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Hopes high for future of Indigenous Film Night

David Colburn
Posted 10/18/23

FORTUNE BAY- A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the ballroom at Fortune Bay Resort Casino for the inaugural edition of Indigenous Film Night, a mini film festival celebrating the work of …

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Hopes high for future of Indigenous Film Night


FORTUNE BAY- A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the ballroom at Fortune Bay Resort Casino for the inaugural edition of Indigenous Film Night, a mini film festival celebrating the work of Native filmmakers in the U.S. and internationally.
The event was organized by Khayman Goodsky, a Bois Forte Band member and currently a Duluth-area filmmaker, in collaboration with Jacob White, director of Ely’s End of the Road Film Festival. White received and administered the grant which helped to fund Indigenous Film Night.
“The inspiration came with me and Jacob daydreaming about having an Indigenous film night on the rez, which is where my father (Terry) and I are from,” Goodsky said. “I feel like a lot of Indigenous filmmakers aren’t highlighted and when we are, it is a huge deal. When we’re able to get the recognition that we need, that’s so important. I wanted to pass along that chance to other filmmakers – to have their stuff be seen by other Indigenous people is a huge, huge thing for our community.”
The pair selected five short films representing a variety of genres for the first portion of the program, followed by dinner and then the event’s feature presentation, “A Winter Love” by noted and award-winning Dine (Navajo) playwright Rhiana Yazzie, artistic director at the New Native Theater in St. Paul.
The first film was a three-minute animated short of a poem written by poet, educator and motivational speaker Tanaya Winder, who grew up on the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado and is an enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe. The animation was created by Minnesota visual artist Moira Villiard, a Fond du Lac direct descendant with mixed Indigenous and settler heritage. “Extraction” is a powerful piece that tells a story of Indigenous identity stolen through colonialism and conquest, from boarding schools to today’s plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Up next was a deep dive into the realm of eco-science fiction with “Closed System,” a 13-minute film created by a group of Canadian filmmakers known as the Bawaadan Collective. From a description by the film’s creators, a genetically modified invasive species of fly, bred to eat plastic and spin it into rope, makes a bid for freedom in the last wilderness on Earth. A dutiful female naturalist is sent by a ruthless computer algorithm to hunt it down and destroy it. As she experiences the forest for the first time in her life, the scientist begins to question everything she has been taught about pollution, conservation, and the mythos of the untouched wilderness. This film generated much discussion during the dinner break, as it was crafted to propose questions but allow for audience members to draw their own conclusions. “What did you think it was really about?” was a commonly heard question around the ballroom.
The films then turned to documentaries, beginning with actor, writer, and director Ajuawak Kapashesit’s film “Language Keepers.” Kapashesit, of Anishinaabe, Cree, and Jewish heritage, featured three Ojibwe activists, including Bois Forte Band member Terry Goodsky, and their efforts to utilize technology in pursuit of language preservation.
“Good Mythology” by filmmaker Sergio Rapu, a native of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), “follows Anishinaabe artist Jonathan Thunder as he dives deep into the inspirations behind his surrealist paintings and animations,” according to a PBS summary. “From the killing of an iconic American hero to critical perspectives of how Indigenous people were portrayed in early children’s cartoons, Thunder’s art prompts viewers to take a critical look at our shared mythologies.”
“KaYaMenTa” by Cree filmmaker Jules Koostachin sought to answer the question, “Why don’t we talk about menopause,” through observations of five Indigenous women who gathered to share food and stories to dispel the taboos surrounding this natural stage of womanhood. The film struck a fine balance between serious and comedic, conveying a sense for viewers of being pulled right into the gathering themselves as the conversation ranged from hot flashes and mood swings to celebration.
After the dinner break, complete with musical entertainment by Laura Hugo, the crowd settled in to enjoy “A Winter Love,” Yazzie’s first venture into film after establishing herself as a noted playwright.
As Yazzie describes it on her website, the film tells the story of Blue, a 35-year-old Navajo singer-songwriter who has lost her creative spark to a series of bad relationships and to the harsh Minneapolis winter. But when she meets a younger guy, Eddie, a 25-year-old Lakota law school dropout, she feels like she’s regained her edge, only to find it slip away again when she discovers Eddie’s love was never his to give in the first place. “A Winter Love” is modern day, inter-tribal, love story that shows true love is found in the season you love yourself.
The relationship between Blue and Eddie seemed to develop rather quickly at first, until viewers realized that’s exactly how they were meant to come together in a relationship born as much from personal need as mutual attraction. Brian Watson’s almost eager adolescent portrayal of Blue’s youthful suitor played well against Yazzie’s more mature initial deflections and eventual affections. Both actors seemed to easily find the necessary tension and emotion to carry the natural relationship conflicts forward in a way that varied from tender to comedic and contentious to compassionate. Yazzie’s use of extras often provided a lighter touch to the story, used sparingly to good effect. And as with all heart-warming love stories, the film ends up on a “happily ever after” kind of note, but not one most viewers expected.
In a special treat for the audience, Yazzie was there in person to talk about the film and her experience in creating it. She wore many hats in bringing the film to the screen – writer, director, producer, and lead actor Blue.
“Since this was my very first film, I just learned everything in the moment,” Yazzie said. “It took two winters to film it and the whole thing was a blur.”
With a number of aspiring creators in the audience, it wasn’t a surprise when one of them asked Yazzie how she put together her film crew.
“I just put an ad in the Minnesota film and TV classifieds,” she said. “I had a set amount that I could pay for the daily rate, and then I started to hear from people. It did end up being a mostly female and BIPOC crew.”
But not all of her crew came by way of the classified. Two critical spots, director of photography and film editor, were filled by a little bit of serendipity. Yazzie said she met her director of photography, who is from Wales, and they were standing outside a concert they couldn’t get into.
“I said, ‘I’m thinking of making a film one day,’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah,’ and he gave me his card,” Yazzie said.
About a year and a half later she gave him a call and he agreed to do the film.
“It turned out that he mostly made films with female writer/director/actors – it was such a weird coincidence,” Yazzie said. “That was a huge help because in a way he mentored me.”
And he also connected her with a film editor in London.
“The whole film was edited over Skype,” Yazzie said.
The transition from writing and directing for the stage to the film screen had Yazzie making numerous adjustments.
“I always heard that you make your film three times, when you write the screenplay, when you shoot it, and when you edit it, and that’s true,” she said. “Sometimes you think something is really going to work in a screenplay until you film it. Or maybe there’s another piece that you accidentally filmed that was really cool and you want to put that in. So it does change, and I think a big piece that I’ve learned is that if I had more time and the funding wasn’t just my money, I would have had more time to figure out how to get the shots I needed to.”
And film gave Yazzie the opportunity to stage some scenes that just wouldn’t work in a play.
“One of my favorite moments in the film is Blue and Eddie in the flat,” she said. “That would be really hard to put on stage because it’s such an intimate moment. I would never put those kind of things in a play because you have to tell that intimate moment from 20 feet away. That’s why I felt this was better as a film than as a play. And the visuals of winter and snow was something that I wanted to feel and see the truth of that rather than being on a stage with foam. And plays are told through dialogue, and with film all you need is a reaction from someone and you know everything. There are huge differences between being a playwright and being a screenwriter.”
Yazzie entertained several more questions and then stayed after her time was up to talk individually with individual audience members.
For Goodsky, the event went off as good as she had hoped it would.
“To be able to bring it to my reservation and have this event means a lot!,” she said. “Miigwetch to the family and friends who came to watch the films, the film makers, and Laura Hugo for playing awesome music! I’m blown away by how beautiful the night was.”