With Christmas around the corner, families all over the country are looking for a family movie to sit down and enjoy. This year, families can indulge in a wholesome and entertaining film with a Native twist. Gary Robinson’s Native American Night Before Christmas released last November packs plenty of comedy, fun and education into its five-minute duration.
Christmas is a great holiday for a Native-themed film because it is celebrated by a wide majority both Native and non-Native people, Robinson said. He hopes that the animated tale, which has been one of the best-selling VisionMaker Videos in 2007, will help both Native and non-Native families appreciate some Native traditions.
“I felt this was a story and a concept that everybody was so familiar with that it would make an easy stepping stone for people to begin to understand some concepts that were from Native culture,” he said. “It was kind of a win-win situation.”
Robinson also hopes that the film, narrated by Native America Calling host Harlan McKosato and illustrated by Cherokee artist Jesse T. Hummingbird, will help make Native families more proud to involve their Native heritage in the holiday season. Some Native families in the past have tried to blend in during the holiday season, rather than celebrating Native traditions. Robinson’s family was one of them.
“They were really about trying to become mainstream,” Robinson said. “That had been a trend in Oklahoma and other places where Indians were considered second class citizens. Lots of people tried to hide.”
His latest film, which has received “Top Picks” for Native American films by the American Indian Film Festival and Cowboys & Indians Magazine, is an addition to an already successful career. Robinson has spent more than 25 years writing and producing Native films, with such works that include the Emmy-nominated Dances for the New Generations for PBS, the Emmy winning Native Americans documentary series for Turner Broadcasting and the international co-production Storytellers of the Pacific.
Robinson, however, didn’t start off as a filmmaker. When he started at the University of Texas at Austin, he wanted to major in cultural anthropology. But the influence from his father who was in radio and the desire to tell stories without stereotypes pushed him to receive bachelors and masters degrees in radio, TV and film. His first project was documenting the history and culture of his first employer, the Creek Nation. The series was packaged on VHS, and then sold and distributed worldwide.
Robinson has grown quite a bit during his time in the industry. Many of these lessons came from working with another established filmmaker, Phil Lucas (Choctaw), who passed away earlier this year following complications from heart surgery. Lucas had spent more than 30 years creating Native films and has won several prestigious awards, including a Taos Mountain award for lifetime achievement in 1999.
“Half of what I learned came from going to school and getting that education and the other half came from working with Phil,” Robinson said, adding the lessons he learned along the way are Robinson’s favorite part of the filmmaking process. “I’m always involved in the research and the interaction with people and you just learn so much as a filmmaker.”
This passion for research and people has led to some accomplishments outside of just filmmaking. Robinson recently put together a book entitled, “From Warriors to Soldiers: The Untold Story of American Indians in the U.S Military.” The book is a compilation of research him and Lucas did while hoping to create a documentary series on the topic.
“(The book has) both Phil’s name and my name in it because he and I both did so much of the original witing on the original material,” Robinson said.
The book will be published sometime in the near future.
Along with that, Robinson plans to continue creating types of media that involve Native interests and beliefs. The focus for his films the same as it was when he started 25 years ago. He says he still focused on talking about who we are as contemporary Native people and what struggles we’ve been through.
“And how we’ve come through these struggles at the other end and what accomplishments have been made.”