Academic journal article Post Script

Introduction to Native American/indigenous Film

Academic journal article Post Script

Introduction to Native American/indigenous Film

Article excerpt

I watched academics, some of them Indians, contort their psyches in ways that would make an acrobat wince, racing to establish a Native aesthetic, often to the exclusion of what they saw with their own eyes.... Only by looking at a large body of work and with the benefit of hindsight can you begin to untangle the myriad themes, patterns, politics, subtext, metaphors and informal elements that run through the films of even a single filmmaker, much less a globe full of them. And even then, half the time the maker will be surprised by your conclusions.... Why jump to conclusions? Let Native Cinema come to term. Why give it a c-section?--Randy Redroad (Cherokee) 2009 (1)

A native filmmaker has ... the accountability built into him. The white man doesn't have that. That's the single big distinction. Accountability as an individual, as a clan, as a tribal, as a family member. That's where we're at as Indian filmmakers. We want to start participating [in] and developing an Indian aesthetic. And there is such a thing as an Indian aesthetic, and it begins in the sacred.--Victor Masayesva, Jr. (Hopi) 1991 (2)

What is Native American or Indigenous cinema? Such a seemingly simple question opens a myriad of answers and possibilities. Embedded into its naming are the politics of Indigeneity; the global scope of Indigenous film; the continuum of reference for what constitutes Indigenous film and Indigenous/Native filmmakers; and the complications of performing the "c-section," as Randy Redroad describes the process of those writing about it (Marubbio). Native American / Indigenous film does not simply fit into or reject First Cinema (North American or Hollywood), Second Cinema (Independent or Art House cinema), Third Cinema (the cinema of the Third World), (3) or Fourth Cinema (cinema of Indigenous peoples); rather it is the referencing, morphing, and reaching across all or focusing on just one of these forms, historical periods and geographical demarcations in a heteroglossic meta dialogue about Indigenous representation. For some, like videographer Victor Masayesva, Jr., Native film is linked to tribal identity, to a particular non-Western ontology and aesthetics, to a sovereign gaze. For others, Native film is defined as being a filmmaker who identifies as Indigenous, but whose work is created for multiple audiences--both Indigenous and non-Indigenous--and which may embrace Hollywood narrative fictional style or a variety of western cinematic modes of expression. In all, however, Native film is about employing and centering Native voices in the act of media self-determination and representation.

The term "Native film" is generally used to refer to the group of filmmakers linked with the United States and Canada. It emerges out of term popular in the 1990s--Native Cinema, which applied to the film work of Native American and First Nations people in the United States and Canada. As Indigenous filmmakers around the world took up the struggle of media sovereignty, the terms Indigenous Cinema and Indigenous Film took center stage. Their meaning encompasses a variety of forms, including but not limited to, documentary, docudramas, narrative shorts, narrative fiction, multimedia, animation, community-focused productions, and government sponsored-productions. Thus, Indigenous film movement, Indigenous film, and Indigenous filmmaker often are used when the focus broadens more globally, or when the politics involved necessitate the usage of the term. (4)

Like the terms that name it, the field of Indigenous film is an expansive global phenomenon in which regional and community aesthetics exist alongside pan-tribal/pan-Indigenous issues, highlighted in the work of groups as distantly located as Canada and Bolivia, Mexico and Australia. The underlying current of North America's Native film and media movement emerged in the 1960s and 1970s during the Civil Rights era: a period marked by heightened Indian activism and the burgeoning of independent film and video as an alternative to Hollywood. …

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