9 Indigenous-Made Films to Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival

Sami Blood

Want to see the list of films by Indigenous directors that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival? Check this blog post.

Rooted in the recognition of the rich storytelling cultures and inherent sovereignty of Native American nations, Sundance Institute has held a commitment to Native artists since its founding. Mandated by our Founder Robert Redford, the Institute has nurtured and supported Native filmmakers going back to a time when almost none existed.

Since then, the Institute has supported three generations of Native filmmakers, creating a global community and providing a space for that community with the Native Program and a gathering place at the Sundance Film Festival. Today, there are more Native filmmakers working than ever before, and the Institute is bringing forward a fourth generation of Native filmmakers and solidifying a pipeline of artists whose voices will have an important impact on American and global cinema and culture.

In the spirit of this support, we’re highlighting the titles of the Indigenous-made films that will be premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and introducing the Native Program’s filmmaker Fellows. These films competed against a pool of 13,782 submissions, to be selected among the 122 feature films and 71 short films playing at the Festival.

Feature Films

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train / U.S.A. (Director: Sydney Freeland, Diné)

Two teenage sisters start robbing trains to make ends meet after their single mother’s emotional meltdown in an electronics store lands her in jail. Category: NEXT

Dolores / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Bratt, Quechua)

Dolores Huerta bucks 1950s gender conventions by co-founding the country’s first farmworkers’ union. Wrestling with raising 11 children, gender bias, union defeat and victory, and nearly dying after a San Francisco Police beating, Dolores emerges with a vision that connects her newfound feminism with racial and class justice. Category: U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World / Canada (Executive Producers: Stevie Salas, Apache, Tim Johnson, Mohawk)

This powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history—featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time—exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how Indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture. Category: WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Sami Blood / Sweden/Denmark/Norway (Director: Amanda Kernell, Sámi)

Elle Marja, 14, is a reindeer-breeding Sámi girl exposed to the racism of the 1930’s and race biology examinations at her boarding school she starts dreaming of another life. To achieve this other life she has to become someone else and break all ties with her family and culture. Category: SPOTLIGHT

Short Films

My Father’s Tools / Canada (Director: Heather Condo, Micmac)

Stephen continues producing traditional baskets to
honor his father and thus finds peace in his studio as he
connects with the man who taught him the craft.

Nutag – Homeland / Canada (Director: Alisi Telengut, Mongolian)

This hand-painted visual poem explores the ideas of
diaspora, homeland, and the mass deportations of the
Kalmyk people during World War II.

Shinaab / U.S.A. (Director: Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr., Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians)

A young Anishinaabe man struggles with his
place in the inner city of Minneapolis.

Visions of an Island / U.S.A. (Director: Sky Hopinka, Ho-Chunk/Pechanga)

In a summer of intention and wandering, an Unangam Tunuu elder reflects on landscape and fauna, language students play and teach invented games, and a portrait takes shape of a place through the dim and distant glimpse of a visitor on an island in the center of the Bering Sea.

Special Events

Rise (Director: Michelle Latimer, Métis/Algonquin)

From the Standing Rock protests to the battle for Oak Flat, this docuseries from Viceland expertly investigates the ongoing environmental rights struggles still facing many Native American and indigenous citizens. Unflinching and timely, these stories reflect the ongoing history of Native resistance to colonization, giving a face to communities fighting for their most basic rights with an enduring hope that a shameful history will never be repeated.

Native Filmmaker Lab Fellows

These two Fellows participated in the Native Filmmakers Lab with their projects in June 2016 and will continue their year-long Fellowship at the Festival with ongoing support, screenings, guided film discussions, and networking events. At the Lab, these fellows worked with a cast, crew to practice shooting scenes from their short films under the expert creative mentorship of Program alumni, Creative Advisors and Program staff. This fellowship encourages Native filmmakers to hone their storytelling and technical skills in a hands-on and supportive environment. Following the Lab, Fellows receive a year-round continuum of support.

Shane McSauby (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), Mino Bimaadiziwin

A young Ojibwe man must choose between the comfort of city living or Mino Bimaadizwin, the path to the good life, after reconnecting with his culture through a young Ojibwe woman.

Willi White (Oglala Lakota), Miye, Unkiye

On the Pine Ridge reservation, a young Oglala Lakota man has accidently created a menacing spirit which only he can see and which he must destroy.

Time Warner Fellows

With the Time Warner Foundation’s dedicated support, the Institute offers a Native Producers Fellowship to two producers annually. The goal of this Fellowship is to foster the development of more Native producers in the Native filmmaking community. This Fellowship supports the Fellows’ participation at the annual Sundance Creative Producing Summit; a customized track of activities at the Sundance Film Festival that includes film screenings, panels, industry meetings, and other events; and a project support grant.

Jhane Myers (Comanche/Blackfeet), N. Scott Momaday: Words From A Bear

An examination of the enigmatic life and mind of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, N. Scott Momaday. This profile delves into the psyche behind one of Native America’s most celebrated authors of poetry and prose.

Sharyn Steele (Ho-Chunk Nation), The Ghost Files

Based on the Young Adult book series, this story follows Mattie Hathaway, a sixteen-year-old girl in foster care, who gains the ability to see ghosts at an early age after a tragic event.

Full Circle Fellows

These fellows will receive an immersive experience in the world of Independent film and attend screenings, participate in guided film discussions, and connect with leaders of the Indigenous film community. Their year-long Fellowship focuses on developing Native youth filmmakers through workshops and training opportunities, Full Circle links talented young storytellers to education and career pipelines across fields of independent filmmaking, using structural strategies where Native communities heal by telling their own stories.

Kayla Bell (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) is a writer whose love of storytelling and visual art has led to a unique and eclectic approach to filmmaking. Her interests include poetry, photography, creative nonfiction writing, and comics, all of which make their way into her vision. She is currently studying English at Northern Michigan University and works at the Center for Native American Studies.

Ashley Browning (Pojoaque/Santa Clara Pueblo) graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Film and Digital Media where she concentrated on film, photography and graphic design. She comes from a long line of potters from Santa Clara Pueblo. She has worked as a cinematographer/animator on two documentaries for the U.S. Forestry Service and currently works for her Pueblo as a Graphic Designer.

Charine Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) is currently enrolled at Fort Lewis College and is pursuing her BA in English Communications. She is also the current Fort Lewis College Shorts Film Festival title holder for a music video titled “Feels Good, Don’t Worry” with music by Alex Blocker & DJ Béeso. She also held the powwow royalty title of Miss Hozhoni First Attendant, which made a positive impact in promoting arts and higher education.

Jesse Littlebird (Laguna Pueblo) is from Santa Fe, New Mexico and is a graduate of the University of New Mexico. At an early age he was influenced by cinema and art growing up in the Southwest and traveling around the country with his parents. He is a photographer and has directed a number of short films. He keeps a home between Albuquerque and Santa Fe at his parents farm.

Additional Fellows

These fellows are being supported through grants and fellowships through other Programs within Sundance Institute.

Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr. (Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Time Warner Story Fellowship

Leya Hale (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota/Diné), 2017 Knight Foundation Fellowship

Merata Mita Fellowship

At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute will announce the recipient of our annual Fellowship named in honor of the late Māori filmmaker Merata Mita, New Zealand’s first Indigenous female filmmaker. In addition to being a global advocate for Indigenous voices, Merata was a trusted Creative Advisor and Artistic Director at the Native Lab, and a dear friend to the Institute. The Merata Mita Fellowship is supported by the Embassy of Australia, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Taika Waititi, White Feather Foundation, Fenton Bailey and Billy Luther, and Pacific Islanders in Communications.

Each year Sundance Institute identifies a Native or Indigenous filmmaker from a global pool of nominees to award a cash grant and provide a year-long continuum of support with activities including a trip to the Sundance Film Festival, access to strategic and creative services offered by Sundance Institute artist programs, and mentorship opportunities.

The Fellowship honoree will be announced Monday, January 23rd.

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