Native Producers Convene

Native Producers Convene

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Heather Rae is a filmmaker and Sundance Institute trustee who has produced three Sundance Film Festival selections including the 2008 Grand Jury Prize-winning and Oscar nominated Frozen River. She recently participated at the first-ever Native Producers Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

At the Native Producers Workshop this past week we sat in a circle on Museum Hill – a complex featuring four world-class museums – in Santa Fe and discussed the state of independent film and the way in which Native production plays a role in the marketplace. How appropriate to be in this realm of museums, so rich in story. The truth of it is: we are here, and there are so many stories to prove it.


Producer Heather Rae at the Native Producers Workshop. Photo by Sterlin Harjo.

The gathering was a collaboration between Sundance Institute’s Native and Indigenous Program and Milagro at Los Luceros, the New Mexico-based initiative to support the works of Native and Latino voices. Native Program Director Bird Runningwater and Manager Owl Johnson brought us all together to talk about the creative producing of Native projects and potential strategies for getting more Native films produced and seen. The filmmakers in attendance came from various backgrounds across North America; some were Fellows from the Native Lab at Mescalero this year, some were working on films soon to go into production, and most were developing work.

We screened Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On The Ice, which I had originally seen at last year’s Festival, but to see it a second time was thrilling. His producer, Cara Marcous, was in attendance and her contribution to the week’s discussion was invaluable considering that their team is presently immersed in the process of creative distribution, marketing, and sales. The information was fresh and it was exciting to feel a part of this fantastic film’s journey.

Kickstarter played a significant role in our conversations because so many of us are looking to this alternative form of financing to support our endeavors. Chris Horton, associate director of Artist Services at Sundance Institute, had great information to share about how it works, where it’s going, and ultimately what we can gain from building on and drawing from our audience base. Chad Burris, who produced Sterlin Harjo’s  Barking Wind and Four Sheets To The Wind, was able to share a great Kickstarter success story with Aurora Guerrero’s Mosquita Y Mari, which recently wrapped production in East Los Angeles. That film raised more than $80,000 on Kickstarter.

Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam attended the workshop and expressed a sincere enthusiasm for the work coming from the Native community. Also, longtime Sundance supporter and Milagro Advisor Joan Tewksbury brought a powerful and sublime voice to creating story and realizing our works. 

Coming together to exchange ideas is a rewarding exercise. We need this in order to do our best work, challenge each other, and maintain integrity and truthful workflow. We all are so grateful to Sundance Institute and the Native Program for facilitating this.