Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Niman Gallery hosted the pre-launch party for Sleeping Lady Films/Waking Giants Productions, a majority Native American-owned film, television and new media production company. The company, started by actor Irene Bedard (Inupiat, Inuit and Métis) and Canadian businessman Thom Denomme, will open an office in Santa Fe. There is also an office in British Columbia, Canada.
“We came to New Mexico partially for the tax credits,” says Denomme. “Irene is from Alaska, so we initially looked at an office there. Alaska has tax credits for film and television production, too, but no real production infrastructure. Irene has a lot of friends in New Mexico and the people here are amazing. Plus there is infrastructure here for production.”
Navajo Chef Freddie Bitsoie left) with Canadian businessman Thom Denomme and actor Irene Bedard
Bedard concurs. “New Mexico has a lot of tribes. We want Sleeping Lady Films/Waking Giants Productions to have a training aspect for Native peoples, in addition to the production. We want to raise the industry level for Native people. Want to win Oscars and Emmys, and get the best people to work with us. That’s something that New Mexico can help us do.”
The pre-launch party, which drew upwards of 50 friends and supporters, was also the kick-off for five Internet-based, crowd-sourced fundraising campaigns. The first, for the company itself, will fund office space and overhead. The others will provide initial capital for four television series that present Native peoples in positive ways: Rezervations Not Required; Proud to be Native American; Original Warriors: Native Americans in the Military; and Storytellers: Native American Artist Series.
Bedard and Denomme opted for Indigogo as their crowd-funding platform after exploring others like Kickstarter. “We chose crowd funding as a way to begin raising both awareness and money for the programs because, especially with new legislation around investment crowd funding where people actually own equity in a company, we see crowd funding as something that could replace venture capital,” says Denomme. “Venture capital is more resume-based, but with crowd funding, you can start small, build an audience and interact with them before beginning the project.”
Bedard likes crowd funding because it appeals directly to the already strong connections she says Native peoples have. “Indigenous people have the highest per capita use of social media. Grandmothers in villages want to connect to their grandkids, so you have 80 or 90 year old people with Facebook accounts. To connect with an audience on the grassroots level is definitely helpful when we go to networks and meet with executives who don’t see Native programming as worth paying attention to. But there are something like 400 million indigenous people around the world. That’s our audience.”
The company will also be pursuing sponsorships and product placement for each of the programs, as well as grants and government funding like the tax credits for film and television production in New Mexico. Denomme says the company already has several private backers as well.
Each of the five fundraising campaigns has a goal of between $40,000 and $50,000, and deadlines vary. If a particular campaign does not reach its goal, Bedard and Denomme says they will persevere, because the projects are important to them and to Indian country.
The first program, Rezervations Not Required, has already filmed three episodes, which are being edited now. They feature Chef Freddie Bitsoie (Diné) with Native celebrity guests on location. It is part cooking show, part travel and culture show. Each episode focuses on a unique cuisine and culture of tribal reserves and reservations around the world.
“This show serves as bridge between Native and non-Native communities,” says Bitsoie. “The show is fundamentally about defining what indigenous food is and its place in the world, what it is about indigenous food and culture that makes it special. Many people think that fry bread or blue corn equals Native cuisine, for example. But there are tribes in Canada that don’t eat corn. These food stereotypes need to be pointed out. Using main ingredients from the region with the techniques and recipes of the specific culture is what makes tribal food different. The point of the show is to try to find way to explain differences between each tribe but bring a global sense of community.”