Michelle Danforth (2008)


Michelle Danforth (2008)

When Michelle Danforth (Oneida) set out to begin her career, creating films was a distant aspiration. After graduating with an MBA focused on accounting, Danforth began working at Options for Independent Living, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities. Although she enjoyed marketing and finance, there was always a lingering interest in producing and creating films.

“One night I asked my dad if he wanted to watch the Academy Awards and he said, ‘Why? It’s all white people.’ Then I said, ‘Well, then we need to change that. We can’t wait for someone to do it.’”

So, about seven years ago Danforth decided to pursue her passion and took a low-paying part-time job as a production assistant at a Wisconsin public television station but kept her day job to support her family.

“It wasn’t that I was working there for the money,” Danforth said of her TV job, “I was working there for the experience.”

It was that experience that motivated her to work on her first documentary, a solo project entitled “She Who Walks,” the story of her 97-year-old grandmother and another 91-year-old Oneida woman. Although difficult, the project proved to be very rewarding.

"I had to do it all myself -- everything from the camera work to the editing,” Danforth said. “And I was able to produce a story that was actually very well received,"

The film was the starting point for Danforth’s career as an independent producer. Although she hopes to produce full time, she is currently still working in marketing then creates films in whatever time she has left. 

And changing careers wasn’t easy. Filmmaking traditionally doesn’t bring in a stable income or health insurance, which is cause for concern for a mother supporting her three children.

"In today’s age, with family and needing health insurance and all of those other things, those are very expensive things to actually have to afford on your own," she said.

But she is able to prevail with hard work and a flexible schedule.

"It's (about) being able to juggle and…time management,” Danforth said. “And it’s really worked out. My boss is very understanding, so I am a very fortunate individual."

Written by Zach Oliva.

Interviews conducted and edited by Zach Oliva.



Native stories that represent the cultures, experiences, and values of American Indians and Alaska Natives for your station!


Current funding, job, and training opportunities that support the production of Native content. Plus, additional information for filmmakers.


Hands-on educational tools for middle school to college-aged students that increase the Impact of Native films in the classroom.