Native American filmmakers at forefront of film production

PHOENIX, Ariz.-Internationally recognized and award-winning films and filmmakers are featured in the Native Eyes Film Showcase, a festival presenting the best in cinema by and about Native Americans.

Among the features this year are Apache 8, Grab, Good Meat, Off the Rez, and On the Ice, each one breaking stereotypes with real-world, modern-day experiences and told through powerful storylines and high quality film production.

"Native Eyes is a platform for presenting wonderfully challenging and compelling work by emerging and established Native American and indigenous filmmakers that audiences in Tucson would not have much of an opportunity to see otherwise," stated Vicky Westover, director of the University of Arizona's Hanson Film Institute. "This year especially we are excited to present films with personal narratives that are technically assured and stylistically innovative, in diverse genres."

The five day showcase presents an exciting program of both full-length features and shorts, which have been official selections at prestigious international film festivals, such as the Berlin International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival. For the first time in the Native Eyes Film Showcase there will be a feature film from New Zealand, Matariki, a critically praised film, which deals with the difficulties of modern multicultural life. The showcase also includes the award-winning On the Ice, a murder suspense story set in an Alaskan Inuit community, which was developed through the Sundance Institute's screenwriting and producing workshops and premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. "This film, which has been compared to Winter's Bone for its unique setting, is not in distribution yet, so Tucson moviegoers will have a rare chance to catch this stunning film before a worldwide theatrical release," explains Westover.

"This year's lineup is full of exceptional work -features, documentaries, and shorts- by local and international filmmakers, offering enlightening and thought-provoking topics," explained Lisa Falk, director of education at Arizona State Museum. "Among the myriad themes, we learn about complex personal, family, and community issues. Not only are the filmmakers breaking stereotypes with their work, so are the individuals featured in the stories. Each film is sure to tap deep emotions common to us all and encourage provocative discussions with the directors and other guests who will be at the screenings."

"The quality of the work, particularly the shorts, will astound people expecting the stereotypical 'Native' film," said Charissa Delmar (Navajo), student curator of the shorts program. "Everything from animation, musicals, and science fiction will be showcased and each is a sneak peek into what we can look forward to in the future of Indigenous filmmaking. Judging from the quality of the work, these filmmakers are rising stars in the ever-growing Native film industry." All shorts are Arizona premieres.

Velma Craig (Navajo), director of In this Manner, I Am, will be at the screening to discuss her animated short, which was an award winner at the Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe.

Apache 8 is about an all-woman wildland firefighting crew from Arizona's White Mountain Apache Tribe. The crew has been fighting fires on the Apache reservation and throughout the United States for more than 30 years. With humor and tenderness, four extraordinary women from different generations of the Apache 8 crew share their personal stories. Apache 8 was selected for screening at the National Museum of the American Indian's Film and Video Festival in New York City and at the Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe, among others. Although broadcasted by PBS more than a thousand times across the United States, Apache 8 has never been shown on the big screen in Tucson. This screening is an official Arizona Centennial Event. Katy Aday, Apache 8 crew member, will appear in person for Q&A. The film was directed and co-produced by Tucson's own Sande Zeig, co-produced by Victoria Westover of the University of Arizona's Hanson Film Institute, and co-funded by the University of Arizona's Hanson Film Institute.

Grab is about the 'grab day' celebrations that occur in pueblo communities. Director Billy Luther (Navajo/Hopi/Laguna), who will be present at the screening, said, "My documentary explores the Laguna Pueblo community. The film follows three families as they live and work around their community, preparing for this event. A lot of artists create from struggle, pain or suffering. Not me." Grab is Luther's second independent film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Luther's family lives in Forest Lake near Chinle, Arioz., on the Navajo Reservation. This film will be screened at the Baboquivari High School in Sells, Ariz., and co-presented with the Tohono O'odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum. This screening is an official Arizona Centennial Event.

Good Meat is directed by Sam Hurst, Good Meat follows an Oglala Lakota man's struggles and triumphs as he attempts to reclaim his health. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, 35-year-old Beau LeBeau is remembered as one of the greatest high school star athletes in South Dakota. He could often be found running through the Badlands at Thunder Valley, but now, at 333 pounds, he is having trouble even walking these same hills. Many years of poor diet and lack of exercise have caused LeBeau's obesity. This screening takes place on the campus of the University of Arizona at the Center for English as a Second Language auditorium. Following the screening, attendees will be invited to Arizona State Museum for a buffalo meat tasting event, a special viewing of the museum's Plains Indian collections, and a viewing of the new exhibit, Though the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living.

Jonathan Hock's film, Off the Rez, follows the rise of Native American high school basketball star Shoni Schimmel, and her mother, Cecilee Moses, who is also her coach. Moses moves Shoni and her six siblings off the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon and headed to Portland to take a high school coaching job and to maximize Shoni's chances of athletic success. Moses' husband, who was himself a collegiate athlete in his day, Rick Schimmel, initially stays behind for his job as a business consultant. In 2010, Shoni was selected to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American Team and was recruited by the University of Louisville. The film documents Shoni's struggle to decide to leave the reservation and go to college. Moses and Rick Schimmel will appear in person at the Tucson screening.

On the Ice is a suspenseful drama about two teenage boys who have grown up like brothers in an isolated Alaskan town. Early one morning, on a seal hunt with another teenager, an argument between the three boys quickly escalates into a tragic accident. Bonded by their dark secret, the two best friends are forced to create one fabrication after another in order to survive. The shocked boys stumble through guilt-fueled days, avoiding the suspicions of their community as they weave a web of deceit. With their future in the balance, the two boys are forced to explore the limits of friendship and honor. On the Ice is the first feature-length fiction film made in Alaska with an entirely Inuit cast. Writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean is an independent Iñupiaq artist.

Native Eyes Film Showcase, presented by Arizona State Museum and the UA's Hanson Film Institute, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, brings the best of new cinema made by today's most talented indigenous filmmakers (directors, actors, producers, writers) to celebrate their creativity and to examine the underlying themes of their work.

Lisa Falk can be reached at (520) 626-2973 or falk@email.arizona.edu. Vicky Westover can be reached at (520) 626-9825 or vwestove@email.arizona.edu. Charissa Delmar can be reached at (928) 853-7912 or cdelmar@email.arizona.edu.

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