As I wrote in part one of this series, we could count the number of Indigenous feature-film directors on two hands at the end of last century. Now, it’s not a difficult task to put together a Letterboxd list of over a hundred Native-identified filmmakers bringing diverse dramatic and documentary feature works across a range of genres to the screen. If we want a list of a dozen queer Native features, we can have one! If we want a list of 50 Native women-made features about Native women and their lived experience, we can have that, too.
This change didn’t happen out of nowhere. Activist groups around the world planted the seed: Ngā Tamatoa, Te Manu Aute and Polynesian Panthers in Aotearoa New Zealand; the Black Panthers in Australia; the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) in North America; and ALOHA and subsequent sovereignty movements in Hawai’i.
From Te Manu Aute came the Māori screen umbrella organization Ngā Aho Whakaari. AIM planted the seed in establishing the American Indian Film Institute, and its American Indian Film Festival, in San Francisco (founder Michael Smith was one of the original Native rights occupiers at Alcatraz in the 1970s). Hawai’i now has PICCOM; Canada has its own Indigenous Screen Office; Sámi has the International Sámi Film Institute; the Inuit, Isuma.tv.
And in Latin America, the Latin American Council on Indigenous People’s Film and Video (CLACPI) has, since 1986, represented and pushed for Native-language films and Indigenous-told stories on screen. The open-access Latin American Cinegogia project helpfully tracks films that use the lens of cinema to represent Indigenous subjects, look at colonization and colonialism’s lasting effects, and the cultural legacy of Latin America’s Indigenous populations.
These grassroots movements have lobbied for resources for filmmakers who now take their films around the world on both mainstream and Indigenous film festival circuits. All of this work is not before time.