Photo courtesy Genesis Tuyuc
Filmmaker Andrew MacLean introduces his short film "Sikumi" on the first day of the second annual Native American and Indigenous Film Festival in New York City.

In NYC, Native American Students Celebrate Indigenous Films, Filmmakers

Genesis Tuyuc

Let’s talk Native American Heritage Month 2015 - because it ends today. And let’s talk indigenous filmmaking, and New York City.

Earlier this month, the Native American and Indigenous Students’ Group (NAISG) at New York University, guided by many mentors, hosted several days of Native American films and filmmakers to highlight indigenous storytelling.

It was packed house a few weeks ago at the second annual Native American and Indigenous Film Festival. The event opened with the group’s Vice President, Andrew Begay, a junior in the College of Arts and Science studying French and Linguistics. The moderator for the night, Dr. Amalia Cordova, Assistant Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and filmmaker, introduced the first short narrative film, Sikumi, directed and written by Iñupiaq filmmaker and Professor Andrew MacLean. The film, which is the first film to be told entirely in the Iñupiaq language, depicts the story of Apuna, an Inuit hunter, who searches for seal, but instead witnesses a murder. He is then forced to navigate his own morality.

It was then followed by the New York City premiere of Angelo Baca’s feature documentary film, Into America: The Ancestor’s Land, which depicted the story of Angelo Baca’s grandmother, Helen Yellowman, through her own reflections and words in the Navajo language as they road tripped back to their rightful and ancestral home. Both films were applauded for their beauty, distinct from one another, yet similar in that they told intricate and compelling stories.

The conversation that ensued the pair of films was refreshing, exhilarating even. Topics ranged from the importance of Native American people behind and in front of the lens, to ethical and legal rights of intellectual and cultural property. Audience members asked intriguing questions that further propelled the conversation forward.

The opening day for this film festival was heartening and uplifting because we didn't know the real interest of the NYC community to see indigenous cinema and both days. It was at max capacity to standing room,” Baca stated. “Not only did they show up, but they demanded this kind of film representation, where we are underrepresented, in such a diverse city by the sheer turnout.”

This film festival was not just a gathering of people watching films; it was a statement to New York City, but, more specifically, to NYU. Indigenous students hailing from all over the world are present and active at New York University.

As one of the film festival’s organizers, I believe an Indigenous Studies Program is vital and needed on NYU’s campus, and the students will continue to work towards that goal. The film festival is one way of knowing that the NYC community feels the same.

“As an ally, I think folks like me need to find ways to support the agendas of indigenous peoples, rather than impose our own,” said Amanda Foote, producer of the Nakoda AV Club, studying in the Museum Studies Certificate program at NYU. “The indigenous students at NYU decided they wanted to have this festival, so I used whatever skills I could to support NAISG and make that happen.”

And this was only the first day.

The second day was opened and moderated by Professor Andrew MacLean, who emphasized the importance of an indigenous film festival in New York City, and how it has been dearly missed since the hiatus in 2011 of the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native American Film & Video Festival.      

Day two included narrative and documentary short films by Alex Lazarowich and Tanis Parenteau, Doris Loayza, Blackhorse Lowe, Keith Taylor, Angelo Baca, Kevin Lance Littlefeather, Long Tut, Kez Left-Hand, and the Nakoda AudioVisual Club from Alberta, Canada.

The panel included Baca, director of Breaktime is Over and Mulheres Na Capoeira, two of the film festival organizers, Amanda Foote and myself, and Charlie Uruchima, guest-host of Tiokasin Ghosthorse’s radio program First Voices Radio, representing Doris Loayza’s film, Bronx Llaktamanta, and Keith Taylor, director of The Last Day.

“It is an honor to be a part of the 2015 NYU Native American and Indigenous Second Annual Film Festival, to have a platform to showcase my work, The Last Day, among many talented Native American and indigenous filmmakers,” Taylor said. “I see this festival becoming larger than life as years go by and that more Native artists are being recognized for their work to be shown to the world. There is a life and story to be told from our people.”  

Although the film festival was only two days, love for indigenous film was felt all throughout. It is this love that fuels us, the organizers, to continue to push the boundaries in our own art and work together to create a better and more inclusive film festival next year.

“It’s important that our stories are shown everywhere.” Lowe, Navajo filmmaker and director of the short film, Shimásáni, said. “Film is an immediate delivery device of ideas and culture. It reflects who we are at this moment - our emotions, our languages, our way of living in this world. This film festival is a great venue for showcasing these films.”

Genesis Tuyuc (Maya Kaqchikel), born and raised in NYC, is a fiction writer, filmmaker and community organizer. She is an alumnus of New York University, where she studied Linguistics and Creative Writing.

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