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Native Cinema Showcase offers a mix of old and new, short and full-length films

From left, Carmelita Lowe, Noelle Brown and Larry Lowe are shown in a scene from Blackhorse Lowe’s short film “Shimásáni.” The Navajo filmmaker won Best of Show with this film at the 2010 Santa Fe Indian Market. (Courtesy of the Native Cinema Showcase)

From left, Carmelita Lowe, Noelle Brown and Larry Lowe are shown in a scene from Blackhorse Lowe’s short film “Shimásáni.” The Navajo filmmaker won Best of Show with this film at the 2010 Santa Fe Indian Market. (Courtesy of the Native Cinema Showcase)

To celebrate its 15th year, the Native Cinema Showcase is bringing some films back for a return engagement next week in Santa Fe.

“We’re bringing back those we feel are seminal films that didn’t get a lot of play and have not been put on the Web or digitalized,” said Melissa Bisagni, film and video manager for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, which presents the show in collaboration with the Santa Fe Indian Market.

“We’ll have some new films, as well,” she added, noting that the seven-day program, running Monday through the following Sunday, is mostly short films, with seven full-length feature films.

Blackhorse Lowe, a Navajo filmmaker who has lived in Albuquerque since 2010, will have one of each playing next week: a returning short film, “Shimásáni,” which won Best of Show in the 2010 Indian Market, and “Chasing the Light,” a new feature-length film that he just wrapped up.

Both are shot in black and white, mostly because it’s less expensive than color, Lowe said, adding that he likes the texture it brings to the screen. “It gives a whole different cinematic feeling,” he said in a phone interview.

“Chasing the Light,” which will be screened 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21, was shot in the Duke City and centers on a depressed writer trying to get over his ex-girlfriend. Lowe said the film includes “drug dealing, fist fights and DMT trips.”

“It’s the seedier side of Albuquerque,” Lowe quipped.

Other characters in the film also struggle with relationship issues, he said, including one who doesn’t respect his girlfriends, another who falls in love with the wrong person and another whose girlfriend belittles his other friends.

But despite that description sounding like a downer, Lowe characterized the film as a “psychedelic romantic comedy.”

“I think it has a happy ending, in a way, but not really a clear-cut way,” he said, adding that he aimed to balance out “the funk” with “ridiculous comedy.”

Lowe, who grew up in Nenahnezad in the northeast corner of the Navajo Nation, has a history of using friends and family members in his films.

“Shimásáni,” being screened in a shorts program that starts 1 p.m. Thursday, is inspired by a story from his grandmother. It follows a young woman on the Navajo reservation in the 1920s as she wrestles with the question of whether to stay home and follow the traditional lifestyle, or to see what awaits her “over the mountain.”

Lowe’s first full-length film, “5th World,” explores the relationship of two hitch-hikers on a road trip and the stories they hear from their relatives on love and ceremony. That film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

Lowe has been able to make his living in film, whether through working on advertising and documentary projects, or helping produce films being put together by some of his friends. “I don’t really know how to do anything else,” he said.

This is a scene from “Chasing the Light,” which filmmaker Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo) said shows the “seedier side” of Albuquerque. (Courtesy of the Native Cinema Showcase)

This is a scene from “Chasing the Light,” which filmmaker Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo) said shows the “seedier side” of Albuquerque. (Courtesy of the Native Cinema Showcase)

“Chasing the Light” is a departure from his past work by being fully modern, he said. It’s also different in that he had an idea, but not a script, and he also had a sense for what music he wanted to incorporate into it. “It was a more organic process,” Lowe said. “It kind of unfolded before me.”

It was shot “on and off for two to three months,” he said, as the money came and went and “whenever I could beg someone to be in the film.”

The only previous public screening, and that was of a rough cut, was a month ago in New York in association with the Smithsonian, he said. “The way the audience reacted blew me away,” Lowe said. “I’m interested to see how it will play in Santa Fe.”

He’s got plenty of ideas for future films, including a werewolf story set in the ’80s and Navajos on the rodeo circuit in the ’50s, he said. It’s all a matter of finding the money and getting all the pieces to come together to make them happen.

“Follow Me Home” by filmmaker Peter Bratt (Quechua) is one of the feature films being brought back for the Native Cinema Showcase’s 15th anniversary program.

“Follow Me Home” by filmmaker Peter Bratt (Quechua) is one of the feature films being brought back for the Native Cinema Showcase’s 15th anniversary program.

A mixed bag

A centerpiece film at the showcase, “Follow Me Home” by Peter Bratt (Quechua), dates back to 1996 and played mostly at art festivals, Bisagni said. Scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, it takes you on a journey with three muralists – a Latino, a Native American and an African-American – who aim to paint their images on the White House.

“It’s really topical now with the discussion in our culture about race in America,” she said. “A lot of the conversation in it is the same as the conversation we are having today.”

“Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” a 2001 film by Zacharias Kunuk (Inuit), had wider distribution, but many people still haven’t seen it, Bisagni said. Filmed in the native language in the pre-contact Arctic, it depicts a life-threatening struggle between natural and supernatural elements. It is set for 7 p.m. Monday.

“My Legacy” by Helen Haig-Brown (Tsilhqot’in) explores the effects of boarding school on the relationship between a mother and daughter (7 p.m. Wednesday). “It’s very much about deciding your kids are not going to suffer through inherited trauma,” Bisagni said. “It takes you to a deep place … .”

“O Mestre e o Divino” (Master and Divine) is a Brazilian feature film coming to the Native Cinema Showcase.

“O Mestre e o Divino” (Master and Divine) is a Brazilian feature film coming to the Native Cinema Showcase.

“O Mestre e o Divino,” a 2013 Brazilian film by Tiago Campos Torres, shows village life filmed by a German missionary shortly after contact with the outside world in 1957, juxtaposed with footage from a videography project started in the 1980s by Xavante filmmaker Divino Tserewahu, who helped villagers film their own lives. “It’s an amazing film,” Bisagni said. “I’m super-excited about it showing in Santa Fe.”

The different views demonstrated in the film could even “inform us about how Catholic communities came into Pueblo communities hundreds of years ago,” she said.

“Longhouse Media Retrospective,” slated for 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, gleans short films from a project started 10 years ago by Annie Silverstein and Tracy Rector (Choctaw/Seminole) at the Swinomish Indian Community to help residents use digital media to tell their stories.

Most of the films are made by young people. “Some are light-hearted fun; some are animated pieces; some are about learning one’s native language; some are about the difficulties of reservation life,” Bisagni said. “They come out of these situations to make art.”

For a full schedule, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu.

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