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Albuquerque Film and Music Experience’s Native Stars & Stories

The Albuquerque Film and Music Experience has become a power player on the entertainment scene, particularly as a showcase for Native talent.

The Albuquerque Film and Music Experience (formerly Albuquerque Film and Media Experience) has become a power player on the entertainment scene, particularly as a showcase for Native talent.

This year's week-long festival included four Native films, a documentary, an animated short, a comedy and an indie-style film.

One Native film, Missing Threads, was selected as the festival’s Best Documentary. The film chronicles the creation and passing of the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). This important piece of state legislation has far-reaching implications, and sets an important precedent for all tribes as they navigate the sensitive subject of the foster care system and its impacts on Native children. According to the ABQfilmx website the film reinforces the significance of the "thread that connects a child to their culture, to their sense of self, home and belonging. When that thread is broken or missing, the individual and the culture suffer. Can the thread be mended? Can connection be restored? This documentary explores the pivotal influence of tribal culture and connection for Native children, and the negative impacts for the child, the family and tribal culture when that connection is missing."

The documentary was produced by Susan Reetz, and included many personal accounts from former foster children, Wisconsin legislators and tribal representatives, including Loa Porter (Ho-Chunk).

Porter hopes "many people who work with Indian children recognize some of the traumas that Indians go through when they are placed in non-tribal homes. They need to remain within a tribe or within a Native American family. Putting a child in a non-Native home is extremely harmful to that child's identity."

She Sings To The Stars is the first in what is intended to be a three-film series focused on women and restoring their voices to a world that has slipped out of balance. The film features Fannie Loretto (Jemez and Laguna) as Mabel, a Native American grandmother who continues to inhabit her ancestral home, despite the harsh desert conditions. Her half-Mexican grandson, Third, dreams of making it big in Los Angeles. While, a fading magician finds himself lost at her doorstep on his way to a gig in Vegas. The film centers around Mabel's traditional knowledge and beliefs and the two younger characters' struggle to accept what their logical minds cannot grasp. The dramatic comedy was written, directed and produced by the sister and brother team of Jennifer and Jonathan Corcoran.

Jennifer says the film is about the "fundamental questions that are facing all of us right now. We are all witnessing an awakening. I think we're turning to the wisdom of indigenous people. In our rush for 'more,' we've forgotten where 'more' comes from. I'm looking at what I would describe as 'feminine'...life-giving, nurturing, receptive [and] inclusive."

When asked how she conceived her character, Loretto stated "A lot of it went back to my growing up. There's a lot of parallels with Mabel and me; hearing stories of the spirits. The way we were brought up is to believe. I believed in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus forever, as well as our Indian ways...you know, with Kachinas. If you grow up believing like that, then you can pass it to your children and they'll grow up believing. That's really a neat thing about Pueblo life."

Adzaa Doo Ats'a (The Lady & The Eagle) is an animated short by first-time filmmaker Brian Young (Navajo). The recent Yale graduate enlisted wife-husband team Stacie and Donavon Barney to give form and voice to his vision. According to the ABQfilmx website the film is set "a long time ago, long before the land had English names. Two indigenous tribes were at war. A young pregnant lady, Adzaa, prays for the safe return of her husband. But, every time she prays, the winds scatter her words preventing them from reaching the Holy Beings. One morning, a young male eagle, Ats'a, flies down to her. Will he be able to help her?"

AFME also screened Ronnie BoDean, a short film was written and directed by Steven Paul Judd. He has always lamented the fact that his Native American community could not look up at the big screen and find a tough-guy anti-hero to call its own. "With Ronnie BoDean, I set out to amend that cultural oversight, and in doing so has assembled a formidable cast and crew, including some of the most prominent and talented American Indian filmmakers: namely, actor, Wes Studi (Avatar) and Executive Producer, Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals). Studi stars as the eponymous Ronnie BoDean, a larger-than-life outlaw who must shake off an epic hangover and use his considerable street knowledge to take on his greatest challenge yet – babysitting his jailed neighbor’s precocious kids. When Ronnie’s out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire approach to child rearing lands the kids in the crosshairs of a psychotic thug, it’s up to him to save the day."

BoDean was first released in June 2015. It has been widely sought on the film festival circuit, domestically and internationally. Studi describes the film as "a comedic look at American Indian life. I think that everyone can look back into their family history and see a fellow like Ronnie BoDean. It's a great opportunity to take a look at ourselves, and [view] our strengths, our weaknesses; and just a better overall look at who we are in this contemporary world."

AFME is highly competitive, but it's not a difficult submission process. According to Wiener, "[We] utilize Film Freeway as the submission platform. Films come in from around the globe and our screening team of 26 industry professionals review blocks from different genres. Each movie is rated on a scale of 1 - 10 in several categories, then the selection committee breaks down the top films to be screened." Over 470 films were submitted for the 2016 festival, 95 were selected to be screened over the week. The selections included features, documentaries, narrative shorts, music videos and animation.

More information and a complete listing of the events can be found here.