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Film festival spotlights young Native directors

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Longhouse Media, a production company that trains young Native filmmakers, brought two Aleut teens and their film to the 2009 Native American Film + Video Festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City last month.

The festival, produced by the museum’s Film + Video Center, marked its 30th anniversary this year with 14 feature films and 43 shorts by indigenous directors from the Western Hemisphere.

One festival trend has been the screening of more work from filmmakers from training programs for Native media makers.

Longhouse Media, based in Seattle, had a critical success this year with “March Point,” a documentary in collaboration with three teens from the Swinomish Indian Tribe about environmental threats from two oil refineries near their reservation. Longhouse Media also debuted two short films, “Canoe Pulling: A Lummi Way of Life,” directed by Sara London and edited by Talia London, both Aleut; and “FIFTEEN” co-directed by Cody Cayou, Swinomish, and Travis Tom, Swinomish/Lummi.

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Tracy Rector, Longhouse Media’s executive director, said the festival brought the young directors’ work to an impressive audience, including some of the best-known Native filmmakers.

“This generation has grown up with so many different forms of media,” she said. “Our kids are a texting generation, and a cell phone generation. I am not entirely sure how to pinpoint it, but I know the way we communicate. … is different because of social networking and cell phones.”

Many young filmmakers now shoot first for YouTube, or for viewing on cell phone screens, both of which require quicker editing and tighter focus. It’s fascinating, Rector said, when emerging artists turn these new mediums to the oral tradition of their nations.

The festival also showed a growing number of Native-made feature-length films for theater and TV. Among these were Cheyenne/Arapaho director Chris Eyre’s “We Shall Remain: Trail of Tears.” The film is an “American Experience” production in association with Native American Public Telecommunications for WGBH in Boston. “We Shall Remain” presents key stories about Native nations from U.S history. In connection with the series, WGBH launched Reel Native, a short film project that trains Native Americans of all ages to produce personal video stories.

Rector said the festival was a transformative moment for the young Longhouse Media filmmakers, Sara and Talia London. “They were in New York for the first time and they presented their film for the first time. It is an incredible piece, and it was heightened by being in New York and in the Smithsonian before a pretty large audience.”