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Comanche filmmaker tells the story of Native American leader LaDonna Harris

LaDonna Harris is the focus of a new documentary.

LaDonna Harris is the focus of a new documentary.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — LaDonna Harris has devoted her life to making a difference.

And this is the very reason Comanche filmmaker Julianna Brannum wanted to tell the story of the Native American leader.

For six years, Brannum worked tirelessly on creating “LaDonna Harris: Indian 101.” Searching through archives located across the country, Brannum never gave up. She says it’s been a long journey and the project got a boost from executive producer Johnny Depp.

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Now Brannum is showing the documentary to the world. It will screen at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, at the KiMo Theatre.

Following the free screening, there will be a panel discussion that will include Harris, Brannum, Andrea Hanley and Dr. Robin Minthorn. It will be moderated by Ron Solimon.

Brannum says about halfway through the production she decided to make the documentary a straight biography of Harris.

BRANNUM: Documentary by Comanche filmmaker

BRANNUM: Documentary by Comanche filmmaker

While most filmmakers wouldn’t like the research aspect, Brannum welcomed it with open arms.

“That was my favorite part,” Brannum says. “There was a treasure trove of material and archival materials. I went though some archives at the University of New Mexico and also at my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.”

Brannum also interviewed Harris and worked with her to make sure the information was correct.

“The great thing is that she never directed me where to go,” Brannum says. “She was there as a point of information that I could follow.”

Harris has devoted her life to making a difference. She is founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, and as a national leader she has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements.

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Today, she heads an international indigenous values-based leadership development initiative – the Ambassadors Program.

Harris says it’s been amazing to see the response that audiences have had to the documentary.

“I’m very flattered,” she says. “I never set out to be famous. I only wanted to give people a voice. I’ve worked hard all my life to do so and the documentary has drummed up a lot of memories for me. It’s been really nice to see it all come together.”

Harris says since working on the documentary, she has been inspired to write her memoirs.

“My life has been full of ups and downs,” Harris says. “I’ve been able to start a lot of organizations and find a way for them to succeed. I’ve also learned that we need to protect our history.”

Harris says the documentary helps provide some insight to being Native American.

LaDonna Harris, second from right, has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements.

LaDonna Harris, second from right, has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements.

“I’ve been discovering how uninformed the general public is about Native Americans,” Harris says. “When I got to Washington, no one knew anything about our culture. But we did know about the cultures that arrived in America after Native Americans. This is where the ‘Indian 101’ part comes into play. It was a chance for me to educate them.”

Brannum says aside from the laborious research, she also found the editing process challenging. She says because the documentary is slated to air on PBS, it has to be under an hour.

“I have 56 minutes to tell someone’s life story,” Brannum says. “I had about 40 hours of footage on LaDonna and the rest of it was archival footage. It was intense to make sure the right story was being told. There’s so many ways this documentary could have been done.”

Now that Brannum is finished with the documentary, she is focusing on becoming a mother. She says she will pick up another project soon.

“Six years of my life, this was everything,” Brannum says. “This gives me a chance to take a little breather and focus on motherhood.”

A still from the film, “Refuge.”

A still from the film, “Refuge.”

Seeking ‘Refuge’: Andrew Robertson and his wife Lilly Kanso have created a film that is garnering buzz on the festival circuit.

“Refuge” centers around a family trying to survive in the ruins of a collapsed America in the wake of a catastrophic plague.

They struggle to rebuild their lives in a boarded-up abandoned house while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their 8-year-old daughter.

To read more about the filmmakers, visit ABQjournal.com/reelnm.

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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