LOS ANGELES -- The theatrical premiere night for the American Indian
comedy-romance film "Christmas in the Clouds" was long anticipated by the
cast and crew. After all, the film showcased on the independent film
circuit in 2001 and won numerous awards, including "Official Selection" at
the Sundance Film Festival.
About 200 people flocked to the gala event and post-movie party at the Gene
Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles Nov. 2. "Clouds," now open
in select theaters in California, opens nationwide beginning Dec. 2.
"It's the first Native American romantic comedy," said co-producer and
publicist Brian Wescott.
In an innovative move to promote the film, the crew agreed on a
philanthropic route: giving schools nationwide the opportunity to raise
funds by selling tickets for "Clouds." All proceeds from November showings
will benefit California's neediest schools, including the Los Angeles
Unified School District.
"It's a new way for a film to engage with the public," Wescott said.
Writer, Director and Producer Kate Montgomery said that audiences of all
cultures should identify with and adore the movie's warm and funny
This is Montgomery's debut film. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania
and is of French and Irish descent. While growing up, she spent time
learning about the culture of her American Indian friends. She wanted to
develop a script that focused on Native humor, as opposed to the tragic
stereotypes often depicted in mainstream film and media.
"I wanted to get away from political controversy and focus on characters,"
she said. "There is really a unique sense of community that exists on a
reservation aside from any other small town."
Wescott, an Alaska Native, said he assisted Montgomery on the set and
encouraged her to focus on the lighter side of Indian country instead of
the corny Indian wisdom often depicted in movies. "The buckskin stops
here," he quipped.
"Clouds" was filmed on location in picturesque Sundance, Utah. As for the
storyline, most of the movie is filmed at a tribally owned ski resort
that's having somewhat of a dry year. It features both Native and
non-Native talent, including the four-legged "Warrior Mouse" who dons
colorful feathers and causes his own brand of mischief.
But there's plenty of two-legged mischief that permeates throughout the
resort in this comedy of errors.
It all begins when Tina Pisati Little Hawk (played by Mariana Tosca) starts
receiving letters from a romantic pen pal living on the reservation/resort.
When Little Hawk books a flight from New York to the resort to meet her
suitor, she's mistaken by General Manager Ray Clouds on Fire (Tim Vahle) as
the expected anonymous critic for a prestigious travel guide. In turn,
Little Hawk assumes Clouds on Fire is her pen pal, who is actually his
"I thought it was really cute and original," said moviegoer Yvonne
Delavega, of Los Angeles. "We had fun and it was really well-written."
Vahle, Choctaw/Cherokee, said his work on the film went deeper than just
landing a great role. He credited Montgomery for directing like a veteran.
"Doing this movie was more important personally than it was for my career,"
he said. "I want it to be a success for Kate."
Lead actress Tosca, of Greek and Albanian descent, said she was initially
apprehensive about being cast in a Native role, but her uneasy feelings
were quelled soon after she was smudged by another cast member. "It really
made me feel safe and secure," she said. "It was a joy to go to work in the
The post-movie party reflected the bonds that were forged between cast and
crew four years ago.
Revelers danced to the musical stylings of Keith Secola of the Anishinabe
Nation, whose music is featured in the film.
During a break from the party, Montgomery explained why she thought it has
taken four years for the film to hit theaters.
She said that when "Clouds" premiered at independent film festivals in
2001, like many other budding filmmakers, she hoped that a Hollywood
production company would scoop up her award-winning film.
"We were kind of surprised that we didn't get picked up," she said.
Montgomery speculated that when the Screen Actors and Screen Writers guilds
threatened to strike in 2001, it likely prompted production companies into
"production overdrive" to garner a surplus of movies. Additionally, Sept.
11, 2001 had stunned the nation. "Only one film [from Sundance] was sold
that year," she said.
Another reason for the delay, she said, was that the movie failed to have
"more of an edge" as with other independent films.
"If you're edgy and ethnic, then you can get something going. There's this
addiction to shock."
Instead of waiting on Hollywood and letting her dream fade into a distant
memory, Montgomery decided to promote "Clouds" via school fund-raisers and
with the help of a good film-releasing company.
Montgomery said she drew inspiration for the script from Shakespeare, her
Native friends and the 1989 drama "Pow Wow Highway."
A few familiar actors joined the cast of newcomers and independent talents.
The comical M. Emmet Walsh played Stu O'Malley, a bumbling resort guide
critic who can't stay out of trouble. Walsh, known for zany supporting
roles, recently starred in the movies "Racing Stripes" and "Christmas with
Another well-known talent, Graham Greene, Oneida, plays Earl, the resort's
chef. As a vegetarian, he reluctantly cooks meat. But he tends to approach
the guests and tell them that the meat they are consuming was once a
beloved pet or sweet animal. Greene has appeared in dozens of movies, and
recently starred in the acclaimed television miniseries "Into the West."
Schools that are interested in participating in the fund-raiser should
contact the production company at (866) 372-0222. For movie and fund-raiser
information, visit www.christmasintheclouds.com.