Zahn McClarnon in Sterlin Harjo's Mekko

10 Great Native Films at Durango Independent Film Festival

Jason Asenap

Committed to screening Native films, the 11th Annual Durango Independent Film Festival kicked off on March 2nd, bringing over 100 films to Durango, Colorado, including 10 Native films.

Native film programmer Crystal Delgai (Navajo) scouts for films throughout the year and selected the 10 Native films, consisting of documentaries, short films, and feature films to play within 4 different film programs.

The Durango Independent Film Festival  (Photo: Jason Asenap)

The four film programs were “The Changing Woman Diaries,” outlining the contributions of women, the “Generation Z” program, which addressed the challenges in today’s youth,  The “Native Lebowski” focused on comedy, and the “Traditional Trail Home” program addressed reclaiming tradition.

Awards were given – among the winners were Ronnie BoDean, which received the jury commendation for live-action short and Children of the Arctic, which received the award for best Native cinema film. Here are the 10 films:

“The Changing Woman Diaries” program (four Native films)

The Routes

The Routes  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

The synopsis of this short film from Canada by James “Zicks” McDougall says, “McDougall rides his bike through his hometown only to be reminded of the women in his life.”  Memories are triggered on his bike ride, reminding him of his need to connect more to his roots and rez. A short clip can be found from the film’s website here,

First Light

First Light  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

A documentary short by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Culip about the devastating effects of Native American children taken away from their families. This film is, “an experiment in truth-telling and healing for Wabanaki people,” according to the film’s website,

Spring Fever

Spring Fever  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

This short film by Ojibwe/Cree director Sally Kewayosh is about sisterhood and  the arrival of a new baby to the family.  Kewayosh was also a featured actor in Blackhorse Lowe’s comedy, Chasing the Light.

A Thousand Voices

(Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

The film,  A Thousand Voices is currently making festival rounds and screenings. It is a universal story about the enduring strength and history of New Mexico’s Native American women. This 57 minute documentary is directed by David Aubrey.

The “Generation Z” program  (two Native films)

Native Evolution

Native Evolution  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

Directed by Kyle Bell (Creek),  a frequent collaborator with filmmaker Sterlin Harjo  (Seminole/Creek) and  artist/filmmaker Steven Judd (Choctaw/Kiowa),  Native Evolution is a documentary short about Oklahoma artist Steven Grounds (Navajo/Euchee/Creek/Seminole), who goes by the moniker Native Evolution, and his transition into the street art scene.

Children of the Arctic

Children of the Arctic  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

Children of the Arctic is a feature-length documentary of Native Alaskan teenagers in Barrow, Alaska navigating a rapidly changing environment and community that doesn’t get much screentime.

“Native Lebowski” Program  (two Native films)

Ronnie Bodean

Ronnie Bodean  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

This film by Stephen Judd has well-known actor Wes Studi playing the title character, ill-equipped to take on the mission of babysitting his neighbor's children for a day. This homage to Billy Jack and ‘70’s exploitation films is a fun walk through cinematic pastiche.

Chasing the Light

Chasing the Light  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

A stoner buddy comedy, with equal parts Jim Jarmusch inspired photography and a Pulp Fiction vibe, this avant garde film follows the character Riggs with his buddy Manygoats through several misadventures that begin in downtown Albuquerque and go as far north as Santa Fe, NM.  It is a dark, comedic, adventure set in various houses, bars, bus stations, and streets. An ensemble piece, perhaps not for kids, but hilarious and thought provoking for adults.

“Traditional Trail Home” (two Native films)

Call and Response

Call and Response  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

Craig Commanda’s experimental short film, where he discusses “the missing parts of his life.”  A short documentary, but word of mouth was the film was arresting and adventurous in spirit.


Mekko  (Photo Courtesy: Durango Film Festival Website)

Sterlin Harjo’s latest feature film, which is making many festival rounds including its world premiere at the L.A. Film Festival June 2015, Mekko is the story of a homeless Native man, (Rod Rondeaux) who is living on the streets in Tulsa, OK, and must confront a dark character in his community played by Zahn McClarnon (Longmire). The film has also screened at Toronto's Film Festival in addition to many other festivals.  It is Harjo’s third feature fiction film, not counting his documentary, This May Be The Last Time.  It has been getting rave reviews on the festival circuit.

See Related: Watch the Intense Trailer for 'Mekko,' Sterlin Harjo's Latest Film

More about these films and others can be found on the Durango Independent film festival website,


Follow ICTMN correspondent Jason Asenap on Twitter at @Asenap 

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