N8tive Reel Cinema Festival Screens Top Native Films

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country

The N8tive Reel Cinema Festival wrapped their second year with some stellar native produced films and actors in attendance. The Festival was part of the annual Seminole Tribal Fair and Powwow held at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in Hollywood, FL earlier this year.

In addition to the films there were dozens of vendors selling handmade Seminole crafts, food, alligator wrestling, a fashion show and live music from award-winning Canadian musician/actor Derek Miller and Seminole singer songwriter Spencer Battiest.

Everett Osceola, the cultural ambassador for The Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the mastermind behind the film fest came into the event with a great big accolade – back in December he was awarded a $50,000 grant through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2016 Knight Arts Challenge in Miami. The funding was used to support the fest, the first Native American film festival in the southeast United States.

The mission of the foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge is to funds ideas that bring South Floridians together through the arts. The N8tive Reel Cinema Festival, which was founded by Osceola just the year before, was recognized for highlighting the worlds of indigenous peoples and providing an in-depth look into Native culture and tradition through cinema.

The grant is only given to 68 winners out of over 1,000 applications, so Osceola’s win is significant.

“This generous funding will put the N8tive Reel Cinema Festival on the map,” Osceola said. “We can expand our youth programs and bring the works of unknown Native talent to the general public. I know this grant will help make our vision a reality.”

“With the Knight Arts Challenge grant, we envision expanding N8tive Reel Cinema Festival into a larger, multi-day film festival showcasing a series of films by Native American filmmakers and featuring more Native American talent,” said April Kirk, executive director of the Historic Stranahan House Museum, a partner and supporter of N8tive Reel Cinema Festival. “There’s even potential to exhibit other forms of visual arts, music and entertainment from Native American artists. We can’t thank Knight Foundation enough for allowing us to explore this one-of-a-kind opportunity.”

A collaborative effort between the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Seminole Paradise and the Historic Stranahan House Museum, the inaugural festival took place in February 2016 at the Hard Rock during the Annual Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow.

The first two- day event featured a free screening of Kiowa/Choctaw director and writer Steven Paul Judd’s film, “Ronnie BoDean,” starring Wes Studi, a critically acclaimed Cherokee actor. The film, which was followed by an interactive Q&A session with Judd, showcased the first Native American ‘anti-hero,’ allowing for a new opportunity to explore the culture’s representation in films.

A scene from Mekko by Sterlin Harjo

This year the festival showcased the premier of “Mekko” by Sterlin Harjo, a harrowing look at the lives of homeless native people in Tulsa, OK. Not for the faint-hearted, this hard hitting film follows an ex-con out on the streets, haunted by his murder of his cousin. While Mekko finds a community of other homeless men on the streets, there is danger too, as he finds witches among them. Combating that evil leads to dark place but perhaps to spiritual salvation too.

Harjo said he became interested in the lives of the homeless after spending time in Tulsa.

Special guests at another Q& A session included top actress/producer Irene Bedard and up and coming actor Martin Sensmeier, who was recently seen in the remake of “The Magnificent Seven”. A screening of the powerful music video “Stand Up for Standing Rock” by Taboo with guest appearances by several native artists including Battiest was screened. The video can now be seen on YouTube also.

Martin Sensmeier and Irene Bedard during panel session

At the panel discussion, talk turned political, with Bedard stating that the peaceful fight must continue, even if some battles, like the current fight against the DAPL are lost.

“Even if we lose some we win with our unity and love,” she said. “Everyone can do something – attend a protest, divest from big banks like Wells Fargo that fund the pipelines. Make a sign and post it on your social media. Every little bit counts.”

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