MorningStar Angeline of ‘Drunktown’s Finest’: ‘It’s Now or Never’

courtesy MorningStar Angeline

Indian Country Today

MorningStar Angeline of ‘Drunktown’s Finest’: ‘It’s Now or Never’

Drunktown's Finest has an impressive cast that includes Jeremiah Bitsui (Breaking Bad) and Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga). It has a promising young director in Sydney Freeland and the seal of approval from the Sundance Institute, which selected it for the 2009 Native Lab, 2010 Screenwriter's Lab, and 2010 Director's Lab. It has a story that needs to be told — Freeland describes it as her effort to rebut the label "Drunktown, USA," which was hung on her home town of Gallup, New Mexico, in 1990 by the newsmagazine show 20/20. What Drunktown's Finest doesn't have is a lot of time and money. With a Kickstarter deadline of November 4 looming and the prospect of being a Sundance Film Festival selection on the line, actress MorningStar Angeline, who plays Nizhoni Smiles in the film, took a few moments to discuss the project with ICTMN.

Has the film wrapped?

The film has wrapped its shooting. We finished in Gallup, New Mexico in late August. For the last 10 weeks, Sydney Freeland, Drunktown's director, as well as Drunktown's editor, Harry Yoon, have been in Los Angeles editing the film, and recently submitted it for the Sundance 2014 Film Festival in Utah.

What's next, and what are the details of the kickstarter campaign?

So far the film has completed two major parts of production: filming and editing. Post production is the last step, which includes color correction, sound mastering, animation etc. So the need for funds to complete this final stage brought us to Kickstarter( Kickstarter has helped our film gain traffic but we still need more than half in order to reach our goal. If we do not reach a total of $30,000 by November 4th we do not get any funding. It is really now or never that the funds come through and help this movie dot its i's and cross its t's so to speak.

What meaning does this film have for you, personally?

Although I did not realize it when I initially accepted the part, Nizhoni's journey has a lot of parallels to my own. I think in playing her character and delving into places emotionally that I had not been in years, helped me grow. So I am very thankful to Sydney Freeland for creating a character who was so strong.

Nizhoni Smiles lost her parents in a car accident when she was fairly young and was then adopted into a Christian home. Her biological family struggled with alcoholism and because of that her adopted family decided to stop communication with them for the sake of Nizhoni's future.

It was in that, that I emotionally realized just how similar our stories are. My biological father passed away when I was two months old and struggled with alcoholism immensely. It was also a severe problem within his family and thus is a source of a lot of hardship for me.

Stepping into Nizhoni's shoes is a bit like walking in my own. I'm glad that she was able to help me dive into things and solve them, I hope that I was able to give her character justice and the boldness she deserves.

The number and caliber of native actors involved with this film is incredible — what was it like working with such a cast?

I cannot describe the beautiful feeling of going to work at various locations I grew up around and even further, working with fellow Native Americans. It made bringing the emotion to screen that much easier because at times, they were happy tears in disguise.

One of my favorite moments was seeing our makeup artist Kayene Pino put makeup on Magdalena Begay. Magdalena's character was getting ready to do scenes of a Puberty Ceremony and they were both wearing traditional Navajo clothing and jewelry. Kayene always wore her moccasins and a long dress during work. I greatly appreciated her dedication to wearing such things in rain or shine. I took a lot of mental pictures in those moments like that.

I enjoyed getting to know everyone on set. I was extremely sad to leave when we wrapped because it was such a short shoot. I felt that as soon as I really started to get to know various people that were part of the cast or part of the production we were already getting ready to say goodbye. Everyone worked so well together and was always helping one another out. We were all working our absolute hardest every day because we believe in this film and what it could mean for the future audience.

Why do you think this film will appeal to a Native audience — and do you think it will connect with non-natives as well?

I think this film has the capability to touch anyone. These are "typical" teens that are trying to cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood but none of them have been too well equipped up to this point. It is in their reflection for what is in their best interest that they look to their culture for support and guidance.

No matter what race you are or background you have you can relate to not being happy with where you are in life and feeling unequipped to change it. At the same time, it addresses an issue that has been ignored by America and that is that Native American youth are struggling to balance Western ideals with the culture of their tribe. I strongly believe it gives hope to young Natives who are having a hard time balancing and instead feel like it is one or the other.