like this, that’s how we learn.”
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