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This One Time, at Film Camp: Native Youth Learn Movie Making From Pros in Santa Fe

Young Native Americans got invaluable moviemaking instruction from pros at the Native Youth Film Camp, held at the MIAC in Santa Fe.
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How do you say “Lights! Camera! Action” in your Native American language? Well you better start learning your cinematic jargon in Dine, Tewa, Absaroke, Lakota and Tsalagi. But you got to start small, and young, very young, and start by translating: “Native Youth Film Camp” (NYFC).

Della Warrior (Otoe-Missouria), director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC), has these ideas, visions, concepts and she brings in those doers who can make them happen. Last year Jhane Myers (Comanche/Blackfeet) came on board at MIAC to start-up the Native Youth Film Camp and it is now a full-fledged program, not just a project and its upside is big, perhaps even national. Jhane Myers has a background in film and Native Cinema since 2000, working in PR, as a producer, and as cultural advisor on films. Her current role is as a very busy wrangler of artists, audience, young film students, and the finished films of hopeful Native film directors competing in this year’s Indian Market. One of the measures of the Native Youth Film Camp’s success is that they had four of these short films accepted into the Youth Category in the judging of SWAIA’s "Class X: Moving Images."

Film Camp participants, left to right: Alcion Calderon, Lauren Maestas Chavez. Casey Hendron, Phillip Bread, Miguel Vigil, Orlando Barraza and Ophelia Benally. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

Ms. Myers (a dynamic presence herself) was invited specifically to develop these Special Projects, and to show, teach and make films for the Native community, especially for Native Youth. These films are to be taken home and shown in their tribal communities to generate interest and involvement in New Mexico’s burgeoning professional filmmaking industry. It’s not just about jobs in Hollywood films, but documentaries about Native history, culture and contemporary issues that are potential game-changers.

Film Camp participants, left to right: Alcion Calderon, Lauren Maestas Chavez. Casey Hendron, Phillip Bread, Miguel Vigil, Orlando Barraza and Ophelia Benally. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

NYFC has a home with MIAC and an educational partner with the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) where the editing is done and where the college campus made it very real, very fast for the students; Santa Fe Public Schools Indian/Native American Student Services helped with logistics. Myers and MIAC had to learn fast too, secure the funding (last year they had one funder, this year six), select the students (an essay question is probably the best indicator, with 12 students this year), wrangle, travel, feed the students (ages 14-18), get them started writing, learning the technical aspects from Native mentors (last year it was Chris Eyre; this year Ramona Emerson, Kelly Byars, and Melissa Henry), and everyone sharing duties in light, sound, acting, shooting, editing. Myers’ daughter Peshawn Bread went from an NYFC student last year to a production assistant this year. At the end of two weeks these young people turn from shy, quiet kids into writers, actors, directors presenting their works to an audience of family, friends, tribal members and enthusiastic supporters who came to MIAC’s Kathryn O’Keefe Theatre for the red carpet event.

MIAC NYFC full production schedule. Photo: Robert I. Mesa,

I asked Jhane Myers her about her background experience.

Jhane Myers: I’ve been lucky to work in Native and mainstream film in jobs that have ranged from public relations, cultural consulting and associate producing. I’m the line producer/producer for the MIAC Native Youth Film Camp. With my own children growing up I have recently been auditioning and landed my first part in an indie film released in 2015 titled Bare. For the past four years I’ve had the job of coordinating the film competition for SWAIA’s Indian Market’s "Classification X: Moving Images." This year there were a record 47 entries. Native film has always been important to me so I’m honored to wrangle. My son, Phillip Bread (Comanche/Kiowa) was a Film Camp attendee. He was in Jane Got a Gun, with Natalie Portman, not yet released. One of our first Film Camp attendees was Forrest Goodluck (Mandan, Hidatsa, Dine’, Tsimshian); he was cast in The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio. He was also selected as a Sundance/Kellogg Full Circle Fellow in their inaugural year. We were honored to have two of our MIAC Native Youth Film Camp students receive fellowships out of four awarded nationally. My daughter Peshawn Bread (Comanche) is a film student at the San Francisco University Academy of Art and also a Sundance/Kellogg Full Circle Fellow. She began working in film at 13 and was the assistant to the director Sydney Freeland for Drunktown’s Finest, and had a role in the film. My great aunt Josephine Myers-Wapp was a founding faculty member for the Institute of American Indian Arts. She was recruited by her longtime friend and neighbor Allan Houser.

Filming a running scene with a GoPro camera on a stick. Photo: Robert I. Mesa,

LXJ: You mentioned the growing of the NYFC program, expanding regionally and perhaps even going "national"?

Myers: Yes, the Hutson-Wiley Echevarria Foundation allowed Della to hire me and the Surdna Foundation funded the camp. IAIA and the Santa Fe Public Schools/Native American Student Services are our educational partners. This year we added the National Museum of the American Indian, SWAIA, Vision Maker Media, San Manuel and the Navajo Nation Enterprise. Most of all we appreciate their support on this important film project that will impact our students Pueblos, tribes, reservations and tribal communities. Their films will impact generations of Native families. When I think about our standing room only premiere of the films, the evening of the final day of the 10-day camp, I was so happy to see the students supported by parents, brothers, sisters aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Orlando Barraza, Brandon Sanderson, Peshawn Bread, Adelina Tsosie, Lauren Maestes Chavez. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

Our next step is to enter the completed films in festivals and raise funding to travel the students to these different places to promote their films. We would also like to take this Film Camp to different tribal communities, reservations and pueblos. It would be another way that MIAC can impact the Native communities by strengthening our Native storytelling by use of film.

LXJ: Ramona Emerson and her husband Kelly Byars, who operate their Reel Indian Productions in Albuquerque, served as NYFC mentors. I asked Ramona how they got involved.

Ramona Emerson: Della Warrior called us to see if we were interested in teaching the workshop because Beverly Morris had recommended us. We also brought Melissa Henry – another Navajo filmmaker – to help us with the workshop. Between the three of us, we have a lot of experience in teaching film. I have a BA in Film and an MFA in Creative Writing, working as a filmmaker for over twenty years. Most of my work is in documentary film but I’ve done a few short films over the years. I also work as a cinematographer and editor on other filmmaker’s projects and enjoy helping young people to realize their dreams. If I had the kind of support, technology and programs that are being offered nowadays, my career as a filmmaker would definitely be stronger and more developed then it is now.

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Watching the dailies at the MIAC NYFC. Photo: Robert I. Mesa,

LXJ: You’ve won some awards or grants recently?

Emerson: We just received an All-Access Grant from Tribeca Film Festival for the new media/app development of The Shiprock Experience, an app being developed in conjunction with the documentary film that we are currently in production on, The Mayor of Shiprock. This film has been funded by PBS/CPB and will be finished next year. Our last three films, Hidden Talents, OPAL and A Return Home are currently available on SkinsPlex, an online Native film resource.

(Ramona was also a 2010 Sundance Native Filmmakers Lab Fellow, a Time/Warner Storyteller Fellow and a graduate of the 2013 CPB/PBS Producers Academy at WGBH Boston. Kelly Byars is Choctaw, an IAIA alumnus, a documentary filmmaker and 3D artist, he teaches sound recording and micro cinema at Santa Fe University of Art & Design).

Della Warrior at the premiere. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

LXJ: What was the Native Youth Film Camp experience like? I saw the videos, it looked like fun and lots of work.

Emerson: The Native Youth Film Camp was wonderful. I really enjoyed teaching and working with every single one of our students and I was constantly impressed with their tech-savvy stories and skills. Some students were already seasoned filmmakers and we had some that were completely green so we tried to teach them in different ways. Give them basic filming knowledge and technical aspects of the process but also give them a sense of what a career in filmmaking would be like – the fundraising, the grant-writing, the business of film and the professional aspects of being in a tough industry. We want these students to be able to share their voices with the world – to counteract the continuing downward spiral of Native identity in front of the camera. The stories are in them. We are just giving them the tools to put them on the screen and the discipline and knowledge to maintain careers in the film industry.

We basically gave them a two week crash course on filmmaking, planned and produced eight student films and one short doc that we did about the program itself – so nine films in all. We set out on a production schedule and stuck with it, doing dailies every afternoon and planning for any additional shooting the following days. It was rigorous, but we were proud that our students worked hard and stayed on schedule. The same went for the next week of editing. I was glad we finished everything on schedule and had a very receptive screening.

Reception for the NYFC students, cake, popcorn. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

LXJ: From your experience, do you think this program can grow?

Emerson: Programs like it are taking place all over Indian country. And with the accessibility of technology – even on reservations – with smart phone apps and cameras, the gates are more wide open than when I was starting out. But we still have a long way to go – and real, hands-on fundamental programs like this are essential to reclaiming our indigenous voice. Our hope is that these students can take these films and use them to further their own careers – to help them get their foot in the door.

Kelly Byars: It’s something I love about the Native community! We work to help others, the older students helped the younger, and to see the youth picking up slack and being passionate about the work made the whole experience awesome. This program is worth repeating year after year.

In great news for MIAC and their NYFC program, SWAIA just released the winners of their "Class X: Moving Images" category, and four NYFC students won in the Youth Categories. First Place: "A Work of Art," Casey Hendren, Navajo. Second Place (Tie): "Relocated Memories," Desiree Morsea-Foley, Dine, and "A Modern Indian," Forrest Goodluck, Mandan/ Hidatsa/ Tsimshian. Third Place: "The Lost Beat," Philip C. Bread, Comanche/Kiowa.

You can view all the student films at the MIAC Native Youth Film Camp Vimeo channel.

Ramona Emerson speaks as mentors Kelly Byars and Melissa Henry look on. Photo: Terrance Clifford Photography

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe NM