Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community member Shashani Marcus, age 26, has already started making her mark in the world. A veteran of the American Indian Film Institute’s (AIFI) Tribal Touring Program, which travels to Indian reservations to teach teens the skills involved in writing and producing their own short films, Marcus has earned a bachelor’s degree in filmmaking and television cinematography from the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco, and now works for the AIFI in an administrative position.
She has had the opportunity to share her experiences with students at Salt River High School and treat them to a screening of her four-minute film, O’Odham, which tells the story of the Man in the Maze.
Life is sometimes like a maze, and where Marcus goes next she’s not sure. But wherever she goes, she’ll take a variety of helpful experiences from her youth with her.
Work Ethic Appeared Early
Since the young age of 13, Marcus has had the drive to work. For her first job, she worked illegally (lying about her age) at a fast-food restaurant. Marcus did not see it as a job, but as an opportunity to learn life lessons and earn some extra cash for her pockets.
She would wipe down the napkin holders and fill the condiments. The job enlightened Marcus. “It taught me to keep busy” and to find something else to do when one task was completed,” she said. “Employers like that. Even today, when I am done with my task I find something else to do.”
After her first job, she took a year off from working to focus on high school. She attended Camelback High School in Phoenix. Then she decided to work for another restaurant, but continued to be involved in extracurricular activities such as track, cross-country and soccer. She was always involved in the Hoops of Learning program at school, which is designed to help Native American students earn college credit.
Hoops of Learning assisted Marcus by preparing her for college, assisting with tuition and helping her move a year ahead of most freshman entering college.
Her first year at Phoenix College was easy, since she had already taken and passed most of her general classes during the Hoops of Learning program.
Math, English and some electives ensured Marcus would graduate from college within two years of her starting date.
Following Her Dream
After college, Marcus took a year off and lounged, but her mother had other ideas: One day she told her daughter she needed to do something. And she did.
Marcus followed a dream that she had always held in the back of her mind: living in California.
Marcus traveled to San Francisco and worked until she could figure out what she was going to do. At first, she attended City College, but eventually she ended up at Academy of Art University, an art school, to study film.
When Marcus started at the university, she was computer illiterate. She said, “I had never worked on computers before. I didn’t know any [film] editing programs.” At Academy of Art University Marcus not only found film-editing programs, she became proficient using them. At first, she said, “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what did I sign up for?’” What she had signed up for was an excellent private school of fine arts, and one of the largest in the country.
In one of her classes the instructor assigned Marcus to create a short film, which would become her most proud accomplishment so far. Marcus thought that this assignment was the perfect opportunity to come back to the Community and enlighten her fellow students about the story of the Man in the Maze, a Community legend. Marcus said that most of the students at the Academy of Art University were from other countries and had never seen “Indians or cactus, or even a desert.” However, to Marcus the story of the Man in the Maze was nothing new. She said, “This was home.”
Marcus said she could not have completed the film assignment without the help of all her family. Her father, Wayne Marcus, helped with sound, and her mother, grandma, brother and other family members all helped her with the filming down at the river. SRPMIC Tribal Council Member Ricardo Leonard provided the narration of the story, and even sung and played songs on the gourd. She recalls looking over the footage recently and saying to herself, “Nice.”
Grateful to Her Community
Another learning experience came while Marcus visited Germany with American Indian Film Institute founder Michael Smith and his daughter. Marcus brought her film with her and showed it. Germans are known for their fondness of Indians and the American West, and Marcus experienced that firsthand. She said, “They really like Indians.” She said they asked questions regarding her Community’s language and heritage, and she thought it was funny that they were so interested in casinos. She coaxed them back to talking about films.
Marcus is grateful to the Community that has provided financial support that allowed her to venture out and pursue her dream. She said, “I could see if I was going to be a doctor or lawyer, then I would understand why they would pay. But they let me pick my destination regarding my education, and for that I am grateful.”
Marcus added, “It was real cool to bring the stuff I learned out here to the tribe that helped me get to where I am now.”
When asked what she plans to do next, Marcus laughed and said, “Oh no, the dreaded question.” She said she plans to work with a nonprofit organization, but right now she does not know exactly where the road will take her. But like the journey of the Man in the Maze, she knows the path will lead her to harmony and she will be fine.