Update: One People, One Festival
UPDATE: FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND was released on DVD on November 6, 2007. EAGLE VS. SHARK went on from Sundance to receive Best Screenplay at the US Comedy Arts Festival, Best Comedy Feature Film Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival, as well as Best Film and Best Barrative Feature Jury Awards at the Newport International Film Festival. Actress Loren Horsley won Best Actress and Best Female Performance at the Newport International Film Festival. The film had its theatrical debut in June 2007.
See original blog post below.
FOURS SHEETS TO THE WIND
For years, the Sundance Institute has championed native filmmaking with its Native Initiative [www2.sundance.org], even as the meaning of that term has shifted in recent years from North American nations to indigenous people all over the world. Yesterday, the panel “The Burden of Representation” at the Filmmaker’s Lodge further explored that idea with filmmaker Heather Rae (TRUDELL) [www.imdb.com] moderating a panel of native filmmakers, including FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND [festival.sundance.org] director Sterlin Harjo (Creek [ngeorgia.com] and Seminole [www.seminolenation-indianterritory.org] Nations), TULI [festival.sundance.org] director Auraeus Solito (Filipino Palaw’an) [en.wikipedia.org], and EAGLE VS. SHARK [festival.sundance.org] director Taika Waititi (New Zealand Maori/Te Whanau a Apanui) [en.wikipedia.org], among others. At the core was the question of how splits identity, from being “gay Palawano Islander, a Jewish Maori or Seminole Okie?”
Taika Waititi (the Jewish Maori participant) admits that his film EAGLE VS. SHARK (in the World Cinema Competition: Dramatic), a quirky romance of mismatched love, doesn’t obviously represent native issues. “The burden of representation,” explains Waititi, “for me is to reflect my people. There is always the pressure to make Maori content. But I also believe that the artist has the need to be universal. EAGLE VS. SHARK, my first feature, it is a romantic comedy with white people. It is a strange little comedy from New Zealand.” While the content is not objectively native, Waititi brings his unique culture and psychological perspective to the project: “The main thing that I keep getting attracted to is the underdog, and those people on the outskirts. I am compelled by the idea of displacement, the way that people are made to feel that they donâ€™t fit it.” Whether that is by being awkward nerds or native people.
For panel’s moderator Heather Rae, who left her position as a director of the Native Forum years ago to make films herself, welcomes keeping the terms of her panel — native, representation, burden — open and flexible. In fact, she jokes, “someone contacted me to find out if the panel was going to be about finding an agent. And that’s true; representation can mean having an agent.” But it also means an obligation to represent traditional culture, a dictate that is sometimes difficult for native filmmakers without a clear cinematic tradition to refer to. As Rae acknowledges “There is no clear existing body of cinematic work. We have to be thinking about what we are doing while we are doing it. And making our tradition as we go along.” Ultimately for Rae, the burden of representation speaks to this continual redefinition of self and culture: “We are creating culture daily, because we are continually asking , “how do you define that which is within your self and knit yourself whole.”
The concept of Native filmmaking is itself a changing and evolving term. When Associate Director, Native American and Indigenous Initiatives at the Sundance Institute, N. Bird Runningwater, took over the program six years ago, he brought with him a more international perspective. Having working in global fundraising, he looked to how native communities across the world could help each other out. Runningwater expanded the program to include native people from Canada, New Zealand and the Pacific realm, linking these groups together by the concept that “Indigenous people have a particular sense of origins, of being land-based people who have traditional culture, who also have a certain sense of story telling and an oral tradition, as well as a similar over lay of colonial influence.”
This year there are five films from the Native Forum spread out through the festival. In World Cinema Competition: Dramatic is EAGLE VS. SHARK; in Independent Film Competition: Dramatic FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND; in Spectrum both TULI and MISS NAVAJO; And in Shorts CONVERSION. And Runningwater sees in these films, “a lot more innovation and a move to use indigenous language and English subtitles,” Runningwater points to CONVERSION, MISS NAVAJO, and FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND as all incorporating native language.
Senior Editor, Filmmaker Magazine