I felt like I was back in Montana, only cast in a burnt-sienna type of light and a lot drier and warmer and with delicious green chilies. Time moved in weird ways there—or at least my sense of time did. But I think there was an actual time warp that happened there and I think my fellow Fellows would agree.
Maybe it was because of the coming-of-age ceremony that book-ended our experience, from the slow raising of the sun over the first day of the ceremony to the moon and fire lit dances by the mountain spirits nearer the end. This clearly was no run of the mill film lab. It was being Native and being a filmmaker all rolled into a four-day experience.
In a much overused word, awesome. It was awesome to have one-on-one feedback from filmmakers I very much respect and admire. Billy Luther told me if I didn’t make Circle, he would. Fenton Bailey reassured me that Auralee’s struggle with her family was something anyone could identify with. Adam Bhala Lough reminded me how to get back to the basics of screenwriting, character, and relationships. Lastly, Zack Sklar dug into my narrative, had four pages of notes, plus a marked up script and encouraged me to start over.
Yeah, start over.
Before I started making films, I worked at a legal non-profit that defends Indigenous people’s lands and rights. Through that work, I was fortunate to visit Indigenous communities on opposite sides of the country—the Onondaga in New York and the Yurok in Northern California. Coming to Mescalero, I felt similar feelings of “home” among this southwestern community that reminded me of my own communities up north. This sense of familiarity, along with the camaraderie and support from my Fellows and mentors, clarified a lot of questions for me.
Before I went to the lab, I felt off-kilter. Only a year ago, I had graduated from NYU with my masters’ in film. I made a short, OK Breathe Auralee, which got into Sundance. Over that process, I realized it had a lot more story in it. So I moved home and started writing the feature. But I still wasn’t sure if that was the right course of action. Going to a fancy film school came with a fancy price tag, and so I felt torn with moving to LA or back to NYC to find work.
After attending the Native Lab, leaving Montana seemed like the wrong course of action to take, especially from all the encouragement from everyone at the Lab to continue my work on Circle. I realized that I needed to focus on making this feature as strong as possible.
It took a few months, a few freelance jobs, and I’m finally ready to start over. There is truth in cliché: writing is rewriting and clarity is king.