You can go to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City and pay top dollar to see the latest progressive films, ski, party, and maybe even spot Robert Redford in the midst of what he has turned into an enormously influential artistic enterprise. Or–you can go to the Walker Art Center this Thursday and see two examples of why Sundance is more than just snow bunnies and film nerds in black-framed glasses.
The Sundance Native American and Indigenous Artists Program is a little-known tentacle of the enterprise that stretches far beyond the resorts of Park City, encouraging native storytellers to consider film as a vehicle for their tales. To that end, on Wednesday, the director of the initiative, Bird Runningwater, will be visiting the Mille Lacs reservation and bringing with him the native filmmakers Andrew Okepeaha MacLean and Sterlin Harjo, both of whom were awarded prizes at Sundance. At the Walker, both men’s films will be shown, followed by Q&A.
Recently, the Fond du Lac reservation near Cloquet was the site for the filming of the high-profile “Older Than America,” released earlier this year (a March screening at the Walker sold out), with such recognizable actors as Adam Beach. The film told the story of the boarding schools once common throughout Indian country. While the film, which screened at the South by Southwest festival this year, has yet to take off, and may be hampered by artistic choices in the script and setting, it nevertheless demonstrated that Minnesota is indeed rich in the talent and desire to tell natives’ stories. Here’s hoping the Sundance events stir up even more stories that make it even further into the public consciousness.