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Southern California’s the place for Native movies

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. — These days Native filmmaking is blossoming. Across the continent you can find a dozen or more festivals dedicated to the field. But with four annual events – three festivals and a competition – Southern California is becoming the go-to place for Native filmmakers to showcase their work.
Here’s a survey of the local scene:

Festival of Native Film & Culture

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

First on the schedule is the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum’s annual Festival of Native Film & Culture. It brings together feature films, documentaries and short films by and about indigenous people from around the world.

Held in Palm Springs every March, the festival celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2008. “This was our best festival yet, and I’m very pleased with the response,” said Michael Hammond, the museum’s executive director, in a press release. “To have so many of the filmmakers here with us – some all the way from Sweden – made the festival truly international. Record-breaking audiences raved about the films because they covered such a wide range of topics related to first peoples the world over.”

This year’s festival is scheduled for March 4-8. Screenings will take place at Camelot Theatre, 2300 E. Baristo Road in Palm Springs. Tickets go on sale Feb. 1 and are $10 for adults $7 for over 55 and under 16. An all access pass is $40. For more information visit:

Creative Spirit Script-to-Screen Initiative
Southern California Indian Center

Unlike the others, Creative Spirit is a competition rather than a festival. Each year an independent panel of judges selects two short-film scripts to be produced from the dozens submitted. The SCIC provides a cast, crew and small budget. With the help of Hollywood veterans, the films are shot and edited in a week. The finished works are shown in a theater in October or November.

“The purpose of the Creative Spirit program is to initiate employment and training opportunities for American Indians in the film industry,” wrote founder James Lujan on the program’s Web site. “This includes creating meaningful relationships between Native cinematic artists [and] industry professionals by providing an environment for professional collaboration.”

Los Angeles Skins Fest
Barcid Foundation

Just two years old, the Skins Fest is part of the city’s Native American Heritage Month celebration. It takes place at the beginning of November with three days of movies, programs, receptions and music, all free to the public.

“In our first year, we partnered with Native American organizations, educational institutions and studios to showcase local Native filmmakers,” said director Ian Skorodin in a press release before 2008’s event. The festival’s lineup of sponsors for 2009 includes the City of Los Angeles, Paramount Pictures and the Autry National Center.

“This year we intend to focus on merging the Native American community with the large studio system of Hollywood. The festival will have programs that highlight regional Native communities, student films and Los Angeles-based Native filmmakers.”

Los Angeles Red Nation Film Festival
Red Nation Celebration

Held in the middle of Native American Heritage Month, the Red Nation Film Festival celebrates American Indian contributions in film. Last year’s fifth annual festival offered four days of events. Among them were an opening night VIP party; two days of screenings, a day of industry panels and a wrap party. The festival gave awards to President-elect Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico for their support of tribal causes and sovereignty.

“The Festival theme, ‘Red is Green,’ serves to expand the boundaries of how American Indians have typically been defined in our culture and to also inspire audiences with the sacred personal relationship to Mother Earth that our tribes have kept alive,” said founder Joanelle Romero in a press release.

Rob Schmidt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has served as a judge for the Creative Spirit competition and a moderator for a Red Nation Film Festival panel.