Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Double Feature Competition Films Deal with Native American Issues

"Why is there a holiday to an Indian-killing slave trader?"

This is one of the questions asked in COLUMBUS DAY LEGACY (Saturday, Feb 12 at 2pm), a film that explores quintessential American issues of the freedom of speech, ethnic pride, and the ownership of history against the backdrop of the ongoing Columbus Day Parade controversy in Denver, Colorado.

In attendance will be filmmaker Bennie Klain, a director of documentaries and short fictions. He is the founder of TricksterFilms, based in Austin, Texas. He is a fluent Navajo speaker, often incorporating the language into his work. We asked him a few questions about the film and his hopes for future projects.

BSD: Outside of being a Navajo speaker, what is your connection to the topic of COLUMBUS DAY LEGACY? What got you interested in the controversy in Denver?

BK: I had never heard about the Denver Columbus Day parade until September of 2006, when my producer Leighton C. Peterson was a visiting professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After talking with several people about the conflicting politics involved, he approached me with the idea of shooting during the parade the in October. We knew there was a unique human story here, and we were onto something significant when both the Italian- and Native American communities passionately emphasized that the 2007 parade—signifying the 100th anniversary of the holiday in Colorado—was the one to capture, . We returned the following year with two film crews to simultaneously capture this passionate energy on both sides.
I decided that Columbus Day Legacy needed to begin by representing both sides of this conflict somewhat equally, a difficult undertaking as a Navajo filmmaker. What emerged as a result of this persistent vision is a contemporary digital portrait of two strong and proud ethnic communities, both fighting to preserve the memory of their prejudiced experiences as representatives of the original inhabitants and immigrant Americans. Both groups were historically far removed from any political elite or aristocracy. During editing, this formed the central conflict in Columbus Day Legacy as the United States grapples with everyday questions about rights, immigration, and identity in the 21st Century.

BSD: Where do you hope to see this film go? What are your intentions for it?

BK: I hope that COLUMBUS DAY LEGACY spurs people to find out more about the origins of the holiday and also to find out more about the Italian American experience, as well as to find out more about contemporary Native peoples and how history continues to resonate in the present day. Troy Lynn Yellowwood, one of the participants in our documentary says it best, "I think there's two sides to every story. I think that's where we need to start. Find out more than I can tell you. Learn on your own. All I can do is peak your interest and then you have to do the rest."

BSD: What is your next project?

BK: Roadman is an hour-long documentary that , explores the origins and complexity of the Native American Church (NAC) through the lens of practicing Navajo Roadmen, NAC’s spiritual leaders for Navajo peoples. Roadmen are akin to ‘reverends’ or ‘ministers’ in the Christian faith, authorized to teach and minister by conducting peyote ceremonies. In traditional Navajo views, they are considered ‘medicine men’ and healers. Roadman will give a human face to these Navajo NAC Roadmen as they travel to the peyote fields in Texas, deal with the Federal government, and protect their religions freedom from both Navajo and outside forces.

It tells the story of a contemporary journey that highlights the balance struck between traditional Native and western values, through the course of a unique road trip to gather peyote, a widely misunderstood plant/medicine used by Native Americans, a group still striving for full religious and political freedom. Roadman brings to life this seemingly contradictory religious practice, following the personal stories of NAC Roadmen in Navajoland as they apprentice, pray, and go about their daily lives.

COLUMBUS DAY LEGACY will be screened Saturday, Feb 12 at 2pm with

by Anne Makepeace

Celebrated every Thanksgiving as “the Indians” who saved the Pilgrims, then largely forgotten, the Wampanoag of Southeastern Massachusetts, spurred on by their intrepid Wampanoag linguist and MacArthur honoree Jessie Littledoe Baird, are saying loud and clear, and in their Native tongue, “Âs Nutayuneân,” – We Still Live Here.

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