Walker Art Center to screen film series by American Indian filmmakers

The film series focuses on American Indian-produced films that feature American Indian stories

by Maddy Folstein

The Walker Art Center will screen a film series in March aimed at showcasing the American Indian experience.

All directors whose work is showcased at the series — entitled “INDIgenesis: Indigenous Filmmakers, Past and Present” — are American Indian themselves, allowing the series to examine the community’s representation in filmmaking.

“The focus of the film series is to highlight Native directors,” said Missy Whiteman, the filmmaker behind “The Coyote Way: Going Back Home” — a film that was shot in Minneapolis with an entirely American Indian cast.

“Large institutions have shown films that are directed by non-Natives, so I think there’s some misinformation and miseducation that’s continually portrayed — we’re all heroin addicts, or we’re all alcoholics, or we’re in this desolate place, which is not true,” Whiteman said.

Whiteman was raised in a family of American Indian artists and became impassioned with art at a young age.

“I was being type cast as the half-breed, or the evil Native girl who was being vindictive and I felt like that wasn’t me,” Whiteman said. “At that point, ‘Smoke Signals’ was released, and I decided to go to film school.”

Whiteman and her family have been integral to the development of the INDIgenesis film series.

“My family has had a very close relationship with the Walker, and was part of a lot of the Native programming at the time,” Whiteman said. “People were really in the place to be ready to look at the Native perspective.”

The film series stretches various genres in its examination of modern indigenous topics, ranging from documentaries on the Dakota Access Pipeline to Whiteman’s film, which blends science fiction and documentary methods.

“I think the most important thing is that it encompasses everything,” Whiteman said. “We have things that are family-friendly. We have things that are youth-produced. And then our shorts program is something that I think is a little gem.”

With a series of community outreach programs and discussions, the Walker is moving beyond simply screening the films.

“With ‘Coyote Way,’ we have the [Little Earth Arts Collective] that’s going to be having a special after-screening party, and they’re coming up with their own theme,” Whiteman said. “We’re going to be having a conversation about Standing Rock, about media, about the blackouts that happened at Standing Rock — censoring native and indigenous history and how this has been portrayed throughout history in relationship to land and resources.”

By the end of the series the Walker and the artists involved with the program hope to have transformed how American Indians are perceived, both in films and as a part of the filmmaking industry.

“This is how we’re changing how we as Native filmmakers make films, [while still] showing the industry that there is a totally different way to make films. It’s really showing [that] this is what Native film is,” Whiteman said.