Jack McNeel
The One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival was marked by applause and laughter highlighted with the likes of Sherman Alexie, Steven Paul Judd, Sterlin Harjo and actor Evan Adams. (l to r) Monique Majica, Evan Adams and Sherman Alexie.

Sherman Alexie, Steven Paul Judd, Sterlin Harjo Featured at One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival

Jack McNeel

The One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival was marked by applause and laughter that continued throughout the two-day event. But what else would one expect with the likes of Sherman Alexie, Steven Paul Judd, Sterlin Harjo and others telling many ‘behind the screen’ stories?

For Alexie (Coeur d’Alene and Spokane) it was a return to a home audience near where his movie, Smoke Signals, was filmed. It was released in 1998 but retains its appeal 18 years later. “Smoke Signals remains the only Native written and directed film to ever receive a big distribution deal. It opened in 800 theaters and went on to win ‘Best Film’ at Sundance,” Alexie explained.

Two of the actors from that film, Monique Mojica and Evan Adams, joined Alexie and two producers to reminisce about the film. Adams said, “It was magic. There’s no other way to say it. There was not one moment when we didn’t think we were doing something special. A movie that deals with Native American culture and how we all care and how we all bleed and how we all feel together, that’s what this movie was all about.”

Laughter erupted when Alexie told some production tales. “That highly sacred Coeur d’Alene poem at the end was written by a Jewish guy from Boston,” he laughed. “Before it was released we screened it at a shopping mall in New Jersey.” Not things you would expect from a movie with an all Native cast.

Asked why he hasn’t done another movie, he responded, “Because nobody wants to. Trying to make a movie with an all-Native cast and pretend you’re going to make money is ludicrous.” Then came the big surprise, “But I can say that I just got contracts today. I haven’t signed them yet. I have certain obligations they have to meet. It has to be Indians playing Indians and there will be no Johnny Depp,” eliciting lots of applause and laughter. “The news will be available soon.”

Julia Keefe, board member for One Heart, introduced Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa and Choctaw) and spoke of the “raw, compelling, innovative, native perspective he provides and who Indian Country Today dubbed the ‘Native Renaissance Man of Native art.’  He is so creative. His graphic art and short films are just phenomenal.”

Steven has a personable, casual manner and a unique mind which often brought laughs as he described the hows and whys for a number of his graphic art pieces and short films. Longer films, such as Ronnie BoDean and Search for the World’s Best Indian Taco brought forth both the raw depth to his work as well as the humor. Asked about Robbie BoDean he explained “I wanted to make a film where the Native wasn’t being saved by a non-native. It was real important to me.”

Another film by Judd, “The Last Powwow”, is coming out very soon. He also answered a question saying a documentary about him was recently released called “Dig it if you Can” which won Best Documentary at Indian Market in Santa Fe.

Sterlin Harjo’s film, Mekko, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015 and was featured the second evening at One Heart. Harjo, (Seminole and Muscogee) like Judd, is from Oklahoma and his films have an Oklahoma base. The story tells of a Native man, Mekko, who serves a lengthy prison term and later ends up on the streets and is taken in by a homeless native community. The film is sometimes dark but Mekko remembers teachings from his grandmother which guide him.

In addition to the films, an art exhibit and sale by regional Native artists added additional interest to One Heart.

The organizers are hoping One Heart becomes a yearly festival. It’s timed to come right after the Spokane Tribe’s ‘Gathering at the Falls Pow wow’ and right before Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Kalispel and Muckleshoot Tribes were among the sponsors.

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Monique Majica
Evan Adams
One Heart Native Arts and Film Festival