By Phil Villarreal
The Native Eyes Film Showcase, which began Wednesday and wraps up tonight, is the fourth edition of an annual American Indian film series.
Tonight's program features the short "Conversion," directed by Navajo Nanobah Becker. It's followed by the beauty pageant-focused doc "Miss Navajo," directed by William Luther, who is Navajo/Hopi/Laguna Pueblo. "Miss Navajo" played at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
The films are part of a collection housed in the Smithsonian Institution's Film and Video Center of the National Museum of the American Indian. The filmmakers will discuss their movies tonight.
Caliente caught up with one of the event's organizers, Vicky Westover, program director of the Hanson Film Institute at the University of Arizona. Lisa Falk of the Arizona State Museum also helped put together the Native Eyes Film Showcase.
What's the purpose of the Hanson Film Institute?
"Part of our mission is primarily about professional development of students and emerging filmmakers. We do have a focus on assisting under-represented voices and are interested in showing new and under-represented voices and visions in film. One of our focuses, and not our entire focus, is both on Latino and, in particular Mexican, and Native American, filmmaking. One special thing Native Eyes always has is an educational component to it. One of the filmmakers, Tracey Deer (a Mohawk), visited the Tohono O'odham Reservation and talked with students there about what inspired her to become a filmmaker."
What do you think your program has to offer?
"There aren't very many showcases for Native American film. This is one of the few in the United States, but they're growing, actually. There are probably about 40, but considering how big the U.S. is, there are not that many opportunities to see these films. It's always important for people to see images of themselves up on screen. Tucson has a large Native American population, and this provides an opportunity for Native Americans to see themselves onscreen. We also want to provide opportunities for students to see work different than what they might be exposed to in the mainstream media."
What would you say to people to get them to come out for the films?
"They won't be bored, that's for sure. The initial thought of why not to go is 'that's boring,' but the first short, 'Conversion,' is very powerful. It deals with the impact of Christianity on Navajos in the 1950s. Even though it's only eight minutes, it also gives you a punch, or wallop.
" 'Miss Navajo' is really charming. It's about a Navajo pageant, to win the Miss Navajo Nation crown. You learn a lot of interesting things about another culture. I think we think we know a lot about Native American culture, but I think we generally don't. This is a real inside look at a culture that's right in our backyard."
If you're involved in filmmaking and would like to be featured in a Q&A, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• When: 7 p.m. today.
• Where: Grand Cinemas Crossroads, 4811 E. Grant Road.
• Cost: Free.