It’s 2085 on Pine Ridge. The reservation has been quarantined and borders guarded by the military for 30 years. Sparked by the ramifications of the Keystone XL pipeline, the war between the government and the insurgency lasted for eight years and resulted in the dystopian setting that provides the background for "The People," the inaugural project from Indigene Studios.
Based out of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Indigene was co-founded in April by Willi White, Oglala Lakota, and Angel White Eyes, Oglala Lakota and Ojibwa. Both graduated from Red Cloud Indian School in 2008 and then from college—White from Creighton University and White Eyes from Oglala Lakota College—in 2013 with arts degrees. Since high school, they have dreamed of being able to provide a platform for Natives to tell their own stories using film, theater and photography.
The People, a 15-minute short film, is the first culmination of those dreams.
“This is our way of giving back to our communities but also expressing ourselves,” White said. “Non-Natives always come here and sell the same narrative to the mainstream media. We want to change that narrative and give a voice to the stories that are already here.”
Written by Isnala Belt, Oglala Lakota, the film follows a 26-year-old Oglala protagonist, Itancan, played by Marcus Bear Eagle, Oglala Lakota, through his struggle to break free from the militaristic quarantine and fight for his people’s rights and freedom.
“It’s a great introduction piece for the studio because it relates to the mainstream as well,” White said, noting that environmental issues and popular dystopian films such as The Hunger Games can appeal to everyone, not just Natives.
White said inspiration for the film came from one of his photographs, now the main image used to promote the film. The aesthetic of the photograph inspired Belt to create the apocalyptic setting found in the script. According to White, Belt served in the military and has an extensive knowledge of fighting tactics and weaponry, which helped with accuracy.
The film is currently being funded via an IndieGoGo campaign. As of this posting, the campaign has five days left and still needs a little more than $5,000 to meet the $8,000 goal.
Most of the funds raised will go toward renting the equipment necessary to produce the film. With plans to shoot for five days at the beginning of October and festival submission deadlines looming at the end of October, the team plans on doing a quick turnaround—after production and editing, Indigene plans to submit the film to various film festivals, including South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Long-term goals for the studio include creating larger scale projects such as feature films (including expanding "The People" into a full-length feature film) and documentaries, as well as setting up a permanent studio space on Pine Ridge for other Native filmmakers to rent and use.
“We also want to continue to build relationships with others in the industry and find support from them,” White said.
More information can be found at the film’s IndieGoGo campaign site (indiegogo.com/projects/the-people-a-short-film-by-indigenous-filmmakers) and at Indigenestudios.com. Contributions to the campaign can be made in sums ranging from $5 to $,5000.