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Celebrating Native American Cinema

by Sarah Soliman

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and The Picture House is looking forward to honoring the month with our new film studies class exploring Native American cinema.  

Images of Indigenous people have been prevalent in American cinema since the late 1800s, but more often than not, these images were produced without consultation or guidance from Native people. Distinct cultures of different tribes have been flattened into stereotypes, and non-Native actors have often been cast in roles as American Indians. First Nations activism starting in the 1970s has helped push forward dialogue about Native communities, and filmmakers from those communities have worked to take control over their media images. Contemporary First Nations filmmakers are working to redefine Indigenous identities on screen, capturing the complexities of their experiences and presenting new ways of telling their own stories. 

TPH’s Native American Cinema course will explore the rich and resonant films being made by Indigenous filmmakers. We’re especially thrilled to have accomplished, deeply knowledgeable filmmakers Bird Runningwater and Adam Piron, both of whom work with the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program, as instructors.

Adam Piron is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and a Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) descendant. He currently acts as the Associate Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program where he helps oversee the organization’s investment in Indigenous filmmakers globally. He is also a co-founder of COUSIN: a film collective dedicated to supporting Indigenous artists experimenting with and pushing the boundaries of the moving image. As a filmmaker, his films have played in The New Yorker’s Documentary Series, True/False Film Festival, AFI DOCS, San Francisco International Film Festival, MoMA Doc Fortnight, Camden International Film Festival, Indie Grits and various other festivals. 

Bird Runningwater belongs to the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache Tribal Nations, and grew up on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Since 2001 he has guided the Sundance Institute’s investment in Native American and Indigenous filmmakers while building a global Indigenous film community. He has nurtured a new generation of filmmakers whose films have put Indigenous Cinema into the global marketplace. Based in Los Angeles, California, Runningwater serves as the Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program and its Diversity, Equity Inclusion work across the organization. Under his tenure 140 different Indigenous filmmakers have been mentored and supported through Labs, Grants and Fellowships. More than 110 films written, directed and produced by Indigenous filmmakers have been curated by Runningwater to premiere at Sundance Film Festival, and over the past 10 years alone Sundance Institute has welcomed artists representing more than 90 different Indigenous nations from around the world. 

Classes will take place online via Zoom on November 4, 11, and 18, from 7:00 – 8:00 pm. 

Register today!