Adventures in Filmmaking: The 2012 NAPT Producer's Workshop, Minneapolis, MN

Adventures in Filmmaking: The 2012 NAPT Producer's Workshop, Minneapolis, MN

During a career spanning more than 20 years in television and film, Christian has edited and/or designed projects for New Line Cinema, NBC/Universal, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, OWN, Lifetime Television, WB Network, G4 Television, TV Guide Network, an

Date Posted: 
2012-12-10 00:00

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The Native World has a way of calling. And it’s usually unexpected…

1996. St. Petersburg, Florida. My mother’s passing gave me the very unlikely job title of “Owner, Native American Art Gallery.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was newly married, had a promising TV career underway in Chicago, and the Native World (and the art business) was the furthest thing from my mind. But, something (someone?) told me that this was my path…

One day in 1998, a soft-spoken 21-year-old man walked into our gallery, his father by his side, and a portfolio of his artwork under his arm. He said, “Hi, my name is Jon Cournoyer…”

Fast-forward 14 years and 4,500 miles to Minneapolis (via Los Angeles), where another adventure took place…

I had the distinct honor of being invited to participate in the Vision Maker Media Producer Workshop and NAMAC Conference in Minneapolis, September 6-8 of this year. Over the past 2 years, I have been assisting my good friend Jon Cournoyer with production and post-production of his film project Across The Creek, which has been made possible, in part, by Vision Maker Media.

While I have worked on native-themed productions in the past, I wasn’t very familiar with Vision Maker Media. I was particularly impressed with the scope of the organization, the number of projects that they support, and the depth of that support to Native filmmakers.

Why is this support important? I strongly believe that the entire world needs to hear the stories these filmmakers are telling. As a human race, we are in desperate need of a reconnection to the earth, to our fellow human beings, and to our place in the universe. It is my belief that native culture, thought and religion offer the keys to help the human race reconnect in a harmonious and lasting way.

There was a lot of useful and detailed information presented over the course of the first day of the Workshop (Thursday). Highlights included: Learning about the scope of Vision Maker Media’s support of Native Content (over 25,000 telecasts on PBS in one year from 9/2011-9/2012!); The importance of creating additional marketing materials for your project (there’s a lot of necessary work to do even after the film is done!); The existence and mission of ITVS (even after a 20-year career in TV, with PBS credits, I knew very little about ITVS); The importance of social media in marketing your film; The opportunity to learn from the experiences of successful filmmakers Billy Luther and Adrian Baker, etc., etc. (this list could go on for a long time!)

I hope there is a way to somehow streamline the communication of this information in the future, to create more time to "round table" works-in-progress. I think that a half-day spent critiquing filmmakers’ trailers, rough cuts, websites, pitches, etc. would have some major benefits:  A) Everyone in the group can get very familiar with everyone's project, what they do, etc... B) People would get constructive feedback on their work from like-minded artists, and C) I think it would help producers to hone their "pitch skills" (which is critical for fundraising).

I think what was most enriching for me, however, was the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of filmmakers. One particular conversation stands out for me: During dinner on Friday night, Evon Peter and I were discussing Kivalina People, a film we had both screened earlier in the day that chronicles the struggles of an indigenous people living in the Arctic.

I thought the film had effectively portrayed the impacts of poverty on the people of Kivalina, Alaska. But Evon said something that really stuck with me: (and I’m paraphrasing) “It’s the responsibility of filmmakers to not simply show what is, but to work with the community in order to create and show a constructive path out of that despair for the people.”

Evon’s comment really had a profound effect on me. Since then, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the roles and responsibilities of filmmakers, especially those who are working on Native-themed projects. Is it the role of the filmmaker to simply document people and events in an impartial way? Or does our responsibility extend beyond simply capturing the “what is”? Do filmmakers have a responsibility towards the communities that they document?

Thinking on these issues has, I think, been an opportunity for me to grow as a filmmaker, and as a creative person. And it would not have happened without this unique opportunity to meet and talk with such a wide variety of native filmmakers. Thank you very much, Vision Maker Media– not only for supporting our project, but also for creating so many significant growth opportunities for native artists.

The human race desperately needs it.

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