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Creative Spirit soars at third annual screening

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LOS ANGELES – For the third year in a row, the Creative Spirit Script-to-Screen competition produced two polished films in a frantic week of shooting and editing. On Oct. 11, the exhausted filmmakers showed completed works to an enthusiastic Hollywood audience.

The two winners were “The Migration” and “Liminality.” Along with “Edgar’s Journey,” a Creative Spirit project in New Mexico. The films impressed a theater full of industry insiders and Indians.

Indian Country Today spoke with the films’ writers and directors after the event.

“The Migration”

In a future wracked by global warming, an authoritarian government forces siblings to flee with seeds that may save the world.

“I’m not a great environmentalist,” said writer Cody Harjo (Seminole). “I’m the average citizen wondering what I can really do to diminish my carbon footprint.”

Harjo’s story was inspired by two books she read. “[Elie Wiesel’s] ‘Night’ made me wonder about all the situations in humanity that create holocaust environments. ‘The Weathermakers’ marked the beginning of my climate awareness.

“‘The Migration’ is a worst-case scenario,” Harjo said, “but there is always that glimmer of hope. I consider it a futuristic ecological myth.”

“‘The Migration’ is a worst-case scenario, but there is always that glimmer of hope. I consider it a futuristic ecological myth.”
– Cody Harjo, Seminole writer

Director Sydney Freeland, Navajo, liked the idea of history repeating itself. “This could’ve taken place 100 years ago. In the 1800s, what happened to the Natives was an apocalypse.”

Among the challenges she faced were making a cool autumn day seem boiling-hot and filming in a one-room shack. “It was an intense shoot,” Freeland said. “Five characters. … a lot of coverage.” She also had trainees shadowing the professionals and learning on the job. She had to find a balance between explaining things to them and getting the work done.


A young Indian man gets more than he bargained for when he enters a reservation bar looking for help against a gang of vampire bikers.

Writer Migizi Pensoneau, Ponca/Ojibwe, has wanted to be a filmmaker since he yearned to remake “The Blob” at age 6 – with Doris Day. He’s worked on films for a production company, the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Sundance Institute. He also contributed to the fifth season of ABC’s “Alias” as part of a fellowship program.

When he learned of this year’s “grindhouse” theme from Creative Spirit’s James Lujan, he pitched Lujan an idea about a wanderer, a bar, strippers, bikers and vampires. “He didn’t think I could fit that all in,” Pensoneau said, “so I said, ‘Yeah, I can.’” The result was “Liminality,” which means “the condition of being on a threshold or at the beginning of a process.”

Lujan, Taos Pueblo, stepped out from his usual behind-the-scenes role to direct the film. “From a cinematic standpoint the ‘Liminality’ script was a challenge because the entire story is set in one location and there are extended patches of dialog between a few characters.” He made it work by turning the location into another character and making sure viewers didn’t get lost in the back story.

“Edgar’s Journey”

An Indian actor lost in the woods helps two children find their way and, in doing so, finds himself.

In 2006, Lujan joined the board of VSA Arts of New Mexico, a “contemporary art center with a social mission.” “In late 2007, after a couple of successful years of Creative Spirit,” he said, “I felt it was the right time to make a meaningful connection between the two organizations.” VSA would gain a film training program and Creative Spirit would extend its brand beyond California.

The partners recruited Natives from the Albuquerque area with little filmmaking experience but a strong interest in the field. The participants attended workshops, pitched ideas for a short film and synthesized them into a script. Led by a group of professional mentors, they made “Edgar’s Journey.” They did everything from securing permits and insurance to handling the advanced camera and editing equipment.

The film cleverly mocks some common Native stereotypes. One child mistakes Edgar for a bear and beans him with a rock; the other asks, “Are you a real Indian, like on TV?” Having no tracking skills, the bespectacled Edgar conducts a faux ceremony for assistance. It ends with the immortal words “Like a dog with a bone/Like a rolling stone.”

For more information on the annual Creative Spirit competition, visit

Rob Schmidt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He was a Creative Spirit judge in 2007 and 2008.