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376 American Anthropologist

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Indigenous Media Gone Global: Strengthening Indigenous Identity On- and Offscreen at the First Nations\First Features Film Showcase


New York University

ABSTRACT For 12 days in May 2005, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), as well as several other screen- ing venues in Washington, D.C., hosted a group of renowned indigenous filmmakers from around the globe for the ground- breaking film showcase, “First Nations\First Features: A Show- case of World Indigenous Film and Media.” This film showcase highlighted the innovative ways in which indigenous filmmakers draw on indigenous storytelling practices to create cinematic vi- sions that honor their long-standing indigenous cultural worlds while reaching local and world audiences. In this essay, I highlight the onscreen impact through an analysis of several films featured in First Nations\First Features, as well as the offscreen impact emphasizing how the indigenous directors used this opportunity to strengthen social networks and share experience in this in- dustry, which may develop into future collaborative film projects. [Keywords: indigenous media, indigeneity, representation, visual anthropology]

For 12 days in May 2005, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Smithsonian’s National Mu- seum of the American Indian (NMAI), as well as several screening venues in Washington, D.C., hosted a group of renowned indigenous filmmakers from around the globe for the groundbreaking film showcase, “First Nations\First Features: A Showcase of World Indigenous Film and Media.” In this film showcase, the first feature films by indigenous filmmakers from around the world were screened to high- light an emergent world cinema. From the landmark film Pathfinder (1987), directed by Nils Gaup (Sami) from Nor- way, widely regarded as one of the first such feature films, to the more recent critically acclaimed Smoke Signals (1998) and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), First Nations\First Features showcased the innovative ways in which indige- nous filmmakers have drawn on indigenous storytelling practices to create cinematic visions that honor the long- standing indigenous cultural worlds within which these contemporary narratives are rooted while also reaching lo- cal and world audiences. Global indigenous media are a powerful arena of cul- tural production through which indigenous filmmakers and activists take up Western media technologies to document indigenous cultural traditions, counter dominant media misrepresentations of indigenous people, and articulate in- digenous cultural futures. Indigenous media production is a practice that simultaneously alters the visual landscape of mainstream media by representing indigenous faces, his-

tories, and experiences onscreen, while serving a crucial social role offscreen to provide a practice through which new forms of indigenous solidarity, identity, and commu- nity are created. In this essay, I highlight the onscreen im- pact by focusing on several films featured in First Nations\ First Features as well as the offscreen impact by emphasiz- ing the ways in which the indigenous directors in New York and Washington, D.C., used this opportunity to strengthen social networks and share expertise and experience in this industry, which may develop into future collaborative film projects.


In much the same way that indigenous media is produced through a patchwork of funding, production, and distribu- tion venues, the First Nations\First Features film showcase was the result of the collaboration between three organiza- tions: the MoMA, the Smithsonian’s NMAI, and New York University. The film showcase was the result of the schol- arship and labor of curators from these institutions: Sally Berger, Assistant Curator in the Department of Film and Media at MoMA; Faye Ginsburg, Director of the Center for Media, Culture, and History, the Center for Religion and Media, and member of the Department of Anthropology at New York University; Elizabeth Weatherford, Director of the Film and Video Center at the Smithsonian’s NMAI; and film- maker and independent curator Pegi Vail. First Nations\First Features is the culmination of the long-standing commit- ment to indigenous media by Berger, Ginsburg, Vail, and Weatherford. These curators have been programming in- digenous media at their respective institutions for over 20 years and sought to create a venue where the remarkable achievements of indigenous directors could gain visibility within the prestigious mainstream venues of MoMA, NMAI, and associated screening venues. Additionally, the curators sought to create an environment in which “New York and Washington, D.C., audiences could encounter the directors and their extraordinary films” (First Nations\First Features


MoMA and NMAI served as the primary screening venues in New York City, whereas the screening venues in Washington, D.C., included the National Gallery of Art, Canadian Embassy, Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Li- brary of Congress, the National Museum of Natural His- tory, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in addition to the newly opened NMAI on the National

Mall. 1 First Nations\First Features screened 25 films, includ- ing three key documentaries as well as several short fic- tions and feature films. These films represented a host of First Nations communities, among them Australian Aborig- ine, Maori, Inuit, Native North and South American, Nenet, Sami, and Rotuman. A majority of the directors participated in the entire film showcase, introducing their films and answering questions after screenings, speaking at a sym- posium, “Cultural Creativity and Cultural Rights: On and Off Screen” held at the NMAI in New York, and traveling from New York to Washington, D.C., for the screenings held there. From May 12 to 23, 2005, over 11,000 audience mem- bers viewed indigenous feature films that ranged from epic traditional tales to gripping contemporary indigenous ur- ban dramas. The First Nations\First Features curators elo- quently note in their curatorial statement that “over the past two decades, these filmmakers have broken barriers to native film production, garnering major awards worldwide, from Cannes to Sundance to Kautokeino. The works fea- tured in this showcase, whether classics or premieres, are ‘firsts’ for their directors and the First Nations communi- ties they come from” (First Nations\First Features 2005). Audience members were brought into the distinctive cul- tural worlds of the filmmakers through the unique visions, indigenous aesthetics, and dramatic storytelling of their films. The MoMA screening theater, and additional screen- ing venues in Washington, D.C., were transformed into in- digenous spaces in which native stories, experiences, and histories were given center stage.


Indigenous media have reclaimed the screen from dom- inant media representations to tell stories from the perspectives of indigenous peoples. A burgeoning field of scholarship on indigenous media has examined how media technologies are appropriated and transformed to meet the needs of local indigenous communities. This scholarship has revealed the ways in which indigenous media provide “screen memories” for local communities (Ginsburg 2002), the role of media in indigenous ac- tivism in the Amazon and Brazil (Conklin 1995; Turner 2002), community-based indigenous media initiatives throughout South and Latin America (Br´ıgido-Corachan´ 2004; Cordova 2005; Himpele 2004; Wortham 2004), the impact of Inuit filmmaking (Bessire 2003; Ginsburg 2003; Huhndorf 2003), the politics of representation in Native American video (Prins 1997), efforts to decolonize the screen (Barclay 1990; Kilpatrick 1999; Langton 1993; Singer 2001; Todd 1993), analyses of national cultural policies supporting and constraining indigenous media production (Alia 1999; Buddle-Crowe 2002; Himpele 2002; Molnar and Meadows 2001; Roth 2005), and the emergence of indigenous aesthetics in indigenous media (Ginsburg 1994; Johnson 2000; Leuthold 1998; Masayesva 1995; Michaels 1993; Weatherford 1996). In an interview for

Visual Anthropology


a New Zealand tourism website, renowned Maori film-

maker Merata Mita noted the power of indigenous media proclaiming: “Swimming against the tide becomes an exhilarating experience. It makes you strong. For 90 minutes or so, we have the capability of indigeniz- ing the screen in any part of the world our films are shown. This represents power and is one reason we make films that are uniquely and distinctly Maori” (New Zealand 2005). The films showcased in First Nations\First Features demonstrate a tremendous range in content and style. 2 Sev- eral themes emerge from the films, including (1) the ex-

ploration of family dynamics, (2) the representation of epic traditional stories, (3) the hard-hitting contemporary urban realities for indigenous people, and (4) the strong ties to land and commitment of Native activists and communities

to their traditional territories. In the next section, I examine

several of the films featured in First Nations\First Features through the lens of these four themes.


Family is a key feature to indigenous social life, and several

of these films explicitly address the often-complicated rela-

tionships between family members within indigenous com- munities. It is not surprising, given colonial efforts to dis- rupt indigenous family structures—such as in the policy to remove mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families

in Australia, or the residential school system in the United

States and Canada—that many indigenous directors use me- dia as a way in which to recuperate indigenous community structures and to make central the intricate dynamics of in- digenous family life in film narratives. In Radiance (1998), directed by Rachel Perkins (Arrernte/Kalkadoon), the narra- tive revolves around three Aboriginal sisters who have re- turned to their childhood home for their mother’s funeral. As these three formerly estranged sisters recall their child-

hood memories, the past begins to unravel as family se- crets are revealed that alter the kinship ties of the sisters. The dynamics of an extended family in a small rural Maori community are central to Merata Mita’s seminal film Mauri (1987), one of the earliest indigenous feature films and the first feature film directed by a Maori woman. Mauri is set in a 1950s rural Maori community that is facing the loss

of its land and of its young people moving to urban areas.

The unexpected arrival of Rewi, a man on the run from prison, alters community and family dynamics. As part of Rewi’s journey, he reconnects with his spiritual traditions on a path of redemption guided by his relationships with two Maori women. Smoke Signals (1998), directed by Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/ Arapaho), was a groundbreaking film; it was the first fea- ture film written, directed, produced, and acted by Na- tive Americans. This film, critically acclaimed and a box- office success, is based on the short stories of Sherman

Alexie (Coeur d’Alene/Spokane). It portrays the estranged

relationship between Victor Joseph and his father, Arnold,

as Victor reluctantly travels with his companion, eccentric

storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire, from the Coeur d’Alene

378 American Anthropologist

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American Anthropologist • Vol. 108, No. 2 • June 2006 FIGURE 1. Photo still from 5th

FIGURE 1. Photo still from 5th World (2005). (Photo courtesy of filmmaker Larry Blackhorse Lowe)

reservation to Phoenix to retrieve his father’s remains. An exploration of the relationship between fathers and sons, this film poignantly and comically explores the dynamics of family within contemporary Native American reservation life. The newest film to be screened in First Nations\First Features was the feature film 5th World (2005), directed by emerging filmmaker Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo). A lyri- cal and poetic experimental film, 5th World captures the stark Navajo landscape, while exploring the developing re- lationship between two Navajo young adults as they hitch- hike through Navajo country. With a haunting sound- track and striking visuals of the landscape as the backdrop to the budding romance, the film centers on Navajo cul- tural traditions, clan identity, and taboos. Ultimately a story about Navajo kinship and the centrality of clan iden- tity to cultural traditions, this film provides an unconven- tional look at the way in which Navajo youth negotiate ties to cultural traditions within contemporary life (see Figure 1).


Several of the most notable indigenous feature films have translated epic traditional tales to cinema. From Pathfinder

(1987), directed by Nils Gaup (Sami), to the more recent Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), directed by Zacharias Kunuk (Inuit), indigenous storytelling traditions and tales used by elders to teach moral lessons to indigenous youth are transformed into gripping dramatic feature films. Pathfinder, the first Sami-language feature film, received critical acclaim within Norway and internationally, in- cluding an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Pathfinder is an action-adventure story based on a thousand-year-old Sami legend often told to Sami youth. The film focuses on a young man who witnesses the brutal death of his family by a band of marauders and subsequently leads his people in a fight against these out- siders. Vividly evoking the customs, traditions, family life, and spirituality of ancient Sami life, this film presents a dra- matic narrative about the morals of standing up for one’s community to maintain traditional territory and cultural traditions. Likewise, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, winner of the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, is a tradi- tional Inuit tale set in ancient times with a plot that exam- ines the dynamics between rival families and supernatural forces manipulated by shamans. It is the first feature film

written, directed, produced, and acted by Inuit in the Inuk- titut language. The film follows the hero, Atanarjuat, who must struggle against a shaman’s curse to assure his commu- nity’s future. Atanarjuat is the production of Igoolik Isuma, a video production company that has been using media to make documentaries and short narratives about Inuit tra- ditions and social life for over 20 years. The production of Pathfinder and Atanarjuat required the mobilization of many community members in every aspect of production from acting and writing to directing and costume design. These productions strengthen intergenerational ties and nurture cultural traditions through the mobilization of traditional skills, indigenous knowledge, and storytelling throughout the production process. The fact that these traditional tales are now captured in these indigenous features will ensure that future generations of Sami and Inuit children can learn from these stories through the medium of film.


The films featured in First Nations\First Features spanned the range from ancient oral traditions to autobiographically inspired stories to comic narratives and politically charged activist dramas. A prominent theme among several films is the exploration of the contemporary urban conditions facing many indigenous people today. Urban life is a so- cial reality for a large number of indigenous people, and in the United States and Canada approximately 68 percent of Native populations reside in urban areas. 3 The demands of urban life often pose challenges to the maintenance of in- digenous traditions and cultural identity. Angels of the Earth [Los Angeles de la Tierra] (2001), directed by Patricio Luna (Aymara), is a cautionary tale about the dangers of urban life. It follows the story of two Aymara brothers who have left a poor mountain village in search of a better life in the city. Once Were Warriors (1995), directed by Lee Tamahori (Maori), is a gritty and often violent portrayal of contem- porary urban Maori life. This film was the debut feature film for Tamahori, who has since gone on to direct such films as Mulholland Falls (1996) and Die Another Day (2002), and it remains one of highest-grossing films in New Zealand. Once Were Warriors follows conflict and drama within the Heke family as Beth Heke challenges her volatile husband Jake while seeking to change their lifestyle. After a tragic family event, Beth realizes that she longs to return to her marae, her relatives, and the Maori traditions in which she was raised. Beneath Clouds (2001), directed by Ivan Sen (Gamilaroi) is the story of two hitchhiking Aboriginal teens as they travel to Sydney. Although much of the screen time is set against the landscape of the rural outskirts of Sydney, the film also addresses racism, police brutality, and incarcera- tion as contemporary social issues facing Aboriginal youth in Australia. This exquisitely shot film examines Aborigi- nal identity through the lens of the reluctant friendship that develops between Lena and Vaughn. Lena, a light- skinned Aboriginal woman, is trying to reach Sydney to find her absent Irish father, whereas Vaughn, a streetwise

Visual Anthropology


father, whereas Vaughn, a streetwise Visual Anthropology 379 FIGURE 2. Film still from Beneath Clouds (2001).

FIGURE 2. Film still from Beneath Clouds (2001). (Photo courtesy of Teresa-Jayne Hanlon and Autumn Film Productions)

angry Aboriginal teen, escapes a detention center in an ef- fort to get to Sydney to see his dying mother. Lena and Vaughn are thrown together in their journey to Sydney, come to depend on one another, and eventually establish

a tentative friendship. A subtle and artfully crafted film,

Beneath Clouds poignantly examines the issue of Aborigi- nality, allowing room for the diversity of Aboriginal iden- tity, faces, and experiences while at the same time creat- ing a space to interrogate social conditions such as racism

and police brutality facing Aboriginal youth today (see Figure 2).


The works screened at First Nations\First Features explore the ways in which indigenous communities maintain a strong connection to the land and depend on the seasonal cycles of their traditional territories. Itam Hakim, Hopiit (1984), directed by Victor Masayesva Jr. (Hopi), explores the centrality of corn, farming, and the desert landscape in traditional Hopi life. An early Native American feature, this experimental documentary is narrated by a Hopi elder who blends personal and cultural history to tell of seminal moments in Hopi history, including the oral tradition of

the Hopi Emergence, as well as to detail historical accounts of the Pueblo Revolt and the age of the conquistadors. Evoking a quiet reverence for the earth, this critically acclaimed video was filmed in the Hopi language (with an English voice-over) and offers a unique poetic visual- ization of Hopi prophecy and worldview. Likewise, the documentary Powerful Mountain [Guia To´o] (1998), directed by Crisanto Manzano Avella (Zapotec), is a visual medi- tation on the delicate balance the indigenous people of Oaxaca create with the environment of the Guia Too´ cloud forest. The video provides stunning documentation of the tremendous biodiversity within this cloud forest, and the local knowledge with which indigenous people maintain a balance with the environment as they farm the area. Many indigenous cultural traditions are rooted in a spir- itual connection to the land and the strength of these ties

is revealed in the tenacity of indigenous activists in strug-

gles over land claims. The groundbreaking film Kanehsa- take: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), directed by renowned filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki), is a feature-length

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documentary that follows the 1990 “Oka crisis,” a 78-day armed standoff between Mohawk activists and the Quebec Provincial Police and Canadian Army. Mohawk ac-

tivists barricaded a portion of their traditional territory known as “the Pines,” which contains a Mohawk burial ground and on which the town of Oka sought to expand

a golf course. Obomsawin traces the history of this con-

frontation over the course of several hundred years, noting that the tensions over this area of land are rooted in the colonization, dispossession, and illegal transfer of Mohawk land to the town of Oka. This remarkable film captures the tremendous dedication, commitment, and strength of the Mohawk activists and articulates this land struggle within the framework of indigenous political sovereignty and spir-

itual traditions. This armed standoff in 1990 drastically al- tered the political relationship between the Canadian gov- ernment and Aboriginal peoples, and Kanehsatake has had

a tremendous impact by giving voice and visibility to the

struggle for Aboriginal rights in Canada while inspiring in- digenous activists around the world.


Indigenous filmmakers alter the world as seen onscreen by presenting indigenous stories that draw on uniquely indige- nous cultural traditions and aesthetic styles to reimagine the possibilities of filmic representation. Additionally, the practice of media production itself alters indigenous social relations offscreen by providing a crucial practice through

which new forms of indigenous solidarity are formed. As a cultural event, First Nations\First Features Film Showcase fa- cilitated these social networks by bringing together over 20 indigenous filmmakers to New York and Washington, D.C., to participate throughout the course of the 12-day show- case. First Nations\First Features is linked to the broader cultural world of the ever-expanding Native film festival circuit, which serves a vital role in promoting, showcas- ing, and gaining visibility for indigenous media. There are

a large number of Native film festivals in the United States

and Canada as well as in South America, Australia, and New Zealand. 4 At the various sites along the increasingly global Na- tive film festival circuit, Native people from various tribal, cultural, and national backgrounds come together to see the latest work in the field of indigenous media, discuss the obstacles and achievements in the indigenous media industry, build professional alliances, and catch up on the latest news from friends and colleagues. First Nations\First Features strengthened social networks through formal activ- ities such as the symposium “Cultural Creativity and Cul- tural Rights: On and Off Screen” and more informal activi- ties such as lunches, including one hosted by the American Indian Community House in New York and one at the NMAI in Washington, D.C., as well as evening events, conversa- tions over coffee, and late-night celebrations (see Figure 3). First Nations\First Features enabled the participating in-

digenous filmmakers to see each other’s work, which can be difficult to access in the remote home communities of sev- eral filmmakers, as well as to discuss the commonalities and differences they each face in working in their respective First Nations communities and countries of production. Film- makers, established and emerging, remote and urban, were brought together in shared dialogue. For some filmmakers, this showcase was an opportunity to reunite with long-time friends and colleagues; for others, it was an opportunity to see their film in a new light by having it screened for the first time with international indigenous films (see Figure 4). The symposium “Cultural Creativity and Cultural Rights: On and Off Screen,” hosted at NMAI in New York, provided an opportunity for the participating filmmak- ers to discuss their work in light of the themes of cul- tural rights—such as access to the means of production and various national cultural policies that shape, enable, and constrain indigenous media production—and cultural creativity—such as the challenges, concerns, and techni- cal possibilities of translating indigenous storytelling and aesthetic traditions to film. This lively symposium raised issues from the constraints of funding structures to the im- pact of indigenous media on cultural identity to filmmakers’ aspirations for future directions within indigenous media. Filmmaker Marcelina Cardenas´ Sausa (Quechua), director of Loving Each Other in the Shadows [Llanthupi Manakuy] (2001), described the collective nature of her community’s produc- tion process, proclaiming, “Our goal is to strengthen our cultural identity, to show our own model for development through indigenous media. In that sense, our work with media has a sense of community, of reciprocity, of comple- mentarity” (First Nations\First Features 2005:3). Anastasia Lapsui (Nenet), writer and director of A Bride of the Seventh Heaven [Jumulan Morsian] (2003), echoed this sentiment as she discussed the way in which she mobilizes her commu- nity to create her lyrical films. She declared, “I am a nomadic person, I come from a family of reindeer herders, hunters, and fishermen. I just take a slice of life, of my life or the life of my neighbors, I write it up and a film comes out. We the nomadic people live collectively and our films are born collectively as well” (First Nations\First Features 2005:6). Merata Mita (Maori) and Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/ Arapaho) both raised the questions “who is the primary audience for indigenous media?” and “can indigenous films appeal to a mainstream audience despite the ways in which indigenous films differ aesthetically from Hollywood formulas?” Mita called for indigenous filmmakers to draw on their storytelling traditions as the basis for writing film scripts, acknowledging that “I think it’s a mistake to cast aside whatever has served us so well in the past, to think that, because we are writing scripts for film, that this is something totally different, that we don’t need those lessons of the arts of storytelling that we got from our oral tradition” (First Nations\First Features 2005:10). Mita advocates using indigenous oral traditions as a cultural resource from which to draw on when making films. She also counters the notion prevalent in mainstream

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Visual Anthropology 381 FIGURE 3. First Nations \ First Features filmmakers in Washington, D.C., from left

FIGURE 3. First Nations\First Features filmmakers in Washington, D.C., from left to right: Patricio Luna (Aymara), Pegi Vail (First Nations\First Features curator), Nils Gaup (Sami), Markuu Lehmuskallio, Crisanto Manzano Avella (Zapotec), Larry Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo), and Johannes Lehmuskallio. Standing in front on left Marcelina Cardenas (Quechua) and Anastasia Lapsui (Nenet). (Photo by Kristin Dowell)

media that all films need to appeal to a wide audience and obtain high-grossing numbers at the box office. She defines the power of indigenous film in its reconfiguration of movie audiences by constructing indigenous people as the primary audience and creating films that appeal to and resonate with indigenous audiences. She exclaimed, “We have every right to make films for ourselves, just as Hollywood has every right to make films for whatever their audience is. Why should we be excluded from making our own stories for our own people to see?” (First Nations\ First Features 2005:11). Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), the moderator of the panel on cultural creativity, emphasized the social role of indigenous filmmakers as they work to ensure the maintenance of indigenous cultural traditions through their films. She aptly noted, “I think all of these filmmakers are demonstrating in some way a confidence, a commitment to the ongoing construction of ourselves as indigenous peoples in a world that is putting great pressure on all peoples to let go of their deep knowledge systems” (First Nations\First Features 2005:13). By taking the means of production into their own hands, indigenous

filmmakers reclaim the right to tell indigenous stories in a way that honors the oral traditions and cultural worlds within which these stories are rooted. The afternoon symposium panel at NMAI addressed the theme of cultural rights offscreen, including the national cultural policies shaping and constraining indigenous me- dia production as well as the activism of indigenous film- makers to gain greater access to production resources. Much of the discussion revolved around the difficulties of gain- ing access to funding to produce indigenous media, par- ticularly as many indigenous filmmakers make their films for local indigenous audiences. Nils Gaup (Sami) articulated the difficulty of trying to finance feature films while honor- ing Sami storytelling traditions. He explained, “Because we don’t tell the stories for a large audience, it’s very, very dif- ficult to finance the films, because making films means to find a story that can sell, that can travel, that can give a lot of money for the producer. And of course, to do that, you have to find a commercial story, and that’s kind of wrong in the Sami way of thinking” (First Nations\First Features


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American Anthropologist • Vol. 108, No. 2 • June 2006 FIGURE 4. First Nations \ First

FIGURE 4. First Nations\First Features filmmakers and NMAI staff at a lunch hosted by NMAI at the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland Maryland. (Photo by Kristin Dowell)

Rachael Maza (Yidinjdi, Torres Strait Islander) also high- lighted the institutional framework in Australia, describing how Indigenous film in Australia is in its early stages with only a handful of Indigenous feature films having been produced. 5 Maza, like other filmmakers, connects the emer- gence of filmmaking opportunities for Indigenous filmmak- ers as the direct result of the political work of Indigenous activists in the 1960s in Australia. She proclaimed, “What’s resonating within the progress of developing an Indigenous voice in our country is the political journey that’s hap- pened. What has been integral and absolutely important to us finding our voice, is developing the skills base in all as- pects of the [filmmaking] industry” (First Nations\First Fea- tures 2005:11). Sally Riley (Wiradjuri), director of the Aus- tralian Film Commission’s Indigenous Unit, remarked on the diversity of Indigenous Australian filmmakers, as well as the content of Indigenous media that ranges from doc- umentaries to short dramas to language programming and documentation of bush knowledge. She called for institu- tional changes within distribution venues emphasizing that

“in Australia, Aboriginal people are invisible on television at

We’re not in control of the cinemas or the

television stations, and we really need to start getting our filmmakers in those key decision-making positions in tele- vision stations. It’s the only way we’ll get people on screen” (First Nations\First Features 2005:14). From the calls to open up funding and institutional ac- cess to indigenous filmmakers to the debates over how to balance expressing indigenous storytelling traditions while reaching broader audiences, these filmmakers raised impor- tant debates around the social conditions of indigenous filmmaking. One thing is clear, as moderator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) noted: Indigenous cinema doesn’t look like anything that has come before, and indigenous film- makers “come from a land of a thousand dances and our cinema, if it is really ours, will celebrate each and every one


of them” (First Nations\First Features 2005:16). The films included in First Nations\First Features celebrate and reflect the tremendous diversity, ingenuity, and tenacity of indige- nous cultural ways of life, storytelling, and filmmaking.


The First Nations\First Features Film Showcase was a groundbreaking cultural event bringing together indige- nous films and filmmakers from around the globe to screen their work for audiences in New York and Washington, D.C. While participating in this film showcase, filmmakers were able to strengthen and create relationships and a shared dis- course of the obstacles and achievements within this emerg- ing world cinema. Several of the participating filmmakers have made plans to collaborate in the future, and institu- tions in other countries, including Norway and Australia, have expressed interest in screening a portion of the show- case. Showcasing the work of emerging filmmakers along- side the established filmmakers who were instrumental in paving the way for future generations of indigenous film- makers, the First Nations\First Features Film Showcase was an invaluable film series reflecting the diversity of indige- nous cultural traditions and cinematic visions while simul- taneously recognizing and celebrating the achievements of indigenous media in the last 20 years and eagerly anticipat- ing the new directions to come.


Acknowledgments. My deepest gratitude to Faye Ginsburg, Sally Berger, Pegi Vail, and Elizabeth Weatherford for extending me the opportunity to work as a festival assistant for the First Nations\First Features Film Showcase. I was fortunate to be able to work on the organization of this landmark film showcase and I am honored to have been able to spend time getting to know all the filmmakers who participated in the film showcase. Their filmmaking, activism, and dedication to their communities and cultural traditions remain an inspiration. Also, thank you to Jeff Himpele for extending the invitation to write a review of First Nations\First Features in the pages of AA.

1. A film showcase of this magnitude also required the collabora-

tion between many funding organizations and sponsors, including the Ford Foundation, John and Margot Ernst, Penelope Seidler, the Canadian Embassy, the Finnish Film Foundation, the New Zealand Film Commission, the Australian Film Commission, the Australian Consulate, the Norwegian Film Institute, Pacific Islanders in Com- munications, the Mexican Cultural Institute (Washington, D.C., and New York), the Royal Norwegian Consulate General, Secretaria del Estado de Michoacan,´ and Foreign Affairs Canada. In addition, major support was provided by OgilvyOne Worldwide, which de- signed the remarkable website ( that accompanied the film showcase.

2. Although I do not have enough space here to review every film

included in First Nations\First Features, I encourage readers to view the website (, which provides in- depth information about all the films and directors included in the film showcase.

3. See Ogunwale (2002) and Statistics Canada Aboriginal Peoples

Survey (2003) for further statistical information. In 2000, the Na- tive American population in the United States was 4.1 million, or approximately 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population of approxi- mately 281 million people; of this population, close to 70 percent live in urban areas. In Canada the Aboriginal population is approxi- mately 1.3 million, or 4.4 percent of the total Canadian population; approximately 68 percent reside in urban areas.

4. Among these festivals are the following: IMAGeNation Abo-

riginal Film and Video Festival in Vancouver; ImagineNative Film Festival in Toronto; Dreamspeakers Film Festival in Edmonton; Winnipeg Aboriginal Film and Video Festival; the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco; Native American Film and Video

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Festival in New York City; the American Festival of Film and Video of Indigenous Peoples, an annual festival held in various countries throughout Latin and South America annually and organized by the Consejo Latinoamericano de Cine y Video de Pueblos Ind´ıgenas (CLACPI); the Wairoa Maori Film Festival in New Zealand; the Na- tive Voices Film Festival in South Dakota; and the Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe. These festivals are in addition to mainstream film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival and the All Roads Film Festival with National Geographic, both of which include international indigenous films as part of their programming.

5. In Australia the preferred convention in regard to terminology

is to capitalize Indigenous Australian. As this is the convention only in Australia, I use the capitalized Indigenous only when discussing films by Indigenous Australians and when using quotes from In- digenous Australian filmmakers who participated in the film show- case. Throughout the rest of the article, I lowercase indigenous as this is the convention in most national contexts.


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