Actress Elizabeth Frances plays a supporting role in Drunktown's Finest, the first feature by Navajo director Sidney Freeland. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Saturday and will screen three more times this week. (See the film's page at sundance.org for more information.) It is one of the most anticipated films of the Festival; Sundance founder Robert Redford believed in it so much that he signed on as executive producer.
The title comes from a 1980s report on ABC's 20/20 about the substance abuse problems in Gallup, New Mexico. The film follows three Native youths: young father-to-be Luther SickBoy Maryboy (Jeremiah Bitsui), who is preparing to go into basic training; Nizhoni Smiles (MorningStar Angeline), a Native American girl who has been adopted by a white couple; and Felixia (Carmen Moore), a transsexual who dreams of being a model. Elizabeth Frances plays Angela Maryboy, the mother of Felixia's child.
Frances’ mother was from the Philippines, and her father was Cherokee and Caucasian. Frances was born in Okinawa, Japan — her father was also a U.S. Marine — and grew up mostly in northern San Diego. Frances says she had wanted to be an actress since she was a child. After receiving her degree from CalArts, she appeared in a play at the Autry Theater’s Native Voices series, where she was seen by Freeland, who cast her in what would eventually become Drunktown’s Finest. But it took three years for Freeland to get the funding for the film.
“The problem, honestly, was they were having a hard time selling a Native American story,” Frances, speaking by phone from Park City, told ICTMN. “It’s such a shame that for Native American stories, or any minority stories, the outlook is that it has to make a lot of money or it’s not worthwhile. I think they are just perpetuating something that isn’t true.”
Once Freeland did secure finances, the film was shot in just 18 days. “The whole process was really quick because we had a limited budget,” Frances recalls. “The crew was amazing; when we went to a location they wanted to block it and go. When you shoot like that you don’t get all the angles that you want, but you make it work, and because everyone had that attitude, it ran smoothly. I’ve found any time I work on a project that has a Native American story the crew tends to be like that, you feel very communal.”
You will be seeing more of Elizabeth Frances soon; she is starring in the upcoming horror film Ghost Forest.