Ancient Fire: Indigenous Film Festival Shares Native American Stories

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James Rhiley / Courtesy / Team Rawdzilla.

Randall Aviks stars in The Red Hand, written and directed by Rodrick Pocowatchit (Comanche/Pawnee/Shawnee).

On Sunday at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, an ancient Coahuiltecan tradition will be revived in a new form. The Talōm Aptzāi Indigenous Film Festival will run from noon to 9 p.m., presenting 18 films by indigenous filmmakers.

“Back in the day, people would gather at the fire and share stories. It was the primary way for those conversations to take place,” said Karla Aguilar, development and cultural arts coordinator for American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM), which is organizing the festival.

“Orientations on everything in life came from those times around the fire,” she said. “So now we gather around a screen to share stories.”

The term Talōm Aptzāi translates from the Pajalate language as “ancient fire,” and felt appropriate for the new festival, Aguilar said. In considering an expansion from previous film presentations AIT-SCM had organized, she consulted Scott Pewenoskit (Kiowa), a recent graduate from the film program of the New School in New York City, to program the event.

“He did a great job on the survey of contemporary Native American film,” she said. “It’s a wonderful selection and it has something for everybody.”

The slate of films ranges from a 40-second animated public service announcement titled Hipster Headdress to the hourlong feature documentary A Strike and an Uprising! (in Texas), which pairs the 1938 pecan shellers walkout led by Emma Tenayuca with the 1987 Jobs with Justice march in Nacogdoches.

Other films include animated shorts from the 68 Voces, 68 Corazones series, the 12-minute comedy Ronnie BoDean by Stephen Paul Judd (Choctaw), and a meditative five-minute experimental film by Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) titled When You’re Lost in the Rain.

The film, a response to Bob Dylan’s 1965 song Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, reflects Hopinka’s fatigue with travel, rootlessness, and crossing borders, having lived in many states and Canada.

Hopinka said indigenous film is both a personal and historical exchange and that the term indigenous – a colonial imposition – is itself a question that asks, “What does it mean to embrace one’s own culture, in spite of the colonization that has been imposed, for better or worse, on these communities.”

Courtesy / National Film Board of Canada

A still from the film The Mountain of SGaana by Christopher Auchter (Haida)

Hopinka identified the indigenous identity as a global community and said filmmakers can express their own unique cultures while creating a generative dialogue across diverse communities. Festivals like Talōm Aptzāi that gather a range of voices “are ways that we can continue to be in dialogue as we try to figure out how to make diversity more than a talking point,” he said.

Aguilar said while the festival “allows us to celebrate the artistry and creativity and humor that exists within our community,” it also invites a public conversation “about how this is not a monolithic cultural ethnic group,” but “a very complex ethnic group.”

The free festival is meant for everyone in San Antonio, she said, especially anyone eager to learn about Native American culture. “It’s going to be fascinating because it’s authentic and soulful and fun,” she said. “And boy, does cinema have a way of getting to people’s hearts and imaginations.”

The full Talōm Aptzāi Indigenous Film Festival schedule is available here.

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