In yesterday's edition of "New Day — This Week In American Indian News," I led off with what, superficially, seems to be an arts-related story about a film project currently in the works.
It's actually much more than "a film project": It's a perfect example of how art exposes and explores at the deepest levels what our humanity means and the role culture and tradition play in that, but more, it provides depth and dimension to the notion of identity — in this case, what it means to be Indian, and what it means to be a woman or a man within a specific Indian cultural tradition.
As I said yesterday:
As I was putting together the stories for today's edition, I noticed two distinct and interrelated patterns emerging: themes of imagery and identity, intertwining, diverging, separating and merging again at different points along the continuum of what it means to be Indian in 2013.Over the jump, find our more about this important film project, and what you can do to help support it.
There are many other stories out there right now, true, and they are important. But so are these — and despite the fact that the corporate media would regard these topics as "not hard news," that's incorrect. Today's stories encompass the existential conundrum of being Indian today, the requirement that we walk in two worlds at every moment of our lives when one of those worlds has done its damnedest to exterminate the other, and failing that, still actively works to neutralize its existence. And they do so in an equally dualistic way: in the public perception of who and what we are and what sovereignty and autonomy we have over that identity; and in the most private, intimate of spaces, in our own image of ourselves, both as individuals and as part of the collective culture labeled "Indian."
To that end, I'm leading with what other coverage would relegate to the "C" Section of the newspaper. It's a story about asserting and affirming ownership of our identities and images, and doing so in a way that forces the dominant culture to face us in all our beautiful, complex diversity.
And support it desperately needs: Filmmaker Sydney Freeland, a Navajo woman, has an opportunity to enter it in January's Sundance Film Festival. But an additional $30,000 is needed to wrap it up. She's raised a third of that so far via a Kickstarter campaign, but she now has fewer than six days to raise the additional $20,000. And here's the kicker, no pun intended: If she can't raise the full amount by November 4th, she loses all the donations currently pledged, too.
This is a film that needs to be made. Please help me help her, by sharing this with your networks all over the country and the world. And if you can kick in a little (we gave $50 last night), that will surely help, too. DO IT HERE.
I'm very time-limited today, and so is this project, so I want to get the information our there. To that end, I'm posting directly from yesterday's diary:
I would never have thought that I'd lead an edition with a story about a movie about Indians with the title of Drunktown's Finest.Let's give Sydney Freeland a hell of a birthday present today. Let's get this Kickstarter campaign spread to every corner of the planet, and let's get her $20,000!
But based on what I know of the film so far, it's got my full support, title and all.
The filmmaker is Sydney Freeland (Navajo), from Gallup, New Mexico, now living in Albuquerque. She's developed or been involved in the creation of a number of other projects, but Drunktown's Finest is the one she calls "a labor of love." It's also been in the works for seven years (and despite being accepted by the 2009 Sundance Film Lab and the 2010 Screenwriter's and Director's Labs, is still seeking full financing via Kickstarter).
The project was born out of the ashes of a national news report that slandered Gallup, along with its significant Indian population. In Ms. Freeland's own words:When I was growing up I saw a news piece on ABC's 20/20 describing my hometown as "Drunktown, USA". This film is my effort to defy that judgement of my community. With your support my film will show the world that label was wrong, and that my community has complexity, dimension and hope.The project has a Facebook page, as well, and the individual postings there are especially interesting. In one, Ms. Freeland points out that of the entire cast of 36 actors, 32 are American Indian — 18 Navajo, 2 Zuni, and 12 from other tribal nations. That is, frankly, an astounding cast ratio.
As important as the cast and production itself are, equally important is the storyline. It's an effort to show the dominant culture what it means to be Indian in the 21st Century — and what Indian Gallup actually is. Which is to say, like any other municipality, it's not all alcoholism and violence and dysfunction: It's a community of real people, with fully three-dimensional lives that include love, joy, pain, sadness, and all the layers of human emotion and complexity found anywhere and everywhere in the world.
The plotline follows the daily lives of three young Navajo adults who have learned that they are in line to become the next generation of medicine persons for their people. One is young woman who had fully converted to Christianity; one is a young man (Breaking Bad's Jeremiah Bitsui) who has also just learned that he is about to become a father, like it or not and ready or not; and one is a young transgendered woman who will have to learn to call upon her people's traditions to take her place as a Nádleeh (a Two-Spirit, or member of the LGBTQI community).
Particularly encouraging is the casting of (and storyline involving) Carmen Moore, the transgendered woman actor who plays Fellxia, a transgendered woman character. Many Native cultures have historically understood and respected the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation exist at a multitude of points and interstices along a continuum. Too many, however, have had much of that knowledge excised by post-Contact conversion and immersion in the bigotries of the contemporary dominant culture. The role of Felixia reportedly attempts to recapture the respect with which the Diné have traditional regarded those who serve their people as Nádleeh, placed firmly in the context of all the micro- and macro-aggressions that Carmen Moore and other members of Native LGBTQI communities must navigate on a daily basis.
As noted above, Drunktown's Finest is still seeking funding to bring filming to completion. Right now, Ms. Freeland and her crew are racing to beat the deadline for acceptance into the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. To that end, she has launched a Kickstarter project to try to close the financial gap; only seven days remain on the current campaign. [Today] is Ms. Freeland's 33rd birthday; if you're inclined to show your appreciation, you can give her a birthday present by supporting the film project here.