I’m presenting at and attending the International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Today was the pre-conference workshop day. My session, “Digital Storytelling for Tribal Cultural Institutions,” went well and provided an opportunity for me to start my first eBook using iBooks Author software. This is definitely one of the most unique and memorable places I’ve ever composed a blog post… I wish I could take a photo of my location, but digital cameras aren’t allowed here. I’m sitting at a table at the center bar of the Hard Rock Casino, watching the OKC Thunder lead the San Antonio Spurs in the first half of game 5 in their series. I just stepped out of “The Joint,” the casino’s amazing auditorium, where our group screened five different independent films created by Native American filmmakers. The Hard Rock Casino is an incredible and growing “entertainment” complex operated by The Cherokee Nation. Here I am typing on my iPad… A surreal scene on several levels.
I’d like to share a few links and resources which were shared at tonight’s Native indie film screening.
First of all, my favorite film of the group was definitely Steven Judd’s “Search for the World’s Best Indian Taco.” It has the spirit of a spoof comedy, and the ending is great… Surprising and very touching! Check out the teaser trailer. Steven was one of our MC’s tonight and answered some questions after the screenings. It was great to not only see one of his films but also hear him share about his journey and experiences as a filmmaker.
Our other MC tonight was Jason Asenap, who created the short film “Rugged Guy” which was funded through this online kickstarter campaign. Check out the video he made to raise the $5000 used to make the film.
Shimásání by Blackhorse Lowe is another film we saw tonight which was entirely different. It was shot on film and had a completely different feel. It dealt with serious issues of Indian Schools, authoritarian school officials, and a mother who didn’t want her daughter to leave and abandon her at home.
All of these films reminded me of an amazing week I spent on the campus of Stanford University at the Digital Media Academy’s workshop on digital storytelling in 2005. This was my one and only experience (to date) being a part of a filmmaking team using professional grade videography gear. I would love to provide “media camp” experiences like this for teachers as well as students in Oklahoma. It was an invigorating, creative experience! The iPad Media Camps I’m leading in Yukon and Oklahoma City this summer are not going to approach the scale and impact of the DMA, but those experiences certainly continue to shape my own ideas and work as an educational digital storyteller and storychaser.
The 2012 short film, “Hoverboard” was the first film we saw tonight. Its “Back to the Future” theme was clever and imaginative. It made me think about the additional pressure and scrutiny under which some (or all) Native American filmmakers work, however. A response to it after the screenings pointed out that Native people are viewing these films not just for their quality as independent films, but specifically for the ways they reflect and reflect upon Native experiences, ideas, and values. The dynamics present in this mix are complex and interesting to say the least.
During the Q&A following the screenings, one of our MC’s mentioned Thomas Yeahpau’s book, “X-Indian Chronicles: The Book of Mausape”. I am going to check it out, even thought it’s not yet available in eBook form. I am sure the opportunity to share and amplify young authors is as important in Native American cultures as any other. It is great to learn about how Native authors are taking their writing skills into the genre of filmmaking. I think this book is being adapted for film.
Most of the films (and maybe all of them) we saw tonight were a result of scholarships offered by the Sundance Institute. I asked our MC’s tonight what had been their biggest takeaways from the experience of working with others at Sundance. The clear answer was networking and mentorships. Technology is empowering, but nothing beats the value and power of face-to-face networking when it comes to getting “apprenticed” with skills.
Superfly Filmmaking is a Seattle-based project that was mentioned tonight which reminds me of the great “Film on the Fly” contest series which California educator Janet English organized through a local PBS affiliate station several years ago. I emailed and spoke to Janet on the phone in the fall of 2010 about possibly reviving “film on the fly” via Storychasers, but haven’t followed up since due to dissertation work (joyously now completed!) and other “stuff.” This is a great videography and digital storytelling contest structure/idea and I hope we’ll see more initiatives like it in the future.
One of the audience members talked about the themes of drug use and violence on Native reservations which were raised in one of the films we saw tonight. She mentioned the Native H.O.P.E. Projects on Navajo reservations, which are seeking to address teen suicide incidents. Teen suicide is a problem which crosses many cultural boundaries. We had a series of teen suicides this past spring in Edmond, Oklahoma, which rocked our community. The need for teens to define a constructive personal identity, have positive relationships with caring adults as well as peers, and the need to address the root causes of self-destructive behaviors are critical needs we all face in our communities. I’m wondering about the role student-created digital storytelling and media products can play in this situation?
The last resource mentioned tonight which I’ll share is Steven Judd’s recent project, “Neil Discovers The Moon.” It’s a clever, one minute stopmotion video on YouTube. Enjoy and be provoked to think critically about the historical relationships of Europeans and “white Americans” with Native people through this short video.
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