Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Melvin Deer’s short film Battle of Red Butterfly Woman was a hit at this year’s Scottsdale Short Film Festival, held at the AMC Arizona Center 24 in downtown Phoenix on Thursday, May 19. Deer won the Best Editing Award.
Deer’s synopsis of his film states, “Inspired by the fearsome Aztec skeletal warrior goddess ?tzp?p?l?tl (Obsidian Butterfly), Battle of Red Butterfly Woman is about the first Granddaughter of this world overcoming dark forces that seek to torment humanity and cause chaos. Only through her identity, culture and myth is the Granddaughter able to realize her own power and continue existing, regardless of what hardships and evils stand in her way.”
Shot entirely on 16-mm film, Battle of Red Butterfly Woman is classified as an experimental film. “It’s more of a statement on how we as Indigenous people can rely on our culture and our identity to maintain our strength in this modern world. The way I had originally wrote it was as a dream, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Deer said.
Deer is enrolled in the Scottsdale School of Film and Theatre at Scottsdale Community College. This is his second year in the program, and a short-film project is required for first-year students.
“Every first-year student has to create a project on 16-mm film and it has to be three to five minutes long. I did this project in summer 2015. We had to purchase our own film, write our own project and direct it, and our classmates acted as the other crew,” said Deer.
After encouragement from his instructor, Deer decided to submit his short film to the 2016 Scottsdale Short Film Festival. After some minor tweaks, Deer and 10 other participants submitted their films.
“I didn’t even think it would win an award, but it did. I was surprised,” said Deer. “I am honored to receive this award. I wasn’t really expecting this, so it’s that much more great.” He received a plaque and bragging rights on his résumé. Deer said he was inspired by musicians a Tribe Called Red and Moby. Enrolled Community members who participated in the short film are Rayanne Gates, who plays Granddaughter, and Jamie Dallas, the makeup artist. Other notable cast and crew members include Kendorina Redhouse (Diné), who plays Red Butterfly Woman, and Mihio Manus (Diné), photographer.
Deer will be graduating from SCC next summer and plans to transfer to a film school in Los Angeles. He has aspirations of someday making a movie or an episodic television show that is related to the everyday identity of a Native American.
“I encourage everyone to take advantage of SCC. You can do whatever you want to do. It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s a lot of options for you to continue your education at SCC,” said Deer.