Hand Game - Larry Johnson


Hand Game - Larry Johnson

Date Posted: 
2017-04-27 15:04

Q. Why is it important to have films created, written, and produced by Natives in today’s media?

A. After 500 years of horror, mass death, genocide, war, famine, forced removal, incarceration, murder, alcoholism, drug addiction and discrimination, it’s amazing that there are any Native people still alive, or at least alive to hope. Mainstream society (the ones who did all of the above to Native Americans) says, “Get over it. Everyone is equal now.” Uh. no. 

Historical trauma is real. It is an active fact of life for most Native people.  Discrimination is real. Diabetes is real. Alcoholism is real. It takes a Native person to really understand what this means on a day-to-day basis. It takes a Native filmmaker to know how to tell this story. A non-Indian filmmaker (as I am) can get close, but the real story can’t be had second hand. The Native filmmaker will know who to go to, where to go to, what to say, who to ask, how to listen, when to speak just by being Indian.

It’s about depth, understanding, meaning. Sure, a non-Native can say a lot, can interpret, but the films that result will always be like looking through a peep-hole to a big world.  The Native filmmaker, though, has the reverse problem--just as any filmmaker has—how to bundle up and cram that big world back through the peep-hole so an audience can experience something akin the big world in a film.

Q. Why do you think people should tune in for 40 Years: 40 Films?

A. This series is a fabulous way to get past the mainstream screens, that often filter out the telling details, the negatives, the ugly, the serene, the obscure, the significant people, and reveal the Native world, with its unbelievable variety, mystery and beauty.

Q. Why should other producers and filmmakers work with Vision Maker Media?

A. Vision Maker is a great resource for filmmakers who may have found that access to the media is limited to a privileged few.  There are avenues to gain access, but they are few and the gates are narrow.  ITVS for instance funds only about 1% of applications. Vision Maker helps by being there, listening, answering questions and funding.

Q. What aspect of working with Vision Maker Media was the most worthwhile or rewarding for you?

A. Vision Maker is made up of good, hard-working people who really care about your project.  Any time I have a question, someone at Vision Maker will answer it. For my film, Hand Game, I received a lot of help when shaping it for public television. That has really paid off, as the film is still doing well after more than 15 years. Filmmaker + Vision Maker = Connection to audience.

Q. What one experience would you want audiences to take away after viewing your film?

A. Hand Game is a laid back, meandering journey through the back-side of the powwow, the world of the stick game. I hope that people fell like they’ve spent a wonderful afternoon and evening getting to know some good people and learning about the wonderful and mysterious hand game. I hope they get a little worn out, and sleep well, hearing the songs of the game go through their heads.

Q. How do Vision Maker Media films help serve Indian Country

A. Vision Maker Media films welcome the public to a greater understanding of Native life, leading to fewer misunderstandings and a lessening of racism and ignorance.

Q. What advice would you give to filmmakers beginning their careers?

A. I’d say, don’t try to be Sherman Alexie or Quentin Tarantino or Kathryn Bigelow. Be yourself.  There is nothing more interesting than you. Explore you life, your family, your community. You don’t really have to go much farther than the corner quik-mart to find a good story. Learn all you can about everything! Filmmaking uses every part of your brain, your intellect, your talent. Feed your head and eye with stuff all the time. Be critical! Read books! Read the New York Times. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can learn most of what you need to make a film in a couple of weeks. What separates the good filmmakers from the not-so-good, is not what they know about technology, cameras, gear, and all that, but what they know about life and how they seek to understand more. Film is a tool for seeking truth. Be a truth-seeker!