A still from Marika Borgeson's short film 'Merry Christmas Happy Smoking'

Happy Smoking! Comanche Filmmaker Inspired by Mozart, Fast & Furious 6

Jason Asenap
July 22, 2013

Marika Borgeson is a citizen of the Comanche Nation and an experimental filmmaker, originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and now based in Durham, North Carolina, where she is busy completing her MFA at Duke University. I recently watched her latest experimental film, Eleven Forty Seven, at the Experiments in Cinema film festival in Albuquerque.  From her web page:

I am fascinated by the fluidity and mythology of American histories and aim to document the attempted suspension of time and the creation of legends through historic sites, museums, and archives. I also work in 16mm film to explore the materiality of the medium through physical manipulation of film and alternative processes.

Does your Comanche tribal identity influence your work in any way?

I definitely think it has, although it’s probably not a very overt or immediately apparent influence. I feel an obligation to make work that explores my tribal identity, but I haven’t discovered how to make that work yet. But I have been making work that deals with subjects that are integral to unpacking my tribal identity: history, the origins of stories and legends, family, travel, surroundings, belonging, and questioning.

What are some of the challenges in getting experimental work shown?

There are lots of incredible domestic and international festivals and venues that show experimental work. Some festivals (particularly American ones) can charge sizable submissions that can add up over time so just submitting can be cost prohibitive. Also, the experimental film community is amazing and extremely supportive but it can be difficult to get work shown outside of the community or an academic setting. Experimental work can be challenging and there’s a certain level of preparation and faith asked of the audience. There’s also the ever-changing technology that can also make it difficult to screen works; some places can’t screen film anymore, while others don’t have the capability to screen HD.

Does narrative work interest you?

Of course.  My interest in film started with narrative work and I still love to watch, discuss, and read about any and all narrative film, but at the moment I don’t really have a desire to make strictly narrative work. I would argue that my work does have a narrative, it’s just not a commercially marketable one. And the experimental and narrative film worlds don’t exist in vacuums; they are constantly influencing each other. I’m very interested in narrative work that is often described as poetic (but I’m equally happy watching Fast 6). These poetic works, like Leo Carax’s Holy Motors, go back and forth across the imaginary line of narrative/experimental. I’m interested in work, regardless of genre, that challenges categorization and preconceptions.

Who are your influences?

One of my first classes in graduate school was Documentary Fieldwork and our first assignment was to present our influences to the class. It was one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever had. There are just so many things, people, and places that I consider influences. There are too many to list in one place, but here’s a quick list of filmmakers, music, and other things that have been extremely influential in the shaping of my work and practice: Bryan Konefsky, Nina Fonoroff, David Gatten, Bill Brown, Tomonari Nishikawa, Shostakovich, Mozart, museums and historic sites, and old forgotten things.

What would you say it means to be a Comanche artist today?

I feel like there are a lot of expectations that work by Native Americans has to read immediately as Native American. Because of this expectation I would not be considered by many to be a Comanche artist. But I feel what is inherent to both my work, and that of other Native artists, is how our heritage informs our work but that the work doesn’t have to be explicitly about that heritage. Specifically related to filmmaking, I think it’s important to question what stories film is telling, but also how film is being used to tell those stories. The medium itself should be constantly questioned.

How does Albuquerque or New Mexico influence your work?

Albuquerque played a major role in one of my recent pieces, Eleven Forty Seven, which was shot on the Sandia Peak Tram. I think not as immediately apparent is how Albuquerque and New Mexico have influenced my exploration of space and landscape, and also history. Growing up immersed in, and being fascinated by, the geological and cultural history of New Mexico made me extremely interested in the processes behind those things.

What projects are you working on currently?

I’m finalizing a handmade 16mm film titled The Starry Messenger that used the sun to print and develop the film (basically a sunprint on 16mm black and white film stock). I’m also finishing a project titled Thank You American Tobacco that explores the different, often overlooked, ways tobacco has shaped American culture.

I’m also starting a project that could be called an experimental documentary which is about Quanah Parker’s Star House and the Old Parker Fort (where his mother was taken captive in a raid in 1836). I’m interested in how the properties are maintained and used both physically and in cultural memory while also thinking about what they represent in the history of the Comanche Nation and current tribal/federal relations.

Jason Asenap (Comanche/Muskogee Creek) is a writer and filmmaker from Walters, OK now based in Albuquerque, NM.  Asenap was selected to the 2011 Sundance Institute Nativelab fellowship and his short film, Rugged Guy, is currently screening at film festivals around the country.  He will begin graduate studies in Art History in the fall of 2013 at the University of New Mexico, where is also is employed at the Fine Arts and Design Library.

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