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Monthly Archives: April 2008

INDEPENDENT DINE’ FILMMAKER TRANSITION – THE START AFTER THE GRAFFITI FINISHES

THE GRAFFITI took 4 years and 3 months to complete since I received the funding in July 04.  I am so glad to finish!   After I write and turn in a report for THE GRAFFITI, it will be officially finished for my funder.  I will work on the next time consuming step to submit copies of the finished work to film/video festivals, which I am doing now in a way.  It is the accepted way to get a video or film project screened and known to the public world wide: the film/video festival circuit.  I have heard about other ways.  Eventually the best way is to get the film or video screened through a theatrical release in film theaters or to air the video project on national television, which happens to certain film/video works such as “Don’t Look Back and “Hoop Dreams” which is a dream of every filmmaker.  Those dreams come true. The NAVAJO , SONG JOURNEY and WOMEN AND MEN ARE GOOD DANCERS aired on television but only many years afterwards. SONG JOURNEY is an exception to the many years after.  SONG JOURNEY finished during April 94. It aired on KCET, Los Angeles the following Fall, October 94.

NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE was my first major try, 86-88 to enter a project into the film/video festival circuit. It broke me in. I never did it before. The SONG JOURNEY was second, 93-95. THE GRAFFITI became the third great try. What I mean by that is, I consider THE GRAFFITI to be one of my important videos. I invested a lot of work, money and time to complete it: gave it my all despite problems or circumstances.  I own the copyright for THE GRAFFITI as well as THE NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE. The same effort put in to enter THE NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE vhs copies into film/video festivals during 1986-88 is the same effort I put in to enter THE GRAFFITI dvd copies into festivals. During the next two years, I will work the festival circuit process.

It was difficult and sad to keep going though a lot of rejection happened. I have heard of a hundred rejections. That is a lot.  The feeling to want to give up entered my brain.  From other independent filmmakers who do not have a lot of money I never hear about these background experiences. From what I gather from First Nations filmmakers they must have been rich. Somehow independent filmmakers have to survive.

Now as I said I will submit dvds into indigenous film/video festivals, but to festivals who do not charge entry fees.  I cannot afford the $10 on up fees.  In fact, I wonder how do other independent filmmakers who do not have much money promote their video/film projects when the transition to enter a film/video festival arrives? Never had the luxury to afford high entry fees, but maybe one day it will happen.  Once in 1987 I paid $50 as an entry fee to enter the NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE into Native American Film Festival in San Francisco, but the film/video festival rejected it.  It was hard to accept because that was a lot of money to spend.  Could have used the money instead to buy more raw video tape stock to make dubs or pay for postal or courier fees. I wonder sometimes: for these film/video festivals that charge high fees, does it really help the festival’s expenses? Only rich independent filmmakers can spend that kind of money for entry fees. Nevertheless, I try.  To not give up is the key, although sometimes I feel like giving up because there is not enough money to pay for postal postage to ship dvds off to the film/video festivals.

As I recall and unless I check my journal notes to confirm this, which I do not have with me now, NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE took at least ten submission tries before it was accepted into any film/video festival.  The first film festival to accept it was Turin Film Festival in Turin, Italy, 1987. I was late to enter.  Ray Smith told me about this festival.  He already was experienced to submit his film project into festivals.  He gave me advice about what to do because I did not have any idea how to do it. If I did not have Ray Smith’s help and suggestions, which helped me out tremendously—He still helps out tremendously to this day, I am forever grateful to him—I do not know know where I would be.  A person needs that kind of support.  UCLA film school crony Ray Smith said, call anyhow and ask if I still can enter.  So I did. The festival said, ship it.  The Italian man I spoke to was quite polite and positive.  They were very good about it. To this day even if a deadline passes, I ask sometimes if it is okay because a filmmaker never knows the outcome.  Have to ask to find out.  It just depends.  Nothing wrong to ask questions.  I was so happy when I got accepted into a film festival.

When I officially graduated from UCLA, I had a lack of dinero. Because I had to make duplicates from beta sp to vhs, I had to ask a place at UCLA if I could make dubs. I could not afford dubs from a duplication facility, the standard way to make dubs. I did not know where else to go to make cheap copies.  I drove about 4:00 a.m. to UCLA before students arrived by 8:00 a.m. to use the facilities to make the dubs.

If a producer makes a video funded by Independent Television Service in the US, there is no guarantee it will air.  SONG JOURNEY aired regional.  The logic went it screened in states which had an Indian population.  Some states were Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota and others. Independent Television Service  is associated with Public Broadcast Service, which provides a television air screen time.  The best air time screening to receive from Public Broadcast Service is a national screening where the video project screens at every Public Broadcast affiliate at a specific time.  I was grateful to obtain any screening,  national or not.  Even though it was not national,   I knew Canadian people viewed it. Canadian television airs Public Broadcast Service shows.  For example, during August 96, which was SONG JOURNEY’S run from 94-97 in the United States, I stayed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. SONG JOURNEY aired from Fargo, North Dakota.  The huge cities close to the border like Winnipeg, Manitoba and Vancouver, BC aired THE SONG JOURNEY. I remember I went to a First Nations dance lounge in Winnipeg with my Indian woman writer friend where Indian people hung out. In the women’s bathroom a woman walked up to me and shook my hand. You’re the one in the video? I said, yes. I was in the video so people recognized me quickly.  Even on the streets, people recognized me.  SONG JOURNEY video topic interested Canadian First Nations because the Pow Wow is common to North American Indian peoples.  The topic explored why women singers sang in a traditional and non-traditional style in the Pow Wow world.

I am sure other First Nations filmmakers have screening stories of their own.  Some reactions are immediate for some filmmaker’s film/video, a switch of night and day; for example, if a video or film like The Fast Runner wins a prestigious award from a festival like Cannes Film Festival.  However, I never received such response to win an award.

Once the NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE played the film/video festival circuit, it attracted screenings world wide.  Screening invites at present are not as active as the early times.  I enjoy to travel to festivals worldwide because I like to experience new cultures and meet new people.  NAVAJO TALKING PICTURE took me more around the world.

Whether a video airs national or regional, it still airs. An audience views it, which is better than not any screening.  Even to get into any film/video festival is better than not any at all, a feat in itself.  A lot of filmmakers get into a competition mode; for example, the idea  “Because the video screened national, it is better than regional.” Yes, better because it reaches a larger audience, but the arrogant attitude to brag.  However, most filmmakers of all colors I have met brag, possess and swagger arrogance.  Very few First Nations filmmakers are humble and sincere about themselves.  Period, it is incredibly difficult to raise the money for a project and then on top of that complete any film or video project.  Bravo when the film or video is completed! A filmmaker has learned so much! To search for solutions to improve than to ignore; also, to face the present realities as a filmmaker in this world with an honest point-of-view among First Nations filmmakers in North America is a positive goal to reach in this filmmaking reality. Maybe I speak too negative about it all, but these are the present realities.  Do we ever talk among each others as First Nations filmmakers about various aspects about filmmaking?   Not that I know of. Or rarely. Maybe the cause is exclusion.  I refuse to keep my point-of-view in the closet.

Although I do not have a job yet, I volunteer at the local Surrey SPCA to help the cats. The volunteer position started two Tuesdays ago, April 8th.  I clean their cages: empty the litter box, add new litter, pour clean water into their water dish.  I give them wet and dry food. If the cats have dirty towels, I give them clean towels.  I clean the floor and walls of the metal cage with a disinfectant solution in the towel.  Afterwards, we sweep and mop the floors of the two cat rooms. 

At the end of the three hours, we socialize pet or touch the cats who want attention. When I first arrive and walk through the door around 9:00 a.m., some of the cats meow.  They poke their arms to paw through the cage bars to us humans as if they say, hold me or stroke me.  A few cats really want human contact.  For example today, I stroked a cat near his face and cheeks. He kept wanting to be petted.  The cat had a plastic round shield on his neck so he would not bite the skin of his tail.  The tail was shaved  near the cat’s top hind legs, where a cut showed.  He had a bad cut on the tail.  We are suppose to disinfect and wash our hands to stop bacteria from spreading to other cats, whenever we touch the cats.  

Most of the cats are adult. Some of the cats are pretty cats like one I saw that had orange and black markings like an ocelot.  Some were seized, which I do not know what that means, but I will find out. 

If I was not a filmmaker, I would have tried to be a veterinarian. At the same time, I think maybe I could shoot a short video about these cats and the shelter. I need to know more about the cats and the shelter, if I am serious about it. I have to find an angle about the topic.

How this happened? In January 08 I attended a presentation at the Surrey SPCA. I filled out an application. Someone screened me.  Someone else or the same person called to ask if I wanted to volunteer with the cats during March.

It is sad how human beings treat cats like this.  Some cats become strays.  I know other cats become lost.  I lost my cat once so I know.  Just helping out so far, I have learned some cats are at the shelter because their owners have treated them cruel.  They are cute cats. I hope they find homes.