POLACCA, Ariz.—Danish filmmaker Jon Bang Carlsen and Native American film producer Jhane Myers visited Hopi High School April 24 to let students know about their upcoming project and let them know they will be coming back soon for auditions.
The proposed documentary will be called “Freedom Is Just Another Word” and it looks at freedom in different cultures, starting with Native American teenagers. This is the first in a series of films that take places in different cultures. Carlsen has 45 films or documentaries under his belt.
“The leading characters should be teenagers because those are the most intriguing years,” Carlsen said.
He said teenagers are left with making big decisions about how they will use their freedoms.
“It’s always a risk to go out on your own,” he said.
Carlsen wanted to make the first episode in the series in America because he said the U.S. is the symbol of freedom, especially when it comes to their first inhabitants. He also has ties to the states, as his relatives lived in California and he fell in love with America’s landscapes. He said his homeland in Scandinavia is small and densely populated.
“Here you have an enormous expanse of land and it felt liberating,” he said.
Carlsen said his goal is to recreate fragments of life in America. He said silence plays a big role in his documentaries, such as watching a lady at a farmhouse looking out her window to see what she is thinking.
“It’s a playful discipline with self-exploration,” he said. “We don’t interact with people; we just follow them.”
Carlsen said films need the right protagonist to show how they use freedom. He said teenagers are in that situation.
“You (teenagers) may not think about it as freedom, but what you do with this life has an impact on your freedom,” he said.
Carlsen said the obstacle to making films is always money, but his films or documentaries are funded by the Danish Film Institute, Danish Broadcasting and Swedish Broadcasting. He said the staff and students at Hopi High were enormously hospitable.
Myers, who has been in the film industry for 12 years, is serving as the production manager for this project. She has worked with independent and larger film companies.
“Make history,” she likes to tell the Hopi High media students.
Myers said there haven’t been many Native Americans involved in filmmaking.
“It’s important to represent Native American people well because you might be the only Native American on a crew like I was,” she said.
Myers, who is Comanche and Blackfeet, hails from Oklahoma. She started on this media journey when she took journalism in high school.
Myers is working on an episode for the American Master’s Series about N. Scott Momaday, the only Native American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. She said the American Master’s Series hasn’t done an episode about a Native American even though it’s been going since 1985. Although the American Master’s Series did an episode about Will Rogers, she said he is only about one-eighth Native American and he was dead when they did the episode from him based off old clips.
“This will be the first time they did a living Native American, so it’s astounding,” she said.
So Myers figures she’s making history and likes to tell students they should do the same. She is also proud that 90 percent of her crew working on the Momaday episode is Native American.
“What you bring is amazing,” she told the students. “You have your language, your culture and your stories. The stories your family and grandparents gave you.”
Her advice to Native American journalism students is to make history by highlighting their culture and themselves. She said mainstream America doesn’t have an opinion on Native Americans because they don’t know them.
“So bring out a story that happened here,” she said. “Being Native American is your super power.”