Category Archives: Films

“Reviving a Lost Language Through Film”

“Speaking Haida for the first time in more than 60 years looked painful. Sphenia Jones’s cheeks glistened with sweat, and her eyes clenched shut. She tried again to produce the forgotten raspy echo of the Haida k’, and again she failed. Then she smiled broadly. ‘It feels so good,” Ms. Jones, 73, said. ‘Mainly because I can say it out loud without being afraid.’ Ms. Jones was sent far from home to a residential school to be forcibly assimilated into Western culture. When a teacher caught Ms. Jones learning another indigenous language from two schoolmates, Ms. Jones said, the teacher yanked out three fingernails.” C. Porter, The New York Times

Spehenia Jones, 73, speaking Haida again for the first time since she was a child. NYT

Excerpt: Reviving a Lost Language of Canada Through Film, by Catherine Porter, The New York Times

“It worked: Ms. Jones spoke nothing but English, until recently, when she began learning her lines in the country’s first Haida-language feature film, Edge of the Knife.

With an entirely Haida cast, and a script written in a largely forgotten language, the film reflects a resurgence of indigenous art and culture taking place across Canada. It is spurred in part by efforts at reconciliation for the horrors suffered at those government-funded residential schools, the last of which was closed only in 1996.

Restoring the country’s 60 or so indigenous languages, many on the verge of extinction, is at the center of that reconciliation. The loss of one language, said Wade Davis, a University of British Columbia anthropology professor, is akin to clear-cutting an ‘old-growth forest of the mind.’ The world’s complex web of myths, beliefs and ideas — which Mr. Davis calls the ‘ethnosphere’ — is torn, just as the loss of a species weakens the biosphere, he said. A Haida glossary dedicates three pages to words and expressions for rain.

Tyler York, the lead actor in Edge of the Knife, getting a traditional sea grizzly tattoo on his chest. Credit Ruth Fremson:The New York Times

‘English cannot begin to describe the landscape of Haida Gwaii,’ the Haida homeland, Mr. Davis said. That really is what language is.’ Fewer than 20 fluent speakers of Haida are left in the world, according to local counts. For the Haida themselves, the destruction of their language is profoundly tied to a loss of identity.

‘The secrets of who we are, are wrapped up in our language,’ said Gwaai Edenshaw, a co-director of the film, who like most of the cast and crew grew up learning some Haida in school but spoke English at home.

North Beach on Graham Island, part of the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii off British Columbia’s coast. Credit-Ruth Fremson:The New York Times

Mr. Edenshaw was a co-writer of the script for the 1.8 million Canadian dollar ($1.3 million) film, which is set in Haida Gwaii — an archipelago of forested islands off the west coast of Canada — during the 1800s. It tells an iconic Haida story of the ‘wildman,’ a man who is lost and becomes feral living in the forest. In this version, the wildman loses his mind after the death of a child, and is forcibly returned to the fold of his community in a healing ceremony.

Yan, an ancient Haida village in Haida Gwaii with a replica long house and totem pole, will be the location for filming “Edge of the Knife. CreditRuth Fremson:The New York Times

The film would seem cripplingly ambitious if not for the record of the executive producer, the Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk.  He made his name with  Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) which depicted an Inuit folk epic and starred untrained Inuit actors speaking their traditional language, Inuktitut.That film won the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, and is still considered one of the best Canadian films of all time. Local builders constructed a long house on the site of an old traditional village where the film [Edge of the Knife] is being shot.

Vern Williams sang traditional songs in the long house as the actors finished rehearsing. CreditRuth Fremson:The New York Times

A local musician, Vern Williams, was hired to create songs for the film. During the evenings of the language camp, he pulled out his guujaaw — drum — and filled the long house with his low, mournful voice.  Mr. Williams, 58, spent seven terrible years in a residential school.‘I don’t call this reconciliation,’ he said. ‘Something was taken. We are taking it back.’ A Haida artist tattooed clan crests on the chests and arms of willing actors in the traditional stick-and-poke fashion.

After a long day of stumbling over pronunciation, Mr. Russ, one of the actors, sat by the wood stove with his script open on his lap, enjoying Mr. Williams’s music for a moment. He had circled every line he found difficult, which were all 37.

His relaxation did not last long. ‘I’m starting to feel overwhelmed,’ he said, heading outside to practice.Two weeks was not enough to learn pronunciation, let alone memorize his lines. Then, he had to learn how to act.”

Category: Films

Film Moana to be Dubbed by Māori Natives!

“The call has gone out from The Walt Disney Animation Studios and Matewa Media who are searching for our very own Māori Moana as the movie is set to be dubbed in te reo Māori.” T. Koti, Māori Online News

Excerpt: Are you the Māori Moana? By  Tepara Koti, Māori Online News

“The Academy Award nominated animated feature Moana has particularly resonated with Māori and Pacific Island viewers who will no doubt be excited with the news.  The recording process will take place over the next few months with actors Rachel House (“Gramma Tala”), Temuera Morrison (“Chief Tui”), Jemaine Clement (“Tamatoa”) and Oscar Kightley (“Fisherman”) reprising their roles.

Te Whānau-a-Apanui’s Rob Ruha, a multi-award-winning composer and solo artist, has joined the team as both Musical Director and as an integral part of the translation/adaptation team. Release details are to be announced, with the goal to have the film shared both in festivals and on DVD for educational purposes in Aotearoa and beyond.

‘It’s been a big dream of mine to see mainstream movies translated into te reo Māori,’ says Waititi [director Taika Watiti].

‘For indigenous audiences to hear films in their own language is a huge deal, helping to normalize the native voice and give a sense of identification. It also encourages our youth to continue with their love and learning of the language, letting them know their culture has a place in the world.’

Note: Mauri Ora! We are on the search for our very own Māori speaking Moana. Auditions are due by June 15 so kia tere!

Casting information can be found on the Adrenaline Group website.

Category: Films

‘Killa’: A New Film About Saving Natives

“The director of Ecuador’s first Kichwa-language movie wants the public to know the plot-line but also that the problems facing all Indigenous Peoples in this hemisphere are based on colonialism and a lack of sovereignty.”  R. Kearns, ICTMN

Alberto Muenala, a highly respected Kichwa scholar and filmmaker directed “Killa”, a film presenting the issues Indigenous Peoples . Courtesy Frida Muenala

Excerpt:  Killa’: The Indigenous Story Against Mining and Corruption, by Rick Kearns, ICTMN

“The movie Killa (pronounced keeja) premiered in the second week of March. It tells the story of a Kichwa (one of the Quechua related ethnicities) photojournalist who takes incriminating photos of a mining company operation and how ‘a corrupt government official takes ruthless steps to stop their publication.’ The local Indigenous community rallies in defense of their land against the mining operation and that leads to a conflict with government forces.

With this film we hope to demonstrate how our values and principles of maternal respect to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) can lead all of us toward the ultimate goal of sumak kawsay (good living)—respect, dignity, and cultural coexistence.

Killa is the culmination of our community’s search for a cinematic voice. This ambitious project is the first feature-length film written, directed, and produced by Kichwa filmmakers in our native Kichwa language.

[ According to Director Albert Muenala] ‘Every day we are subjected to a process of continued colonialism that does not allow for the self-determination of the peoples; it has become common practice to auction and sell off territories to transnational oil and mining companies without prior consent of the first peoples,’.

The Mestizo audiences in Quito and Tulcan left the theaters pleased to see another way of making movies that show realities that they themselves are not aware of in themselves too (racism), as well as seeing how the attitudes of the rulers played out, Muenala stated. Killa will be shown in other parts of Ecuador and Muenala is hoping to bring the movie to the U.S. and elsewhere through film festivals.”

Category: Films

Native Thriller Mekko: Modern Warriors on the Streets

“For filmmaker Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek), making his stories feel real is crucial. The connections he made in the homeless community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Harjo is from, were real. So were the images, places and stories that all came to inspire his latest film, ‘Mekko’. Harjo describes the film as a thriller. T. Coleman, Native People Magazine

Scene from film Mekko

Scene from film Mekko

Excerpt: Sterlin Harjo’s “Mekko” By Travis Coleman, Native Peoples

“Shot in Tulsa, Harjo’s third feature film reflects the city sights and sounds—alongside other varied influences. It’s a story about Mekko, a parolee trying to rebuild his life after 19 years in prison for murder. He seeks redemption in confronting Bill, a cruel and possibly supernatural influence on the homeless community…The Muscogee story of the estekini (pronounced sta-genn-ee), an evil witch or shape-shifter, influenced the film. It’s kind of like our tribe’s boogeyman, Harjo says…While in Tulsa, Harjo began hanging with homeless people from his neighborhood and found many of them were Native Americans who had formed a community for themselves on the outskirts of society.

View  Mekko Trailer HD:

To play the title character, Harjo cast stuntman Rod Rondeaux (Crow)…Bill was played by Zahn McClarnon (Hunkpapa Lakota)… For the film, the actors worked alongside homeless people of downtown Tulsa, whom Harjo had met in a soup kitchen. Despite almost no major film-studio backing, Harjo has found success on the festival circuit and isn’t seeking to create films that could be considered commercially viable. That, he says, would feel gross.”

“If you spend your time talking about yourself, you lose sight about what your art is…I just constantly work … and try to tell stories.”~ Sterlin Harjo~

Category: Films

The Jingle Dress: Native Culture and Mystery!

O’siyo. Full of intrigue, mystery, and culture (both old and new) The Jingle Dress is a Native film about an Ojibwe family  and their move from the rural White Earth Band Indian Reservation to the urban environment of Minneapolis. The uncle of John Red Elk has mysteriously died, and the family needs to find out what happened to him. Through the family’s eyes we gain insight into an ancient, indigenous society, and learn values from a new one. ICTNM interviewed one of the stars Stacey Thunder.

Chaske Spencer, S'Nya Sanchez-Hohenstein, Mauricimo Sanchez-Hohenstein, and Stacey Thunder as the Red Elk family in 'The Jingle Dress.' Photo courtesy The Jingle Dress.

Chaske Spencer, S’Nya Sanchez-Hohenstein, Mauricimo Sanchez-Hohenstein, and Stacey Thunder as the Red Elk family in ‘The Jingle Dress.’ Photo courtesy The Jingle Dress.

Excerpt: Packed House: Actress Stacey Thunder on ‘The Jingle Dress’ Sneak Preview Screening. ICTNM

“On Saturday, April 5, The Jingle Dress made its debut in a sold-out sneak preview screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. The film stars Stacey Thunder, Kimberly Guerrero, Chaske Spencer and Steve Reevis. “The screening went great and there was definitely a packed house — chairs were added in the very back of the theater,” says Thunder, who took a few moments to discuss the film with ICTMN.”

Sisters Janet (Kimberly Guerrero) and Elsie (Stacey Thunder) share a laugh in a scene from The Jingle Dress.

Sisters Janet (Kimberly Guerrero) and Elsie (Stacey Thunder) share a laugh in a scene from The Jingle Dress.

ICTNM: What’s The Jingle Dress about?

It’s a contemporary story of a Native American family who move from their rural home on the reservation in northern Minnesota to the faster paced urban environment of Minneapolis. I play Elsie, the mother of the Red Elk family. She is the backbone of the family and loves them dearly. She is very strong, yet sensitive and looks to her husband John (Chaske Spencer) and sister Janet (Kimberly Guerrero), for support.  She worries about her family as they experience their new life in Minneapolis.

By most accounts, women's Jingle Dress Dance has its roots in some part of Ojibwe country. St. Albert Gazette.

By most accounts, women’s Jingle Dress Dance has its roots in some part of Ojibwe country. St. Albert Gazette.

ICTNM: What is the significance of the jingle dress to the story?

Its healing power. After Elsie tells her daughter Rose the story of the dress while making it for her, Rose wears and dances in the dress in order to help her family.

ICTNM: You worked with Chaske Spencer, who’s one of the most accomplished Native actors in recent times, what was that like?

It was great! Chaske is a nice guy and fun to work with. In fact, there were a lot of smiles and laughs on set because everyone, including our amazing crew, got along so well.

Jingle Dress dancers at a White Earth Reservation powwow. MinnPost photo by Steven Date.

Jingle Dress dancers at a White Earth Reservation powwow. MinnPost photo by Steven Date.

ICTNM: For better or worse, it seems most films about the contemporary Native experience have an educational element — seeking to help people outside Native culture gain some understanding of it. Is there an element of that going on in this film?

The Jingle Dress shows a real side to our lives today — that we are still here and still very real. And by watching the Red Elk family, viewers get to learn about one unique Indigenous culture and tradition, which is very important, but that they’ll also see Native peoples are also human beings like them who have and share the same feelings, hopes, dreams, goals and challenges. Read more…

Kudos to the cast and supporters of this wonderful film!

 “ There are several slightly different versions of the Jingle dress’s origination story. One is that the first dress was made for a very sick girl by a medicine man, who saw the dress in a vision. The dress was made and the sick girl was healed by dancing in the dress. This dress is considered sacred by many people. It  is often called a “medicine dress”.  ~Ojibway~

Read about The Legend of Talking Feathers /Talking Sticks


Category: Films

Frybread T.V. Series Airs in March 2014!

O’siyo. Holt Hamilton produced one of the most successful Native films entitled, “More Than Frybread” (2012). The story is about five Native Americans representing different tribes, who are the best in their communities at making frybread.  The film follows the  five contestants as they prepare and compete in the ultimate frybread challenge.The story is warm, funny, and full of Native culture. In March 2014, Holt will recreate this wonderful story in a T.V./Web series entitled “Frybread”.

Frybread Association TV Web series.

Frybread Association TV Web series.

Excerpt: The World Wide Frybread Association lives on in new TV/Web Series

“The pilot TV episode of “Frybread” is sixty-percent completed, and features several cast members from the movie More Than Frybread. The release of the pilot by Holt Hamilton Productions (HHP) could very well be the first TV series based on Native American sitcom. The original movie released in 2012 was screened in more than fifty reservations throughout the U.S. and Canada. The release of “Frybread” is scheduled for mid-March 2014.

 Mr. Donathon Littlehair (actor J.W. Washington): “Frybread needs me.” YouTube.

Mr. Donathon Littlehair (actor J.W. Washington): “Frybread needs me.” YouTube.

The series takes off with the World Wide Frybread Association, founded in 2005, in peril with bankruptcy and litigation nipping at its heels. Donathan Littlehair (actor J.W. Washington), who is naturally thin on top, conjures up a means to save the organization with the aid of humorous and colorful characters from various Native American tribes.

Poster for More Than Frybread. Photo- GilaRiver.

Poster for More Than Frybread. Photo- GilaRiver.

Producer Travis Holt Hamilton, a non-native, has completed five films that encompass comedy and drama with a Native American slant. Hamilton’s inspiration to create and present Indian-style entertainment was energized at a screenwriter’s workshop in Los Angeles.

The film Pete & Cleo also produced by Holt Hamilton. Photo- Frybread.

The film Pete & Cleo also produced by Holt Hamilton. Photo- Frybread.

The goal of the pilot episode is to establish Season One, which will consist of 13 episodes. Holt Hamilton Productions foresees filming the series in various tribal communities that will aid in opening doors for aspiring actors and technical staff of Native American heritage.”

VIDEO CLIP: FryBread T.V. Series

Link Frybread 

Congratulations to the actors and to Holt Hamilton for producing such great films.

“I want Native country to collaborate with me in delivering positive content to a starving Native audience that is tired of Hollywood’s control on how the world should view Native American imagery.” ~Holt Hamilton~

Category: Films