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Native Film Series 2017

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The 5th Annual Native Film Series Kicks-off the 96th Annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial

“Providing a stage for Native American Filmmakers to share their stories.”

As the originator and creator of Native Film Series, Lisa Rodriguez has always loved the art of filmmaking. As a photographer, Rodriguez respects the process of creating a story that moves and has breath in each frame.

Native Film Series has been the place for Native filmmakers to showcase their talents in the genre of documentary, shorts, animations and feature films. Now in its fifth year, it has kept the mission true to its idea.

Rodriguez has brought five extraordinary award winning films to this year’s film series: The Eagle Huntress-Audience Award at Middleburg Film Festival and The Mill Valley Film Festival/Best Documentary Feature at The Hampton International film festival; Tanna-2017 Academy Award Nominee Best Foreign Language Film; The Mayor of Shiprock; Navajo Math Circles; and Metal Road.

The had the privilege of sitting down with Rodriguez to learn more about these fascinating films and Native Film Series.

Sun: Hello Lisa, thank you so much for doing this, let’s get started because I know you are a very busy person (laughing). Native Film Series, tell me about it.

Rodriguez: (Laughing as her phone goes off) It’s the fifth annual; its five years old as of Aug. 5. It originated from the idea of it would be great for Gallup – to show films that are either written, directed, produced or acted by Native Americans, to an audience that is Native American. Since we live in an area that is rich with Native American culture, it was only befitting to do so … Native artisans, crafters, and so many others.

Sun: What differences are there now from last year … any outstanding (films)?

Rodriguez: Hmm … the premiere we had this weekend was “Eagle Huntress,” which is a Sundance winning film; it’s an international film and it’s from Mongolia. I chose it more than anything because there’s always been a belief that the Bering Straight was a place where Mongolian people came to inhabit this continent. And because of that it intertwines or inter-relates to all sorts of cultures together, under one roof. The story is about a little girl that is a wonderful example of chivalry, and when it comes to the idea that a woman can do anything as good as a man can do. It’s about an eagle – an eagle is an international symbol from any indigenous tribe, almost any sort of bird is. I felt that it had a lot of connectedness to our community here, and I thought it was important for our community to see it. It was very … very well received. We had a really great premiere night and I was really happy to hear the comments later after the film.

Sun: So you choose the movies yourself then? And what criteria do they have to meet?

Rodriguez: I do. More than anything each year I kind of sense a need to hit a target and audience I want to give money back to. For example, my first year I had my films all go to a diabetes prevention programs that were local. Umm … I’ve also had them go to the empowerment of kids; I’ve also just recently have had this juvenile division where all our proceeds at the door go to Inter-tribal Ceremonial juvenile division. So, I make no money (laughing) … I don’t do it for the money I do it for the presence and awareness that I think it brings to people. I’m very passionate about the way I choose the films, and I don’t do them totally alone. I have a spearhead committee that I bounce ideas off of, and I get good insight from them as well. I’ve made great contact with UCLA, Sundance Film Festival, other festivals in the area, and I try to keep the films interesting to an audience that I think wants to hear interesting stories that are authentic. I think now that’s the most important part.

Sun: Now any particular message through these films you’re trying to get out through them?

Rodriguez: More than anything it’s a providing a stage for filmmakers … Native American filmmakers to share their stories. So, the stories can be very much different. The content has always been different. I don’t ever try to make the content the same. Most of them are success stories, and some of them can be sad stories. Next year there are going to be funny stories (laughing). I haven’t done a humorous series yet, and I think it’s about time. I think it would be great to have some comedians come, work with some animation.

I really think it’s a doable area to learn that; animation is such an art form in itself. Some of the films that have come in the past have been internationally; we’ve done films for Code Talkers, for some that have not seen it on our screens. In fact, my library of films are something I’m actually going to donate them when I’m older and greyer (laughing) to our library.

Sun: I said in reference to her “older and greyer” comment ... “which you are not.” (Rodriguez continues)

Rodriguez: So people can utilize them or rent them and sit there and watch them. So, it’s not like I’m going to keep them or use them for self-gain. I’m really going to contribute them back to my community because I think my community is important and I want to do that for them.

Sun: How many films did you actually have this year?

Rodriguez: We had six showings and it’s usually between six to eight films I do each year in the two-and-a-half-day event. The first year was a weeklong event and that was very interesting. I did it from a Monday to a Saturda,  and all films had a specific viewing audience. I had a Code Talker day, an animation day, I had a teenage day, and I had an elder day. I sorted them according to this agedness. It was a little too long, and I’ve cut it down to where it’s at right now because that’s a good amount of festival time for our community.

Sun: What was the response overall?

Rodriguez: We did really… really well! The way I count is by tickets and we counted at the end of the two premiere days and matinees … about 284 people. It was a good year for a couple of reasons, we had a really hard push globally. I had a monitoring agency help me get it really out in the global world. We did a nationwide campaign through Indian Nation Network, which is a really well publicized organization and they have a target audience of about 3 million.  We did state and local people I personally know, helping us. I’m part of a group called “New Mexico Women In Films.” We also had “New Mexico Film Foundation,” and the “New Mexico Film Office.” Locally we did radio and magazine.

Sun: Wow you guys really promoted it big time huh. Now I’m going to pick a movie off the list… “Metal Road.” What was that about in a nutshell?

Rodriguez: Oh that was an interesting film, because we are a railroading town. I picked that film because I thought there would be a lot of people that if they didn’t do it themselves then they probably knew somebody who did or is still doing it. “Metal Road” is the story of the toughness of those Native Americans that started in the railroad business in this area. 207 days out of 365 days, just railroading at that time (and they) were gone away from their families. It’s an amazingly hard work: cold, hot, hard, and grueling dirty work. This film came to me through another filmmaker I had worked with in the past.

Sun: Wow that is really cool and very interesting! Well, Lisa I want to thank you very much for your time, your enthusiasm and passion about this is quite clear…thank you.

Rodriguez: It’s something I enjoy doing and I hope it’s well received and continues to go, I would really like to see it get bigger and better…look forward to next year.

For more information on Native Film Series, contact Lisa E. Rodriguez: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or, www.nativefilmseriesnm.com Phone: (505) 870-1124.

By Dee Velasco
For the Sun