Native American Film Festival Nov. 4-6

Students, faculty and staff watching Shimasani Friday, Nov. 6.

The Department of Anthropology teamed with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Film + Video Center to offer a a four-day showcase of contemporary Native American cinema, November 3-6, on the Oxford campus.

The Festival featured award-winning documentaries and numerous short films that highlight the diverse stories, histories, and experiences of North American indigenous filmmakers, bringing to Oxford a rich offering of the best in Native cinema.

More than 120 people showed up for Wednesday night's viewing of four films about Mohawk steelworkers in new York and on the Canadian reserve. After the films, the audience asked questions of Mohawk filmmaker Reaghan Tarbell, whose film Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back was awarded Best Feature Documentary at the 2008 Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. The question period was moderated by Dr. Roxanne Ornelas, assistant professor of geography.

"Telling the story about my family and my community was the most challenging and most rewarding time of my life," noted Tarbell. Tarbell, who is film curator for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Film + Media Center, was co-curator of the Festival.

“Our stories have too often been told for us,” saidNavajo filmmaker Bennie Klain, who participated in the four day festival with two films. “Native filmmakers are finally challenging the images created by others.”

Klain co-produced The Return of Navajo Boy, an official 2000 Sundance Film Festival selection and winner of “Best Documentary” at the Aboriginal Voices Film Festival in Toronto.

About 200 students, faculty and staff attended the screening Thursday, Nov. 5. After the film, students were not only able to ask questions of Klein, but of director Jeff Spitz and Elsie May Begay, the film’s star. The question and answer period was moderated by Dr. Daniel Cobb, assistant professor of history.

Poster for the Native American Film Festival.

The Return of Navajo Boy describes the astonishing chain of consequences for a Navajo family that begins when a film made about them in the 1950s is returned by the son of the filmmaker. That original 1950s film was screened on Wednesday, Nov. 3, in a special event sponsored by the student anthropology club. More than 70 students showed up.

The themes of identity, language, and cultural vitality were strong throughout the programs, but especially in Friday’s cutting-edge short film program and discussion called “Reel Indians Living the Language”, which featured new films by a variety of Native filmmakers. Alternatively funny, poignant, and shocking, the shorts included several fictional films in contrast to the documentaries of the previous nights.
After the film, attended by more than 100 people, students were able to ask questions of George Ironstrack, Assistant Director of the Myaamia Project, as well as Klein and Tarbell.


Anthropology's Dr. Leighton C. Peterson was co-curator for Miami University. Peterson was the producer of the award-winning PBS documentary Weaving Worlds and is currently working on a larger research project with indigenous media makers.


 Prof. Roxanne Ornelas and Reaghan Tarbell discuss Tarbell's film "Little Caughnawaga: From Brooklyn and Back" Wednesday, Nov. 4“I’m happy to be a part of bringing such diverse, cutting-edge films and filmmakers to Miami, especially as this is an event for the university’s Bicentennial celebration,” says Peterson. “It gives our students a chance to experience Native cultures in a special and unique way.” 

This event was made possible by the A.T. Hansen Anthropology Lecture Fund, established to provide lectures with a focus on the Native peoples and cultures of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Additional support has been provided by the Departments of Communication, History, and Geography; the Film Studies Program, Journalism Program, and Women’s Studies Program; the Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for American and World Cultures, the Myaamia Project, and the Office of Diversity Affairs.

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