A documentary about an all-female wildland firefighting crew. An inventive take on being forced to attend boarding school. A drama about an Inuit hunter who witnesses a murder and must choose between two friends.
These are a few of the stories that make up the 2011 Native Eyes Film Showcase, which highlights Native American filmmaking.
"The quality of the filmmaking is really stellar this year," said Vicky Westover, who is the director of the Hanson Film Institute at the University of Arizona.
The showcase, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday, represents a variety of film - from documentaries and dramas to award-winning shorts.
"You get to see something about native culture that you don't normally have access to," Westover said. "The stories are very interesting and original."
Most, but not all, of the filmmakers are Native American. Many of the films have previously been shown at respected international film festivals, but are unlikely to get a national release, Westover said
"One of the reasons we do this is because Tucson audiences don't have much of an opportunity to see this work," she explained.
Founded in 2005, the showcase also gives Tucsonans a chance to discover emerging filmmakers.
For example, "On the Ice," a narrative about a murder in Alaska, started out as a short film, which the filmmaker, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, developed with support from the Sundance Institute). It will premiere Friday night, with an encore performance Sunday afternoon.
"Burnt," a film by Alejandro Valbuena about a romance between two young men, is one of the shorts that Westover said she finds just amazing. "It has a delightful surprise in it."
Westover served as a producer on "Apache 8," a documentary about all-female wildland firefighter crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The film has been shown extensively on public television and has screened at several film festivals.
But Friday's screening as part of the showcase represents its Arizona premiere on the big screen.
Several of the firefighters plan to attend, along with filmmaker Sande Zeig, who lives in Tucson.
Once she learned about the Apache 8 - which was the longest-lasting all-women firefighting crew in the nation - Zeig said she knew she had to tell the women's stories in film. "Everything opened up for me to do it. People opened their hearts and their lives," she said.
The film focuses primarily on four of the women, who range from their 20s into their 50s.
"They are extraordinary," said Zeig, who met them in 2006 and started filming the next year.
The crew has since disbanded, but three of the women are still firefighters.
"Apache 8" was produced by the Hanson Film Institute and partially founded by National Geographic's All Roads Film Project Grant. It will return to Reel Arts 6 on Dec. 9 and run through Dec. 15.
If you go
• What: Native Eyes Film Showcase, presented by the University of Arizona's Hanson Film Institute and the Arizona State Museum, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.
• When: Tonight through Sunday.
• Where: Reel Arts 6 at Grand Cinemas Crossroads, 4811 E. Grant Road.
• Admission: $5.
Native Eyes Film showcase
• Director: Lisa Jackson (Ojibwe).
• The story: A wildly inventive take on the profound trauma of attending a boarding school on native people. (Canada, 2009, 6 min. In Cree with English subtitles.)
• Director: Danis Goulet (Métis).
• The story: A trip to an isolated family camp begins to erode the cultural distance between a traditional Cree man and his son. (Canada, 2010, 16 min. In English and Cree with English subtitles)
"In This Manner, I Am"
• Director: Velma Craig (Navajo).
• The story: An animated adaptation of a poem about an encounter between a man and a young Navajo woman. (2010, 5 min.)
• In person: Craig will attend the screening.
"File Under Miscellaneous"
• Director: Jeff Barnaby (Mi'kmaq).
• The story: Pablo Neruda's poem "Walking Around" inspires a gruesome, futuristic fantasy of a Mi'kmaq man who decides to assimilate into the ruling culture. (Canada, 2010, 7 min.)
• Director: Alejandro Valbuena (Kogi).
• The story: This experimental film interprets a childhood memory to create an electric romance between two young men. (Canada/Colombia/USA, 2009, 14 min.)
• Director: Helen Haig-Brown (Tsilhqot'in).
• The story: A hunter discovers a portal to the spirit world in this moving rendering of a legend. (Canada, 2009, 11 min. In English and Tsilhqot'in with English subtitles.)
"Three Little Boys"
• Director: Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek).
• The story: Three young boys accompany their uncle to church and find out just how difficult it is to channel divine behavior. (2009, 12 min.)
"Games of the North"
• Director: Jonathan Stanton.
• The story: Four Inuit athletes travel throughout Alaska competing in the ancestral games of strength. (2011, 27 min,)
"Because of Who I Am"
• Director: Marcella A. Ernest (Ojibwe)
• The story: Photographs of regalia and art animate a young woman's challenge to become a men's traditional powwow dancer. (2011, 4 min,)
• Director: Sande Zeig.
• The story: Documentary about an all-woman wild-land firefighter crew that fought fires throughout the United States, for more than 30 years. (2011, 57 min.)
• In person: Katy Aday and other "Apache 8" crew members will attend, along with Zeig.
• Director: Tammy Davis (NgÇti Rangi/Atihaunui a Paparangi).
• The story: Two boys break into a house and find themselves confronted with an unexpected situation. (New Zealand, 2010, 13 min.)
"On the Ice"
• Director: Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiat).
• Story: An Inuit hunter inadvertently witnesses a murder and must navigate the uneasy morality between honoring the body and memory of one friend and destroying the life of another. It won Best Debut Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. (2011, 96 min.).
"Inuit High Kick"
• Director: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Inuk).
• The story: An ancient test of athleticism and skill is dramatically and sensuously portrayed. (Canada, 2009, 3 min.)
"Off the Rez"
• Director: Jonathan Hock.
• The story: Shoni Schimmel, a Umatilla Indian, dreams of being the first from her tribe to get a college scholarship. (2011, 86 min.)
• In person: Shoni's mother (and coach), Ceci Moses; and father, Rick Schimmel, will attend.
• Director: Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo).
• The story: Romance and comedy join in this contemporary portrait of love on the Navajo Reservation. (2009, 12 min.)
• Director: Michael Bennett (Te Arawa).
• The story: A young man steals a car and unwittingly starts a chain of events that will change his life forever. (New Zealand, 2010, 92 min.)
"On the Ice" encore screening.
"Matariki" encore screening.
If you go
• What: Billy Luther will attend the screenings of two of his films.
• When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Baboquivari High School, 111 W. Main St., in Sells.
• Cost: Free.
Source: Native Eyes Film Showcase
Director in Sells on Sunday
Billy Luther, a filmmaker of Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo descent, will attend the screenings of two of his films Sunday on the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Released this year, "Grab" offers an intimate look at a tradition of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe in New Mexico.
The documentary follows three families as they prepare for the annual "Grab Day," when members throw water and food items from the rooftop of a home to people standing below in a community-wide prayer of abundance, thanks and renewal.
"Grab" was also part of the Loft Film Fest last month. The showcase will also screen "Miss Navajo," which is a celebration of women and tradition in Navajo culture explored through one young woman's quest for the Miss Navajo Nation crown.