The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community held the 2012 Film Festival June 20-22 at the Lehi baseball field.
The featured films for first night were Coyote and Mountain Lion and Songs of the Colorado. The first showed how Coyote serves to test the bounds of possibilities and order of Mountain Lion, which are necessary for survival and health. Coyote challenges and thereby authenticates and legitimizes the order established in the Navajo universe. While discovering the hunting practices of Mountain Lion, Coyote decides that he can do better by changing the order. When he does, he seriously fails to prove his point.
Songs of the Colorado features the Yuman tribes from along the Colorado River. Over thousands of years, the tribes have developed spiritual beliefs that continue today. Through their songs those beliefs are retold, sung in order to complete the whole cycle or story. Each song cycle is based on an incident or story from a myth and can take anywhere from one to four nights to retell.
On the second night of the film festival, more than 200 people brought out their lawn chairs to watch the feature film More Than Frybread and the animated short RedBird Saves the Corn. Using lightbox animation, Navajo students Taylor Long, Larissa Luther and Makyla Allison retell the traditional Navajo Spider Woman story. Long and Allison participated in a question-and-answer session prior to the five-minute film. They explained that they made the film during a 10-day workshop over the summer to promote and continue their cultural values and cultural stories. The video has been getting a lot of attention; it was screened at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco and recently was shown at the Venice Film Festival in Italy.
Written and directed by Travis Hamilton, More Than Frybread follows 22 Native American frybread makers, representing all 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona, as they convene in Flagstaff to compete for the first-ever Arizona Frybread Championship. The film takes a larger-than-life turn as five contestants, Tatanka Means (Navajo), Teresa M. Choyguha (Tohono O’odham), Nite Gomez (Arapaho), Camille Nighthorse (Hualapai) and Dey Gomez (Arapaho), compete for the title in the championship round.
“I wanted to do this film because when I go around to different reservations to visit friends, I always hear everyone claiming that their frybread is the best,” said Hamilton. “I would wonder why there wasn’t a big frybread competition to see who is really the best frybread maker. Why isn’t there a national competition? So I [thought], ‘Let’s make a movie and pretend there really is one.’”
Hamilton studied filmmaking at Scottsdale Community College and made three movies prior to this film. This was his first film working on five different reservations: the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Yavapai-Apache Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
“Making this film was fun to get out and meet some more people,” said Hamilton. “I had great opportunity shooting on different reservations and working with new actors; for about 90 to 95 percent of the actors, this was their first film.”
Hamilton produced and distributed the film himself, and it has been played in seven theaters since its May release. It also has been screened on 18 reservations already and will be showing at 10 to 15 more reservations throughout the United States.
“It was really a blessing to be a part of this film. The cast was great; I want to thank Travis,” said Choyguha, a comedian and one of the actors in More Than Frybread. “I don’t know what he had in mind, but it was hard not to smile in the movie, it was so much fun. I have some friends who are real critical; this man told me that Indian people need a movie like this, that’s just for fun and not about the [alcoholism and child abuse], all that negativity that we see. He said this is our ‘crazy Native movie’ and he thanked Travis for making this film.”
On the last night of the Film Festival, the featured films were the documentary The Creator’s Game: The Quest for Gold and the Fight for Nationhood and the feature film California Indian: A Tribal Story.
The Creator’s Game features the 2010 Iroquois National Lacrosse Team, which chose to forfeit the world championships when they were denied entry into England because of their Haudenosaunee passports. The documentary follows the players on their quest for the medal at the 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, and recognition of their sovereign nationhood.
In California Indian: A Tribal Story, Nick Thomas, a Pomo Indian and a successful Los Angeles radio host, is forced back to the reservation to help his brother Chi and tribal leader Rich Knight lead the Tule Lake Rancheria out of danger from a seedy casino investor, ultimately claiming sovereignty of their Native American rights.
Each night, the three-minute Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination video also was played. The video highlights all the entertainment enterprises on the Community and gives people a look at everything the Community has to offer.