Life has been turned upside down because of the coronavirus, to say the least, and the same rings true for film. For Native filmmakers, one new challenge during COVID-19 is producing and maintaining authenticity in storytelling. With major productions on hold and many filmmakers now working from home, new creative energies have emerged and plans are being made on how to move forward into a new digital world. We compiled a list of what some Indigenous groups and organizations have been up to the past few months and trust us, they have many exciting things in the works!

Indigenous Programs

This prestigious program, committed to supporting the voices of Indigenous artists through filmmaking, strives to move onward and upward to find ways to share stories virtually. N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache), the director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, said in a recent article, “We are constantly discovering new and exciting ways to encourage and empower Indigenous artists so they can continue the important work of making their films and telling their stories.”

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks as the Sundance Institute Indigenous Program has partnered with IllumiNative, a Native nonprofit initiative designed to increase the visibility of – and challenge the negative narrative about – Native Nations and peoples in American society, on a new video series that supports Indigenous filmmakers and what they’ve been creating over the past few months. If you’re interested to see what one alumna has been up to, check out “Finding Hope in Lockdown” directed by Indigenous Program alumna Erin Lau (Native Hawaiian).

The La Skins Fest, an annual Native American film festival that offers additional programming to further careers of Native American filmmakers, did not falter with the pandemic. LA Skins continues to mentor Native students virtually through programs like the 5th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab, which is a five-week program designed to give Native writers the skills necessary to obtain careers at major television networks. The lab went virtual this year with guidance master classes and workshops over video meetings. They started their workshop journey in April and wrapped up in June. Read more about the fellows and the writers lab from our previous blog here.

The next lab, the Native American Feature Film Writers Lab, gets underway in August! The lab is designed to familiarize participants with the format, characters and storyline structure of narrative feature film over a 10-week period, consisting of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each writer develop and complete a feature script.

In support of their mission to work alongside Indigenous peoples to secure guardianship of vital ecosystems, Nia Tero’s storytelling efforts seek to reach audiences, ranging from local communities to policymakers, to facilitate exchange among Indigenous peoples of their knowledge, ingenuity and solutions across cultures and places. They continue to work virtually with Indigenous people who are place-based to tell their stories through film and media. They recently hosted the 4th World Indigenous Media Lab online retreat, where they worked with local professionals near Indigenous populations around the globe to host online masterclasses for lab fellows to ensure they have the needed resources to continue telling their stories. Check out this video spotlight on one of the 4th World Indigenous fellows, Justyn Ah Chong (Kanaka Maoli)!

In addition to this, Nia Tero is hosting an online Technodigenous interactive gathering on Oct. 6-8. “Planned under the guidance of Indigenous leaders, Technodigenous aspires to create the space for Indigenous Peoples to explore the promise of technology to potentially assist in protecting and mediating trust and value of Indigenous territory, knowledge, art forms and perspectives.” Stay tuned on their social media for updates on both the 4th World Media Lab and the Techodigenous interactive gathering.

Film Festivals 

Talk about a pivot! Film festivals are going virtual. Prior to the pandemic, film screenings tended to be exclusive and limited to viewers who attended the festival. Now that entire film festival lineups have been screening online, there’s a wider audience than ever before!

Don’t miss out on this five-week watch party! VisionMaker Media has a heavy emphasis on Native projects and they have taken full advantage of having an online presence with recently announced First Indigenous Online Film Festival, happening Aug. 31-Oct 5. The festival will feature the best of Indigenous film and the most inspiring Indigenous filmmakers with screenings and engaging digital conversations.

DeadCenter Film Festival, the largest film festival in Oklahoma, is another one that moved online this year, and it was extended over 10 days, as opposed to three days. The festival reached 25 foreign countries and 42 states, and thousands were part of streaming more than 40,000 hours of films, film-related panels, classes and Q&As. DCFF screened several Native films, including the premiere of “Love and Fury” produced and directed by Sterlin Harjo (Muscogee/Seminole). The feature-length documentary followed Indigenous artists for a year as they navigated their careers in the U.S. and abroad, and it explores the immense complexities each artist faces with their own identity as Native artists, as well as the complications of advancing Native art in a post-colonial world. We’re excited to see more Native films going virtual! To watch the trailer and learn more you can visit the “Love and Fury” website here.


Last but not least, Native filmmakers are channeling their creativity into making podcasts, like the INDIGEFI podcast, hosted and produced by Native filmmaker Alexis Sallee (Iñupiaq). The podcast takes a deep dive into the stories of Indigenous artists, spanning a wide range of artistic disciplines, including filmmaking! Check out episode 1, which features Tomás Karmelo Amaya (A:shiwi, Rarámuri, and Yoeme) who is a photographer, filmmaker and writer and is currently the creative director for Indian Country Today.

COVID may be keeping us at home, but it is not stifling creativity. 

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