A Native American man at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

Image: Shutterstock

The first ever Sarasota Native American Film Festival will take place this weekend, Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25, at New College of Florida. In addition to movie screenings, the two-day fest—dedicated to sharing unique stories about the Native American experience—will feature workshops, conversations with filmmakers and special guests, Native American music and dance, and food.

One of the festival's featured speakers is Julian Bear Runner, 34, president of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Oglala—which means "dust scatters"—is a sub-tribe of the Lakota, one of the largest tribes in the Great Sioux nation. A majority of the Oglala people live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the second-largest Native American reservation in the United States.

During the fest, Bear Runner will take part in a conversation about the socio-economic and political challenges facing Native Americans today, which include poverty (the Pine Ridge Reservation is located in Oglala Lakota County, the poorest in the United States), a short life expectancy (just 67 years, the lowest in the country), alcoholism and high rates of diabetes and suicide. He'll also be in attendance for the screening of Buffalo Hunt, a documentary about the Lakota people and their homes and traditions.

Other notable attendees include Buffalo Hunt producer Phillip O'Leary, New College Global English professor Jessica Young, Navajo Hopi Native JJ Otero, and Lowery Begay, a Navajo world champion hoop dancer and flutist.

Petra Ratner, the Sarasota Film Festival's director of development, says that there's been longstanding interest in Native American life and culture in Sarasota. A film she produced, Moses on the Mesa, will also screen at the festival. (Her husband, Paul, directed it.) Moses on the Mesa is the true story of a German immigrant who becomes governor of the Acoma tribe and defends it against enemies in the late 1800s. "It was a labor of love," she says. She calls the movie an "unexpected tale of two cultures coming together."

According to Ratner, when The Boxser Diversity Initiative—a Sarasota nonprofit that promotes diversity and inclusion—approached the Sarasota Film Festival about the project, it made perfect sense.

"We hope that by putting on this festival, which has generated a tremendous amount of excitement already locally, we can help educate the community about issues relevant to Native American life and culture," she says. "We are definitely planning to put this on next year, as well, making it an annual Sarasota event."

The Sarasota Native American Film Festival takes place Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25. Screenings and events are free and open to the public, but there is limited seating and registration is strongly recommended. For more information, click here or call (941) 366-6200.

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