I’m running late. The training workshop for Vision Maker Media (VMM) filmmakers starts in 20 minutes but here I am, sitting in traffic on the 880, staring at the Tesla Motors factory next to the freeway. The clock on the dash is ten minutes fast (one of those tricks that is supposed to fool you into being on time) but it looks like I’m going be late anyway. Indian time. That’s what I’ll say when I casually saunter in, and if I’m really late I’ll throw in a “Filipino time” for good measure since I’m also Pinoy, so I can be extra late, at least in theory. But then suddenly, miraculously, the lanes open up. The brake lights vanish. Smooth sailing. Finally. I step on the gas and ponder that terminology (step on the gas) knowing that Tesla is looking to eradicate it from the lexicon.
I arrive at the Hyatt Regency in the Silicon Valley with a few minutes to spare. Quickly I check in, get my credentials, lanyard, swag bag, etc, then head over to the Vision Maker Media conference room. Most of the other filmmakers are already there when I enter, all of them noshing on the scrumptious breakfast provided by VMM. Everyone looks relaxed, well fed, bright-eyed and ready to go. I see familiar faces all around. This isn’t my first time at one of these rodeos (and hopefully won’t be my last). There are smiles, handshakes and hugs. Introductions are made. Business cards traded. I hear bits and pieces about some of the projects the other filmmakers are working on and I’m already intrigued and inspired. I want to hear more, but that will come later in the day.
The workshop officially begins with a welcome and blessing from indomitable VMM Executive Director Shirley Sneve, followed by each of the filmmakers introducing themselves and talking a bit about who they are and what they are working on.
The first presentation of the day is from the First Nations Experience (FNX) crew, led by Frank Blanquet. We get a first look at their new station promo (complete with music from A Tribe Called Red) then the FNXers give us an update on the progress the aspiring cable network has made over the past few years and outline their goals for the near future. Things look promising, but in the rich, money-fueled, content-is-king media landscape that exists today, the battle is still an uphill one.
Next up is Georgiana Lee, Assistant Director at VMM. As usual, she is perfect, positive and on point as she gives us an overview of VMM’s role in our productions and spells out the working relationship they will have with each of the filmmakers. She lets us know that if we need anything, from information resources to being a sounding board for ideas, VMM has our back. And from my own experience I can verify this. VMM is an incredible support system for us filmmakers.
Then comes Eric Martin, Interactive Media Specialist for VMM (or Tech Guy for short). He gives us the up-to-date info on how to use and capitalize on the latest trends and platforms in social media that can help us promote our work (for instance, did you know that in order to reach the most people on Facebook, the best time to post is at midnight? Well, now you do). Eric has an incredible amount of knowledge, is always responsive to filmmakers’ queries and he’s a pretty funny guy.
With the morning wrapped up, we break for lunch, which is awesome and ends with a choice of tres leches cake or flan. Nom nom nom.
After lunch we begin the presentations, with each filmmaker giving a quick overview of their project and production. Some of the highlights:
Dan Golding shows us some footage of his doc on John Peabody Harrington, Chasing Voices. Harrington was an ethnologist and linguist who recorded and collected an amazing amount of notes on Native languages throughout the early and mid-20th century. Through Harrington’s incredible body of work, there are tribes who are now working to revitalize languages once thought dead.
Pierre Barrera discusses his doc on the evolution of Indian gaming, Neon Buffalo, which examines the advantages and pitfalls of casinos in Native communities.
Princella Parker shares footage of Medicine Women, a series of profiles about heroic Native women. She highlights the accomplishments of Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native doctor in America (to graduate from an American medical school).
Gary Robinson talks about his doc, Healing the Warrior’s Heart, an exploration of the negative traumatic effects that war has on veterans and how traditional spiritual practices are helping Native soldiers reintegrate into society.
We then wrap the workshop with a short Q&A session led by Georgiana Lee, followed by some closing remarks from Shirley Sneve.
Unfortunately, this is where my 2014 NAJA experience ends since I am unable to attend the remaining days of the conference. Sadly I miss the many screenings, workshops and fun run (as well as the In-n-Out run!) but I leave feeling fortunate to get a quick preview of some very impressive work from such a talented group of filmmakers, and I am proud and honored to be part of this group. It’s great to see old friends and meet new ones and I look forward to seeing everyone again somewhere down the road.