Women’s perspective gives new look to cinema showcase
It was clear that something had changed at the Santa Fe Indian Market’s Native Cinema Showcase. The selected films didn’t look through the lens of the classic Native film tropes: alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty and what the Native American Journalist Association refers to as “something ‘sacred.’”
This year’s film showcase featured cute films like “Old Crow Images,” directed by Ally Greenland and Dredyn Kassi, Vuntut Gwich’in from Old Crow, Yukon, Canada. The film is childlike and takes a young girl’s perspective of growing up in the First Nation community. Old Crow is very small and looks like small communities on the reservations here in the Southwest. The film’s photos show dirt roads covered in melting snow and children riding their bikes. The one store is called the Co-Op.
The playful editing is what makes the film unique. A little girl’s voice describes her community and what children do there. With each description a new image transitions onto the screen using either a swipe or a different quirky transition. The film also utilizes paper motion animation at the beginning and middle of the film.
The stop-motion animation is of the kids riding snowmobiles and then comically crashing into one another. This is definitely a film that would not have been selected in previous years.
So what was the difference this year compared to the 18 years before? The National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the organizer of the event, had three Indigenous women from three different communities as judges for this year’s selection. The three reviewed over 200 films.
They selected over 50 from 11 countries that represent 40 Native nations and several films that feature Indigenous languages. In previous years, NMAI staff selected the films. “It was topics that are relevant, but for me just to see that perspective come from Native women saying that it’s so important to tell that story,” said Cindy Benitez, the Native Cinema Showcase program manager. “It’s so important to have that kind of perspective.”
This new perspective created space for films with less production to shine. Young people also created a lot of the films. “This selection of films is so different this year,” Benitez said. “We hope that we can continue that way.” Next year, they are planning to have one to three outside judges. They haven’t decided yet. “This year it was all about female empowerment, language revitalization, music and they were like, ‘Let’s put a little bit of Native humor in there too,’” Benitez said. “We always get told there’s not enough humor.” This year the film cinema showcased “Raven and the Dogfish Woman,” an animated film inspired by Haida stories from the Pacific West Coast. Raven, who is the trickster for many tribes, falls in love with Dogfish Woman who always wears a mask over her nose and mouth. They meet for the first time on a beach near her home.
Raven morphs into Raven Shark. Then, he morphs into Raven Man when he walks onto the beach. This is where the comedy comes in. Raven Man is naked and needs clothing. He sees one of Dogfish Woman’s dresses and puts it on. Then she begins to tease him about his attire and Raven Man gets embarrassed. The scene is playful and funny. The animation of the characters, which is reminiscent of an anime style, only enhances the comedy in this scene.
Dogfish Woman is a mysterious character who leaves every night and returns every morning with lots of fish that she cooks for Raven Man. Raven Man always asks Dogfish Woman why she wears a mask and where she goes to fish at night. She tells him to just let it go but Raven doesn’t. He waits for her one night on the shore and in the early morning she emerges from the ocean. Dogfish Woman shifts from a dogfish shark, a revered animal to the Haida, back to a human. But when she shifts back to her human form, her face keeps the characteristics of a dogfish shark. Raven Man sees her face and Dogfish Woman heartbreakingly leaves him saying, “You could have been my king and I would’ve been your queen.”
This is the end of their love story and Raven Man waits at the beach for her to return. She never does. While this story is sad, it is also very funny. The creators often broke dramatic scenes with lighthearted jokes. The short film is actually part of a series called “Legendary Myths.”
However, the showcase still had more serious short films like “Fight Before the Fight” directed by Christopher Nataanii Cegielski, Navajo. His film was about a Muay Thai fighter, Jake Rameriez, and his traumatic journey to the sport. The cinematography in this film was top-notch, which is not surprising as Cegielski holds a bachelor’s degree in film and is a product of the Sony Pictures Diversity Fellowship. His previous short films have also been selected for the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival. In this film, Rameriez narrates how he used to always seek out fights and parties. Then one night five guys jumped him and broke his eye socket.
This left him feeling vulnerable. So he turned to Muay Thai because he never wanted that to happen again. However, the training became more than just about self-defense. It became his passion and a way of life. As Rameriez tells his story, the viewer can feel the emotions from despair to empowerment through his narration. The film follows him through a typical day of getting ready, eating healthy and going to the gym to train. It’s Rameriez’s captivating story, the unique pace from slow to hyper speed and the artful cinematography that really make this film special.
These were just three of the over 50 films screened over the weeklong event. The showcase started on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and lasted through the weekend. Benitez said people from all over come to Indian Market just to attend this unique film showcase. The showcase is not only free but it accepts films from all over the world, not just the United States. Next year the event will be celebrating its 20th year.