Lakota Filmmakers At Sundance Film Festival

Jan 27, 2016

Native Americans share a traditional song at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival - which begins with a Native American Forum that has grown over the years to include Indigenous filmmakers from around the world.
Credit Courtesy Sundance Institute

The Sundance Institute’s annual film festival takes place in Park City, Utah this week. Among the hundreds of filmmakers in attendance are a Lakota documentary producer and a Lakota screenwriter. A visit with both examined the benefits of being part of the Sundance Institute while pursuing a career in films as a Native American.

Jesse Short Bull’s interest in filmmaking was sparked in 2006 when he attended his first film festival in Rapid City.

Short Bull spent the next few years learning everything he could about screenwriting including a stint at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. That resulted in his first screenplay. Originally a full-length film but produced as a short, 2013’s “Istinma” was the realization of a dream, says Short Bull.

Lakota screenwriter Jesse Short Bull
Credit Courtesy Jesse Short Bull

“And let me tell you something, there is no greater thrill than seeing something go from the page to the big screen,” observes Short Bull. “ Even though it was only a short film, it just gives me more inspiration to do more.”

Short Bull is at the Sundance Film Institute after receiving a fellowship to further develop the script for “Istinma”. Short Bull says he believe in what the Institute has been doing for the past 30 years with its Indigenous filmmakers programs.

“The reason I do is because I believe there is such a vast wealth of incredibly compelling stories throughout Indian Country,” Short Bull explains. “ And I think there definitely needs to be an authentic voice to telling those stories.”

After producing her first documentary at the age of 13, Tiana LaPointe stayed on the road to filmmaking and has never looked back. Employed as a videographer, LaPointe was invited to attend the Film Festival to help her network for a documentary she’s currently working on.

Lakota documentary film producer Tiana LaPointe
Credit Courtesy Tiana LaPointe

Tiana LaPointe says having the opportunity to tell their own stories is critical for Indigenous people.

“It’s really important that we tell our own stories in a more contemporary manner instead of the more historical manner,” LaPointe comments. “Because a lot of people look at us like we’re in the past.” 

Bringing the truth of contemporary Native Americans to the screen, adds LaPointe, can help educate the masses to the reality of their culture.

Spokesperson Elizabeth Greenway says acknowledging the Native American and indigenous cultures dates back to the origins of the Sundance Institute.

“The founding values of the Institute…and Mr. Redford really established these in the early ‘80s when he first got the idea of a place like Sundance...really among those founding values were a sense of place and respect for the land,” Greenway clarifies. “And when Mr. Redford found this beautiful place in the mountains in Utah…he brought a lot of really great Native voices into the planning and thinking about how to find a home for independent storytelling.”

Greenway notes that the Sundance Film Festival begins with a Native American Forum that has grown over the years to include Indigenous filmmakers from around the world.

Perhaps most impressive, says Greenway, is the way so many successful Native filmmakers have returned to the Festival to help other Indigenous people who are just beginning on their path into film

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