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Coast Indian film festival highlights banner year

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SAN FRANCISCO - Capping a banner year for Native film-making, the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI) presented its biggest, and according to some participants, its best annual film festival Nov. 7 - 14.

The event was the 27th to be presented by the non-profit media arts center, founded in 1979 by Michael Smith and the late actor Will Sampson.

Some 800 native performers, producers and writers gathered at theaters around town to present more than 50 feature, documentary and short films by, for and about the first peoples of the U. S. and Canada.

"Today's the best I've seen it," said award-winner Saginaw Grant, a member of the Creek nation.

The sessions peaked in the American Indian Motion Picture Awards show Nov. 9, including film clips, live entertainment and presentations. The Inuit epic "Atanarjuat", released in the U. S. as "The Fast Runner," dominated the major awards, taking best film, best director for Zacharias Kunuk and best actor and actress for Natar Ungalaaq and Lucy Tulugarjuk, two natives of Igloolik, in Nunavut province, Canada, where the digital movie was made.

Another major production, the TV movie "Skinwalkers", took the second-tier acting awards, best supporting actor for Saginaw Grant and best supporting actress for Sheila Tousey, Conchalla. The film, based on the Tony Hillerman mystery novels featuring Navajo tribal policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, was scheduled for its television premiere Nov. 24 on the Public Broadcasting System series "Mystery!"

Joy Harjo, Muskogee, the poet and performer, won the Eagle Spirit Award.

In something of a surprise, two much awaited productions, Chris Eyre's "Skins" and Sherman Alexie's "The Business of Fancy Dancing" came up dry at the award show, although Eyre had been nominated in the best picture and best director categories.

Here is a list of the winners:

Best Film: "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)"

Best Actor: Natar Ungalaaq - "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)"

Best Actress: Lucy Tulugarjuk - "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)"

Best Supporting Actor: Saginaw Grant, Creek- "Skinwalkers"

Best Supporting Actress: Sheila Tousey, Conchalla - "Skinwalkers"

Best Director: Zacharias Kunuk - "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)"

Best Documentary Feature: "Ojibwemowin" - Lorraine Norrgard, Director

Best Documentary Short: "A Century of Genocide in the Americas" - Rosemary Gibbons, Director

Best Live Short: "Only the Devil Speaks Cree" - Pamela Matthews, Director

Best Public Service: "Restoring the Sacred Circle" - Phil Lucas, Director

Best Animated Short: "Keeping Balance" - Scott Clark, Director

Best Music Video: "Young Enough" (George Leach) - Craig Bernard, Director

Eagle Spirit Award: Joy Harjo, Muskogee

Producers Award: Lorraine Norrgard

Horizon Award (Student Filmmaking): Shane Hannigan, Director of "Admirational"