Superfly 2012: Portraits and Reflections From a Unique Filmmaking Experience
ICTMN contributor Renée Roman Nose participated as an actress in the 2012 edition of the Superfly Filmmaking Experience, which took place in early June in Seattle. For information about what the intense and unique workshop entails, check out our interview with Longhouse Media's Tracy Rector. Superfly filmmakers also participated in a photo shoot, many of them using as a prop an item that dominated the weekend: a cupcake. The portraits, a selection of which are above, were taken by Kiliii Yu/Seawolf Kayak; for many more, visit Longhouse Media's Facebook page.
The following is Roman Nose's inside account of the Superfly Filmmaking Experience:
It’s the first weekend in June, 2012, and we have come together at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle, Washington. The Center grounds, formerly part of Fort Lawton, were claimed in 1970 in a successful American Indian occupation led by Bernie Whitebear; today, Daybreak Star hosts a myriad of Native cultural events in a modern structure built in 1977. Fifty Native students from across the nation, along with mentors and volunteers, have all come together for a brief moment in time to take part in the Superfly Filmmaking Experience, a seven-year tradition for Longhouse Media. The workshop is overseen by Longhouse Media executive director Tracy Rector and Program Manager/Editor Lou Karsen.
My part in this venture is simple. I’m to play the mother in Group Two’s part of the script, “Cupcakes” written by Sierra Teller Ornelas. A talented and eloquent Navajo weaver originally from the Two Great Hills area of New Mexico, Ornelas now lives in Southern California where she a comedic scriptwriter. Ornelas has created five short scripts for Superfly—each script in a different genre, from animation to horror. Students, their mentors, and actors like me have 36 short hours to turn each script into a complete short film, with each film being no longer than five minutes. In addition to filming and editing the shorts, the students must give them an original soundtrack and include complete credits.
“I’ve always wanted to connect to people through story," Ms. Ornelas told me. "I feel like it was always in my blood. I’m a sixth generation Navajo tapestry weaver, and a lot of people don’t see that as art. The way my mom would explain the process, she said she was basically telling a story. Navajo weaving is a very similar model to filmmaking—it’s all trial and error. It’s amazing.” Ornelas in one of many here who make up something of a filmmaking family, through Longhouse and Superfly. “I programmed a lot of Tracy’s films," she says. "A lot of the former participants are now mentors. Some of our former participants have had shorts shown at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s exhilarating to see these young people interpret your work.”
Longhouse Media started more than seven years ago, and since then Tracy Rector’s goals haven’t changed much. The vision, she tells me, has always been to “break stereotypes." "Can you imagine if we had this kind of creative support around the country?" she asks. Tracy’s commitment is to her students and their creativity, sometimes in the face of adversity. “A number of our students have challenges," she explains, "whether it’s home life, maybe they are going through different life struggles. They attend and feel successful—seeing their film screen (at the Seattle International Film Festival) is pretty positive reinforcement, immediate and positive for them.”
My group has Script #2, "Cupcakes Part ll (Horror Version)," where we are tasked with turning Ms. Ornelas’ story into a, “horrifying, gut-wrenching, nail biting cinematic experience.” We have 36 hours to make a five-minute masterpiece. And there's a further challenge: We must “introduce a new youth character into the story.” Our team is led by Jake Hoyungowa, a Hopi and Navajo cinematographer and documentary filmmaker of tremendous talent and exceptional patience. Through his deft guidance, with the help of our other mentors—including Shelby Ray, Navajo, also a part of Outta Your Backpack Media; Ben Christensen, a mentor and teacher in the Fort Hall, Idaho community; Walter Olebar, a Seattle MC; and me. (And who am I? I played Camille in Some Days Are Better Than Others, an independent film written and directed by Matt McCormick recently released to DVD). We aren’t the stars of this show, though, our students are.
Dylan Thomas Elwood Decoteau, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, is in his third year at Superfly. He tells me, “It’s cool to make films with other Native people. I feel as though Superfly, creatively speaking, has made me a more powerful performer and person.” Dylan is our prop guy, he is our grip, he is the jack-of-all-trades vital to every project.
Our filmmaking process involves getting to know one another, understanding our roles in creating the film from the script, and working with our equipment (Sony EX-3 camera package). As must work as a team and we are responsible for doing it all: choosing locations, finding props, blocking out the scenes, recording the sound, editing, working with the music team to develop our soundtrack. And, of course, acting.
D’Andre Guess, an aspiring African American filmmaker, has traveled from Baltimore to take part, and is chosen by the group to be the director. Our assistant director is Lutricia Abbott, Alaska Native/African American. Cheyenne Fredriksson, Sioux, is busy helping us pull everything together. Lorraine Gopher, Yakama, and Leilani Pavel, Skokomish/Muckleshoot/Yakama, are our surprise actresses. Logan Nez is working with Walter to be our sound guy.
The student mostly working with me is Alex Escarcega, who plays my son. His most recent work is the film Winter In The Blood, in which he played the younger version of the main character Virgil, played by Chaske Spencer. Alex is from the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana. He joined Superfly to “get more experience, so I could become an actor. I want acting to be my career.” At nearly 15, he is well on his way. Alex wows our team with his creative ideas, energy, and acting.
As with any artistic endeavor, there are egos involved; there is also a severe lack of sleep as our team decides on shots necessary to the successful completion of our film, makes supplemental casting choices, and gets down to the business of shooting our film. That would seem like the easy part, but our director and assistant director must confer and agree on what angles to shoot from, We're shooting inside a large building that echoes, so sound quality becomes a problem that must be remedied by our mentor, Jake, and by our sound mentor, Walter, who take Alex and me to another area late into the evening to re-record our lines. After dinner our young team is a bit tired, but still excited, and our final film is due at 7 a.m. We still haven’t received our soundtrack.
We don't begin editing until 7 p.m. Friday night—12 hours to go. Our director and assistant director take turns editing, we get word that our music is ready so Jake goes upstairs to get it, while the rest of our team offers input and suggestions to the editing process. We started our editing in the large dining/meeting area of Daybreak Star, which is also, unfortunately for us, the sleeping area for all the students. Luckily, Tracy Rector lets us move to the room previously occupied by the musicians, who have now finished their original soundtracks. Our editing goes on through the night. I stay nearby, in my sleeping bag, close enough to sit up every hour or so and watch the editing for a few minutes as the film nears completion.
By Saturday morning, everyone is tired, but elated. Spirits are high, friendships have been made, networks established and all those involved are ready for the premiere, later that same day, of "Cupcakes" at the Seattle International Film Festival. Both PBS and KANU-TV (Tulalip Tribal TV Station) have expressed interest in airing "Cupcakes."
Each person I spoke with during Superfly had positive comments to make about their previous experiences, or excitement about next year’s event. Kudos to Longhouse Media for giving students confidence in their burgeoning talents, thereby helping them to gain in confidence and experience. Superfly is the culmination of a dream, one that helps our youth to realize their own dreams.