Producer Profile

Lacrosse is a modern sport with deep roots in Native American cultures throughout North America. “[Today] It is the fastest growing sport in America,” explains Michelle Danforth (Oneida), co-producer of the new documentary film Sacred Stick. The documentary explains the origins of Lacrosse within Native American cultures; the spiritual background of the game, as well as stories from early European contact with the game.

In the new film Up Heartbreak Hill, Thomas Martinez, resident of Crystal New Mexico, a community on the Navajo Reservation, tells viewers about the realities of life on the Reservation. “Around here everyone thinks they live in a third world country,” explains Thomas, “what I hear from people is that living in Navajo is just straight up bad.” Thomas attends high school in Navajo, a nearby town of about 2000 people with a per capita income of $4,600 and a high school graduation rate of 56%.

Dr. Arne Vainio, a Native American physician on the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota, is about to have his fiftieth birthday. As a doctor, he encourages his patients approaching the age of fifty to come in for a series of health screenings to determine their risk for health conditions such as diabetes and colon cancer that have tendencies to appear at midlife. Despite the life prolonging benefits of obtaining these screenings, many men are reluctant to undergo the tests, including Dr. Vainio.

Valerie Red-Horse (Cherokee and Sioux) is an award-winning filmmaker, entrepreneur and investment banker. In her new documentary film Choctaw Code Talkers, Red-Horse reveals the origins of how Choctaw Native American soldiers used their Native language to aid the Allied Forces in the transmission of secret, tactical messages during World War I. As Red-Horse explains, “It’s a film depicting a very little known event that occurred in World War I that is a truly an American story.

Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) is the director of the award-winning film Barking Water.  The film is about Frankie (played by Richard Ray Whitman) and Irene (played by Casey Camp-Horinek), “an older couple who’s relationship has been on-and-off again for the past 40 years or so,” explains Harjo, and she comes back to him one last time to take him home to see his family after she is made aware of his terminal illness, after he becomes hospitalized.

The new documentary, For the Generations: Native Story & Performance, offers viewers a unique look at today’s most progressive Native American music and dance performers. This month’s producer profile features Sean Hutchinson.  He is a co-producer of the film, along with Mary Hager (French-Canadian Cree/Metis) and Arlie Neskahi (Navajo) of Painted Sky, last month’s featured producers.

The new documentary, For the Generations: Native Story & Performance, offers viewers a unique look at today’s most progressive Native American music and dance performers. The film is a joint production of Mary Hager (French-Canadian Cree/Metis) and Arlie Neskahi (Navajo) of Painted Sky, and Sean Hutchinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting. This month’s Producer Profile features Hager and Neskahi of Painted Sky, an organization dedicated to building public awareness of Native American culture, music and dance through performance and education.

Luke Griswold-Tergis met Cory Mann (Tlingit) while hitchhiking through Alaska—on a sailboat. “Luke and I became friends mainly because he was sleeping on my floor,” explains Mann. During his time spent in Alaska, Griswold-Tergis was struck by the recollection of Alaskan Native peoples’ history and traditions, but realized that the knowledge “is endangered, and people need to work on preserving it more.” As co-producers of the film Smokin’ Fish, Griswold-Tergis and Mann explore the Tlingit tradition of smoking fish from the perspective of Mann.

LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 is a new biopic from Comanche filmmaker Julianna Brannum. The film chronicles the life of Comanche activist and national civil rights leader LaDonna Harris and the role that she has played in Native and mainstream American history. 

The new documentary Losing Ground by filmmaker Jenni Monet (Laguna Pueblo) tells the story of 420 Iñupiat Eskimos from the Alaskan village of Kivalina.  Located on an eight-mile-long island off the west coast of Alaska, the residents of Kivalina are some of the first to experience the devastating effects of climate change.  Relying on a subsistence based economy, harvesting fish and whales from the sea, the residents draw their livelihood from an ocean that is slowly eroding their island, their home and their way of life.

Filmmaker Milt Lee cannot stomach Hollywood’s compulsion to relegate Native Americans to one of two places - a pedestal of historic glorification that makes them all spiritual leaders, healers, etc. or as the poster child of the third world in America. He tackles this perception head-on in his latest documentary Video Letters from Prison, to be released this Spring.

Three French hens, two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree will likely make few wish lists this Christmas.

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