'Creative Spirit' boosts new talent in Hollywood.
By Eva Thomas -- Today correspondent
LOS ANGELES - The world premiere of two American Indian short films screened to a packed house at the Shelly Lansing Theater on the Paramount Studios Lot in Hollywood as part of the first-ever Los Angeles Skins Fest - a Native film festival that took place in November.
Both short films - ''Ancestor Eyes,'' written and directed by Kalani Queypo, Blackfeet/Hawaiian, and ''Two Spirits, One Journey,'' written and produced by Shawn Imitates Dog, Lakota - were the end result of the Southern California Indian Center's Creative Spirit Initiative, a weeklong filmmaking program.
James Lujan, Taos Pueblo, planner for SCIC and its subsidiary InterTribal Entertainment, developed the Creative Spirit program. With 15 years of writing, filmmaking and teaching experience, SCIC hired Lujan to run its multimedia division. Lujan created Creative Spirit to provide training and employment opportunities for American Indians in the film industry.
''After I arrived in L.A., I was able to see there was a lot of Native talent in this city, but we weren't coming together as a cohesive community,'' Lujan said. ''We needed opportunities to bring the Native talent together in a professional context.''
Creative Spirit puts out a nationwide call for American Indian short film scripts in late summer or early fall. Scripts are read and judged by a panel of industry professionals, who select two for production in Los Angeles. Each production is given a budget, cast and crew. Films have three days to shoot and three to edit, and are screened at the end of the production week.
''Ancestor's Eyes'' tells the story of a young Native woman and her mother, who must come to terms with her daughter's illness. ''Two Spirits, One Journey'' tells the story of forbidden love on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Also screened at the festival were last year's Creative Spirit projects: ''He Can't Be Caught,'' written by Clementine Bordeaux, Sicangu/Oglala Lakota, and ''Pow Wow Dreams,'' written and directed by Princess Lucaj, Gwich'in Athabascan.
In the last year, ''He Can't Be Caught'' and ''Pow Wow Dreams'' have hit the film festival circuit, both screened at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco in November.
''Pow Wow Dreams'' has also been an official selection of the Palm Springs Native American Film & Video Festival, Sol Dance Film Festival and ImagineNATIVE. It was also named Best Short Film at the International Cherokee Film Festival in October 2007, according to the Web site.
''Creative Spirit was a blessing,'' Lucaj said. ''Not only did I have the opportunity to develop my skills, but it gave me an end product: a short film. Now when I am pitching any future projects, I have a sample of my work.'' Lucaj also served as production mentor on the set of ''Ancestor's Eyes.''
Imitates Dog, who produced ''He Can't Be Caught,'' enjoyed the camaraderie on the set last year. Imitates Dog, a first-time screenwriter, was inspired to try his hand at writing.
''I had such a good experience on-set last year, and I knew I had a good story,'' Imitates Dog said. ''I felt encouraged to write and many people contributed to the final outcome of the film.''
Paula Starr, Cheyenne, executive director of SCIC, is also very proud of Creative Spirit. ''This is James Lujan's vision,'' Starr said. ''He was able to articulate the need for this program and he made it happen.''
Creative Spirit has had two successful years of filmmaking as well as providing a number of networking opportunities for Native talent in Los Angeles, including industry mixers.
''It can be done,'' Lujan said. ''And Creative Spirit has demonstrated that there is a lot of Native talent who can write, direct, act and produce films on a professional level. We hope to continue to make films and branch out into feature length projects.''
''The moment the film hits the screen, I feel so much pride,'' Starr added. ''We've been invisible for so long in this industry. It is incredible to see us on the screen with the same caliber of talent. We must continue to write and create our own stories.''
''Creative Spirit is something we all look forward to,'' Lucaj said. ''We know that there will be opportunities to fill roles, either in front of or behind the camera. It is something we look forward to every year.''
For more information on Creative Spirit, visit www.nativefilm.com.