SANTA FE, N.M. — Films that extend far beyond the “cowboys and Indians” stereotype of Native Americans will be lighting up downtown screens over the next week.
Topics include the life of a river and the people who live along it, a transgender Native Hawaiian teacher’s efforts to help a female to lead an all-male hula group, a snowbound couple lost in an Idaho lava rock desert, and much, much more.
The biggest source of screenings, offered in conjunction with Indian Market, is the Native Cinema Showcase, presented for free Monday through Sunday in the auditorium in the New Mexico History Museum, with almost 50 films, including features and shorts.
That showcase also will offer two screenings – at 1 p.m. Tuesday and Sunday – of the Classification X winners from the film category for Indian Market.
Other than those winners, the showcase is curated by Melissa Bisagni of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
In choosing the films, she said in a telephone interview, “I’m mostly looking for something that carries the conversation forward. I want to see really insider perspectives on Native topics – or to just see new and interesting things … .
“We’re really hearing some unique artists’ voices.”
And those voices can be a combination of Native and non-Native, she said, with people of various ethnicities working on many of the films.
“With the ethnographic films of the ’70s, Natives participated as subjects, rather than collaborators and peers,” Bisagni said. That has changed, she said.
She gave an example of “Yakona,” translated as “rising water,” an exploration of the history of the San Marcos River in Texas and its relationship to the people who have lived along it.
Directors Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda are non-Natives, but they had “a wonderful partnership with the Native community in Texas,” she said.
With some underwater filming, the film has got “these beautiful pictures of nature, but with the perspective of Native people before European settlers came, letting the Native community evoke what the river was to them in a place that is flat and barren otherwise.”
Some of the films have had theatrical releases, such as “Road to Paloma,” a road-tale, revenge thriller by Jason Momoa (native Hawaiian) – who portrayed Khal Drogo in “Game of Thrones” – and “Among Ravens,” a story about how a newcomer affects family dynamics during an Independence Day celebration in McCall, Idaho.
That latter film is directed by Russell Friedenberg and Randy Redroad (Cherokee).
“Rhymes for Young Ghouls” by director/writer Jeff Barbaby (Mi’gMaq) “was distributed to broad success in Canada,” but hasn’t been sent to U.S. theaters, Bisagni said.
Pointing to this as one of her “must-see” films, she said it “defies genre … it’s kind of a horror film.” It is set on the Red Crow Mi’gMaq reservation in 1976, when all Indian children must go to residential school, and shows the horrors they find there.
“It’s kids trying to find their own peace with this inherited trauma,” Bisagni said. “It’s so unique in its storytelling.”
Another film to see if you only have time to go to a couple would be “Craters of the Moon,” directed by Jesse Millward, she said.
A lead actor, Cody Lightning, is scheduled to be at the screening.
“It’s a thriller in a national park,” Bisagni said. “The crazy thing is, it’s so simple.” A couple gets into trouble at a rest stop and run off into a blizzard in the back roads of a lava desert. “It’s beautifully executed,” she said.
“Future Voices of New Mexico,” a collection of films by residents in their late teens or early 20s, “is always interesting,” she said. “They may end up as Class X winners in later years.”
This is the 14th year of the Native Cinema Showcase, which started at what is now the Center for Contemporary Arts. It is shown only in Santa Fe, Bisagni said.
“We are entertaining the idea of packaging it and sending it out,” she added. “I do spend an awful lot of time curating the program. It would be great to see it play more than once in this group.”
Just last year, she said, the Museum of the American Indian discontinued its biennial Native American Film Festival, which had been held in New York ever since 1979.
That used to serve as a starting point for her to choose films for the showcase, Bisagni said, but now she has a bit of a hybrid process that includes people submitting films to her, as well as her choosing movies that she already knows about.
Other Native film events