For its third year, the Nłʔay “En-th-a-eye” Indigenous Film Festival has booked a special guest with a premiere of a film, and added a new name.
The event, scheduled Friday-Saturday, April 12-13, in Missoula, will feature Tantoo Cardinal, a Métis-Cree actress from Canada who stars in "Falls Around Her," a movie written and directed by Darlene Naponse specifically for Cardinal.
She stars as a famous musician who returns home and becomes enmeshed in a mystery. After four decades in the industry, it's the first lead role for the 68-year-old, who Maclean's Magazine called "likely the most recognizable Indigenous actress in North America." Her credits include "Godless," "Longmire," "Wind River," "North of 60," "Dances with Wolves," and more.
She's "a legend in indigenous communities" said Ivan MacDonald, a festival co-organizer and filmmaker. The screening of "Falls" is likely the first in the Western half of the United States. (It's definitely the Montana premiere.)
MacDonald said they're always scouring the Internet for new, unheard-of, paradigm-shifting Native films, and reached out about screening it. Cardinal is coming to Missoula, from a film festival in South America, for the screening, and will take part in a discussion afterward with MacDonald about her career.
Elsewhere on the two-day schedule, there are films of all genres that "highlight the different experiences of Native people," MacDonald said.
Since the first year, the festival, put on by Missoula Urban Indian Health Center, emphasized resiliency in indigenous communities, he said, since "the most exposure or awareness or education that non-Natives have about Native people is through media."
That can often mean "poverty porn," said co-organizer Leeta Running Crane. MacDonald said that "as a Native person, I know that's there and I live with that, but that's not my whole life" and so they hand-pick movies with broad ranges of styles and subjects.
This year, there's an emphasis on women Native filmmakers telling their own stories.
And beyond the films, it's a means of connecting with communities.
"We were looking for a way to reach the broader community," Running Crane said, "and to build bridges between our local Native community and our non-Native community, and build a safe space to have some of the conversations that we normally don't have in our daily lives. So really the films are just the catalyst to get us to the conversations that we have afterwards in our panel discussions that are so open and engaged with the audience."
For instance, last year's screening of "Indian Horse," in which the protagonist is sent to boarding school for Native youths, started conversations among the audience about their own experience, or the experiences of family members, and how they dealt with it. MacDonald still hears from people who want to see the movie, and he's found that streaming services like Netflix have a very limited selection of movies by or about Native people.
The festival is now named Nłʔay “En-th-a-eye” Indigenous Film Festival to acknowledge that the valley is Salish land. They reached out to a Salish speaker to name it, and they chose Nłʔay, their traditional name for the area. It means "Place of the Little Bull Trout."
This year, they're focused on indigenous women filmmakers. Director Elizabeth Castle will come to town for her movie, "Warrior Women." According to the film's website, it tells "the story of mothers and daughters fighting for indigenous rights in the American Indian Movement of the 1970s. The film unveils not only a female perspective of history, but also examines the impact political struggles have on the children who bear witness."
She'll appear on a panel with other indigenous women filmmakers whose past and present work tells stories of indigenous women: Brooke Swaney Pepion, who's making her first feature-length documentary after working on many Montana productions (Rami Malek's "Buster's Mal Heart," and Vera Brunner-Sung's "Bella Vista"); Maya Dittloff, a Los Angeles-based director and Hellgate High School graduate and enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes who's working on the adaptation of Debra Magpie Earling's "Perma Red"; and Ivy MacDonald, Ivan's sister. The two are working on "Perma Red" and a documentary, "When They Were Here," about missing and murdered indigenous women, and she also has an upcoming film about self-defense classes for young girls on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
In the documentary, "This May Be the Last Time," filmmaker Sterlin Harjo "explores Creek Nation hymns and their connection to Scottish, folk, gospel and rock music," and is framed by the story of Harjo's grandfather, who disappeared in 1962 in the town of Sasakwa, according to Harjo's website.
Running Crane said the family-friendly film, "Kayak To Klemtu" broaches issues in the context of a family film. The movie's site says that "14-year-old Ella is determined to travel the length of the Inside Passage, along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest by kayak in order to testify against a proposed pipeline that would see oil tanker traffic through her beloved homeland waters."
Running Crane and MacDonald said it touches on perseverance, resiliency, overcoming historical family dysfunction and grief.
They'll also have an "Honoring Our Stories" screening, where young people from the Trapper Creek Job Corps will show documentaries they made about their own lives. The program, based in the Bitterroot National Forest, gives job training to recruits ages 16 to 24.
Beyond the movies, they want to create "a full-body experience" at the MCT lobby, Running Crane said. They'll have indigenous music and traditional Native food made by the center's health team. Last year, some menu items included braised bison and wild-rice pilaf.
"It feels gourmet and yet the ingredients are so simple," Running Crane said.
The Missoula Art Museum is lending work from its collection of contemporary indigenous art, which will be shown alongside work by Native middle-schoolers from Missoula. (On Saturday, there are two times you take a tour of the MAM's current exhibitions, which include Native artists, and the art park.)
On Friday, there are two films in the evening, and on Saturday, it's a full-day event, from 9:30 a.m. to past 10 p.m., and you can come and go.
The full schedule is available on the website (it's optimized for desktop browsers, scroll to the bottom on mobile for links), and they're updating the panelist biographies.
Donations go to securing money for the next year's festival. With about 200 people in attendance last year, in addition to donations, they brought in enough money to reserve the space at MCT for 2019.