Film Festival Highlights Native American Voices

The Sarasota Film Festival's Native American Film Festival will show 21 films virtually, beginning this Friday, March 19.

By Allison Forsyth March 18, 2021

A still from Almost an Island, directed by Jonathan Vanballenberg.

Learn about the life of Indigenous people, their culture and the current hardships that tribal nations are facing at the second annual Native American Film Festival, hosted by the Sarasota Film Festival and the Boxser Diversity Initiative. The virtual event, which will be streamed on the festival's website, will take place from Friday, March 19, to Sunday, March 28. Twenty-one films will be screened, compared to five in the festival's first year. Sarasota Film Festival managing director Paul Ratner says he believes highlighting the voices of Native American filmmakers will help spread awareness about their life and artistry.

"There are quite a few similar festivals in the U.S. and Canada, but I believe this festival is unique to Florida," says Ratner. "We have partnered with the Native Reel Cinema Fest, which is set up out of the Seminole nation in Florida, and has helped us collaborate with the Seminole people."

Last year, the festival brought about 1,000 viewers to an in-person event, but this year, Ratner expects many more, since the festival will be accessible to everyone online for free.

A poster image for The Bears on Pine Ridge, directed by Noel Bass.

Notable films that will be shown include the 1998 historical feature Smoke Signals, one of the first films made by a Native American. Other films will include the 2002 film The Spirit of Annie Mae by Catherine Anne Martin. Martin is a member of the Millbrook Mi'kmaq tribe near Truro, Nova Scotia, and has created several other Native American-themed films. Her most recent work, The Basket Maker, will also be shown. It follows a generation of Indigenous basket weaving women and their lives creating traditional art.

Another film called Songs My Brother Taught Me, by Oscar-nominated director Chloé Zhao (best known for her film Nomadland), will also be featured. The film follows a Lakota Sioux brother and sister through life in the tribe. A world premiere of Finding Angola by Charles Clapsaddle will be screened, about the little-known history documenting Manatee County’s first Black settlement. Other films, including Native American music videos and documentaries, have been received through online submissions and the Native Reel Cinema Fest.

Many of the films have been recognized at other major film festivals, like Songs My Brother Taught Me, which was shown at the Sundance and Cannes festivals in 2015.

"About half of the Native American filmmakers featured are also women, as the festival's mission is to produce a balanced perspective of the Indigenous people's lives," says Ratner. "There will also be Q&A discussions with the directors and actors, as well as a reunion of the original cast of Smoke Signals."

Finding Angola film by Charles Clapsaddle.

Ratner says a panel discussion will focus on key issues Native Americans face, including how Covid-19 has decimated tribal nations. Leaders of different tribes in the U.S. and Canada will be present, such as the chief of South Dakota's Lakota tribe, representatives of the Navajo people, the Pueblo tribal counsel from New Mexico and a cultural ambassador from the Seminole nation.

"Since 2020, the festival's purpose has been to inform, educate and entertain audiences about a group of peoples who might not be on everyone's radar," says Dan Boxser from the Boxser Diversity Initiative. "We are excited that this year we are bringing together Indigenous peoples from all over North America."

The Native American Film Festival will take place virtually from Friday, March 19, to Sunday, March 28. For more information, click here.

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