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Impactful film inspires ‘monumental’ social change

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Documentary reveals relevance of 1680 today

Veiled Lightning, a documentary that’s been on the film festival circuit of late, inspiring social change and receiving national acclaim, is also playing on the Gallup Film Festival big screen.

The film “weaves archival footage, informant interviews, original art and exclusive news coverage” to explore the way “protest movements unfurling across the Southwest and the nation provide for social and environmental justice and fight genocide, oppression, exploitation and appropriation to save Indigenous culture while simultaneously creating a way for us to all heal from our national history,” according to its website.

The woman behind the feature is producer Jaima Chevalier, who recently corresponded with the Sun over email.

Chevalier, whose godparents were Cochiti and whose mother taught at the Santa Fe Indian School, grew up on a ranch on the outskirts of the City Different.

“I am fixated by NM history,” the filmmaker, who learned her craft from Silver Horn Media President Tony Martinez, said in a Sept. 11 email. “It is the driving force behind all of my work in written and cinematic form.”

Veiled Lightning, she said, is the result of “an amazing group of collaborators: Ashley Browning (Sundance Full Circle Fellow in 2017), Gomeo Bobelu from Zuni, Natachee Momaday Gray, Tazbah Gaussoin and many others.”

According to Chevalier, one of the main themes of the film is the way the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 continues to echo in contemporary society.

“New Mexico is a well-spring for many extremely talented Native artists who focus on the theme of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a.k.a. The First American Revolution,” she said. “One example is Virgil Ortiz; another is Cliff Fragua,” whose Po’Pay sculpture “stands in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., one of New Mexico’s two official state sculptures.”

Po’Pay was a Tewa medicine man who sought to restore Pueblo customs and freedom to his people after his imprisonment by the Spanish. On Aug. 10, 1680, he led an organized revolt in which most Pueblos participated, ultimately forcing the Spanish to flee, and which left 400 dead, including 21 Catholic priests.

The Pueblo people remained free until 1692, when New Mexico was conquered again, this time by Gov. Pedro de Vargas.

Chevalier said people like “Joe Sando and Herman Agoyo — both now deceased — spent decades trying to get the state to recognize Po’Pay. Veiled Lightning began as an exploration of this ‘revolt’ art, if you will, but it grew organically to encompass an echo of the revolt that began as soon as we started shooting. That echo is the protests of the Santa Fe Fiesta Entrada.”

The film has contributed to what Chevalier called “a monumental change in Santa Fe that eliminated the Fiesta Council’s annual depiction of armed conquistadors re-taking the city from the Natives after the Pueblo Revolt,” also known as the Entrada.

In 2015, the crew shot footage of a small group of protesters who rekindled “the long-simmering feud over the Fiesta Council’s Entrada,” Chevalier said, but they didn’t anticipate anything coming of the protest. “After all, the Entrada has been protested for many decades without success.”

In 2016, though, two primarily female-led protest groups “burst onto the scene,” according to Chevalier. These were Red Nation and In the Spirit of Po’Pay. A large protest began against the reenactment of the 1962 Spanish re-occupation of Santa Fe that occurred 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt.

The Veiled Lightning team shot the event with nine cameras, coming out with shots that formed a 360-degree radius.

“Interviews with the protest leaders showed how this event was poised to make history, and sure enough, the following year an even larger protest led by the same women resulted in eight arrests and massive turmoil,” Chevalier said. “Over 80 police officers, with 100 more in reserve, made for a powder keg situation. The specter of SWAT officers looming ominously over the plaza where women and children protested was enough to convince civic, religious and pueblo leaders that the Entrada had to go.”

And indeed the Entrada did go. This year, a decision was reached to end the dramatization during the Fiesta.

Leading up to the decision to remove the Entrada, Veiled Lightning was screened at various venues to raise awareness on the matter. The New Mexico History Museum screened the film twice.

In making the documentary, filmmakers shot 300 hours of footage across the state and in six Pueblos, and interviewed more than 90 individuals. One such figure was Jennifer Marley  —  a lead organizer of the Red Nation, a coalition dedicated to Native liberation  — at her home in San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Marley was arrested along with seven other protestors in September 2017 for pushing her way through a line of police officers during the Entrada. All eight protestors’ cases were dismissed.

More than 100 people protested the reenactment in Santa Fe during last year’s Fiesta event.

Chevalier said Veiled Lightning has “enjoyed an amazing tour of the film festival circuit, with new developments poised to bring New Mexico even greater coverage for its role in this important social justice issue. Our team worked extensively with people from Acoma, Gallup, Zuni Pueblo, Quemado and Hopi lands.”

As for Chevalier, while her film makes the festival rounds to broad acclaim, she’s “currently assisting flamenco legend Maria Benitez with her memoirs, and working on a television script about the Pueblo Revolt with a fantasy vibe,” she said.

Chevalier will be in Gallup for the GFF screening.

The documentary will be screened at 10 am on Sept. 15. Visit www.gallupfilmfestival.com for screening and ticket information, and www.veiledlightning.com to learn more about the film.

Mia Rose Poris
Sun Assistant Editor