Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival has already been a great year for Indigenous voices. Four Indigenous-made films this season were highlighted by Sundance and hailed from Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

In addition, the Indigenous program announced its film fellows among its several fellowships at the Native Forum Celebration as part of the festival last Saturday. These filmmakers’ projects will be supported in all stages of their development by the institute.

Among the Native Filmmaker Lab Fellows are Amanda Strong, Métis/Michif; Keanu Jones, Navajo; Rob Fatal, Mestiza/o/x, Ute, Rarámuri, and Pueblo; and artist in residence is Cole Forrest from Nipissing First Nation and Petyr Xyst, and Laguna Pueblo. The Merata Mita Fellow is Sami filmmaker Marja Bål Nango.

Rob Fatal, whose pronouns are they/them, told Indian Country Today, “I was deeply honored to be selected as a Sundance Native Film Fellow for my film, “Do Digital Curanderas Use Eggs In Their Limpias?” I was apprehensive at first to submit my script because it primarily deals with a Mestize/x person and not specifically a Native American person who comes from a singular tribe. This reflects my own identity and family who are a mix of Ute from New Mexico and Colorado, Rarámuri near Parral, Chihuahua Mexico, and Spanish colonizers.”

Rob Fatal (Courtesy image)

Fatal says these lineages were mixed up over the last few generations into Mexican-American or Chicano/Xicana culture. A fact, ”Which sometimes is overshadowed my Ute and Rarámuri family traditions and culture,” they said.

Fatal expressed this to the Sundance Indigenous program facilitators N. Bird Runningwater, Adam Piron, and Ianteta Le’i. Fatal feared not being understood.

Thankfully, the facilitators heard Fatal.

“They welcomed me with open arms saying my work would add another unique little puzzle piece to our collective stories about what it means to be Native and Indigenous on this land,” Fatal said.

Keanu Jones, Navajo, said that being selected for the Native Filmmaker Lab fellowship has been a true blessing.

Keanu Jones (Courtesy image)

“I never thought in a million years that I would be selected as a fellow,” Jones said. “It's been such an honor to be a part of the Sundance family. Everyone has been so helpful and supportive for every step of the process. I'm grateful to let my project be selected and my artistic voice is heard.”

Jones and Fatal are both in the pre-production stage of their projects and both say they are grateful to have the support of Sundance. They also are mindful of COVID concerns heading into 2021 and 2022.

“I'm very excited to see my vision come to life when it's time,” Jones said. “I hope the film screens at Sundance and makes its way through the various film festival circuit as well.”

As for Fatal, they are in pre-production mode for a sci-fi drama short called “Do Digitial Curanderas Use Eggs In Their Limpias?”

“I am also writing a dramatic feature with my partner about a Mestizo man befriending a young Japanese-American boy through the fence of a WWII Japanese-American Internment camp in New Mexico,” Fatal said.

“My partner's family is Japanese and were interned in WWII and my Indigenous homelands are in New Mexico and Colorado, so we wanted to imagine our ancestors coming together in our story. Lastly, I am working on a dramatic sci-fi episodic about a Genderfluid Mestize immigrant from Parral, Mexico who comes to the U.S. to be a fashion designer. But years later when they default on their student loans, the loan company sues to use new technology to wipe out their memory of having gone to school causing their family and community to come together to protect their memories.”

Fatal says, “Storytelling is sacred medicine.”

“It has the power to shape, create, and breathe life into any reality we can dream of. But for centuries, since colonization, the white eurocentric story of ‘Indians’ on this land has created a horrifying reality for the millions of indigenous people who call Turtle Island home. Indigenous inclusion at Sundance and in the film world is nothing short of the long-overdue reclamation of our story. These self-authored narratives preserve our Indigenous pasts, address our current ways of life, and imagine futures where Indigenous people not only survive but thrive. This is the power of Indigenous cinema and storytelling and it couldn’t be happening at a more important time.”

Jones said in the interview that It's a good time to be Indigenous.

“I feel like Indigenous voices have been sidelined for centuries and we're in such a great time to create our voices through film,” Jones said. “There is a sense of tremendous responsibility and power that lays in creating authentic media that speaks to the true voice of Indigenous people.”

“I'm grateful that there's a home for Indigenous voices in the Sundance spectrum. It's empowering to see artists share their stories through film,” Jones said. “Ultimately, Sundance is at the epicenter of bridging Indigenous communities through film.”

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics, and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling. Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indincountrytoday.com.

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