Universal humanity urged in films

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DENVER – A 19-year-old filmmaker who wants to represent Natives as “just people” stood out from the crowd at the American Indian College Fund’s 2010 Flame of Hope Gala.

Blue Tarpalechee, Muskogee Creek from Okmulgee, Okla. is a straight-A student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe., N.M. and recipient of AICF’s Coca Cola First Generation Scholarship.

“What drew me to film in the first place was how film affected me – I’d like to be able to evoke emotions in other people, as well,” Tarpalechee said in an interview before he addressed gala attendees at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The universality of experience is a topic he wants to explore further, he said, noting a tendency he dislikes for individuals to be asked “to represent Indian people everywhere – it puts a person in the position of being an ‘Indian authority’ and that’s not fair to you or to whoever is asking the question.

“I want to show in films that we’re just people like everyone else. They talk about two worlds, as in, ‘I live in two worlds’ – I’ve always felt I just live in my world, in our world.”

“They talk about two worlds, as in, ‘I live in two worlds’ – I’ve always felt I just live in my world, in our world.” – Blue Tarpalechee, Muskogee Creek, American Indian College Fund scholarship recipient

At the same time, his favorite film is distinctly Native in its approach. The prize-winning 2002 film “Atanarjuat” was written, directed and acted in Inuktitut.

“I liked that, because it epitomized the Native art form,” Tarpalechee said. “They were telling their story their way with little or no reference to white thinking.” He wants to better represent the Native community, which he says is currently underrepresented.

Blue said his parents started but did not finish college, “and they definitely wanted me to go.” He went to high school in Morris, Okla., a town of about 1,300 near Okmulgee.

When he spoke to the Flame of Hope Gala audience Oct. 14, he didn’t spare himself as he described his descent from being a high school valedictorian and then 4.0 GPA petroleum engineering student at the University of Oklahoma to being a dropout who sacrificed a full academic scholarship.

“Over the next two years, I would end up having 11 different jobs – everything from working in the vault at our tribal casino to being a professional video gamer for a short while,” he said. “I did anything and everything that came my way in an effort to avoid any real responsibility.”

After a stint as a letter carrier, a job that ended abruptly when his mail truck was sideswiped by another driver, he stayed with a friend in Santa Fe where he encountered the IAIA New Media department, and it all fell into place after he entered the school in 2008 with a double major in creative writing and film: “Things have been amazing ever since.”

Richard Williams, AICF president and CEO, cited tribal college students “including our student speaker, Blue Tarpalechee,” as showing “academic achievement with their grades, a dedication to their communities through their volunteer and community activities, and a commitment to serving as role models to other students, their families, and tribes.”

Tarpalechee has been president of both the IAIA student government and American Indian Higher Education Consortium student congress and he founded a stickball club at IAIA, which has a yearly game against a student team at Oklahoma State University. He’s tight end for the Santa Fe Sting, with an upcoming charity game.

But best of all, “I’m studying what I love.” Tarpalechee said he “distinctly remember(s)” being told in high school you should do what you love, “but sometimes you’ve got to figure things out for yourself.

“So I did, and I’m telling you now, do what you love, do what moves you, do what you’ve got a passion for, and the rest falls into place.”

Sterlin Harjo, a noted Creek/Seminole filmmaker, was an inspiration for him to enter film school, while his extended family and the AICF have provided support. Tarpalechee, in his third year at IAIA, said if he continues focusing on documentary film he may attend Stanford University and, if not, perhaps New York University or Columbia University.