SEATTLE—For young Native filmmakers, there’s nothing comparable to the crucible of cinematography offered by the SuperFly Filmmaking Experience.
Working in teams with an original script by a prominent writer, filmmakers have 36 hours to storyboard, shoot and edit their films. Within four hours of completion, the films premiere at the SuperFly and Native Showcase Shorts Program screening as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.
“To bring together 50 youth and 30 mentors from across the country to collaborate on such a concentrated project is an amazing and truly unique experience,” said Lou Karsen, SuperFly coordinator and program coordinator for Longhouse Media, speaking before the event. “The energy leading up to this year’s SuperFly is palpable. If the laws of physics hold up, the collective work will prove spectacular.”
On May 31, 50 young filmmakers from around the U.S. convened in Seattle for the seventh annual SuperFly Filmmaking Experience. The event was organized by Longhouse Media and this year included five multimedia interns sponsored by Native American Public Telecommunications: Dylan Elwood, Chippewa; Andre Graves, Shoshone-Bannock; Leilani Pavel, Skokomish/Yakama/Muckleshoot; Shelby Ray, Navajo; Erica Thomas, Yu’pik.
Divided into five teams, the filmmakers were provided an original script written by Sierra Teller Ornelas, Navajo, a former film programmer at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and a writer for the ABC sitcom Happy Endings. (Past SuperFly scripts have been written by Sherman Alexie, Spokane; Peter Bratt, Quechua; Sterlin Harjo, Seminole/Creek; and Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Inupiat.)
In this Q&A, Longhouse Media director Tracy Rector, Seminole/Choctaw, tells Indian Country Today Media Network how SuperFly is helping develop a new generation of storytellers, and how digital media can be a tool for self-expression, cultural preservation and social change.
How are past students using their SuperFly experience?
We’re seven years old now and quite a few of our past students are mentors this year. Rose Stiffarm (Blackfoot, Tsartlip, Cowichan) just graduated from Capilano University’s Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking program. Three of our past students—Donavan Seschillie, Jake Hoyungowa and Deidre Lynn Peaches (Navajo)—were the youngest filmmakers to have a film at Sundance (“The Rocket Boy,” 2011). They’ve returned as SuperFly mentors. At least 10 of our students have gone on to pretty strong filmmaking careers.
What SuperFly is doing is meeting our mission to break that glass ceiling in filmmaking. SIFF—the Seattle International Film Festival—is a top-tier film festival. It’s very competitive.
SIFF receives thousands of submissions every year. But our SuperFly films are automatically entered into SIFF’s SuperFly and Native Showcase Shorts Program. So it’s a great opportunity to have your work seen.
How did SuperFly come about?
SuperFly is based on SIFF’s Fly Filmmaking Competition, in which four directors have 10 days to make a film. I was selected this year; we just had a premiere of our film.
In the same way, SuperFly is guerrilla filmmaking. Students have 36 hours to make a film, and they get to work with a real film crew.
How is a student selected for SuperFly?
We choose students who have a real strong desire to learn. Students fill out an online application, and write an essay about their experience and their interest in wanting to learn filmmaking. Every year, we try to get students from around the country. We really want a nice diversity of students.
Students experience all there is to making a film, but in a condensed timeframe. Sounds like an incredible challenge. What is that experience like for them?
Students arrive here Thursday and are divided into five production groups. Each group has until Saturday at 6 a.m. to complete their film, and each film is shown at SIFF later that day.
I think it’s mind-blowing for a lot of our students. They talk about the feeling of success that they feel. Some of them have had a lot of hardships in their lives. Coming to SuperFly, working real hard and having the immediate gratification of a completed film – it’s the highlight of their year.
How does the individual student’s personal experiences contribute to the filmmaking process?
I think it’s a good way to safely deal with a lot of the emotions and the life issues. Also, students find their own power and their own voice. Being able to impact what’s going in their own world is powerful. They find that they can use their cameras to make a difference. They begin seeing themselves as part of the bigger picture.
What a wonderful experience it must be for you to see these young people grow as filmmakers and digital storytellers.
We’ve been doing this for seven and a half years now. The seeds that we planted have become plants that are now starting to spread seeds. To see our students become filmmakers and teachers is pretty humbling.
Our films are going all over the world—New York, Santa Fe, Washington, D.C., France, Spain. SuperFly is an experience for 36 hours, but it broadens their life experience for a long time.
What can you tell us about Sierra Ornelas, this year’s writer, and her script?
She wrote “Cupcakes,” a comedy that explores the theme of “spectacular,” for this year’s SuperFly. She’s a writer for the ABC sitcom Happy Endings. She’s a graduate of the University of Arizona, worked as a film programmer at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts Summer Television & Film Workshop and the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Fall Television Writers Program.
It’s super exciting to have her involved. She’s young, she’s made it in the industry, and she’s gotten to know our students.
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Those attending the SuperFly screening also watched the Seattle premiere of “Visionary Insight,” a documentary about the making of the film, Winter in the Blood. Rector and Karsen co-directed the documentary with the assistance of Stiffarm. To watch past Longhouse Media films or excerpts, visit www.longhousemedia.org/media.html.
The 2012 SuperFly Filmmaking Experience was funded by Makah Indian Nation; The Suquamish Tribe; Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc.; National Museum of the American Indian; Seattle Indian Health Board; United Indians of All Tribes Foundation; Cafe Presse; Caffe Vita; DGTL/NVJO; Eltana; The Essential Baking Company; Piecora’s Pizza; Red Eagle Soaring; SpiritWalk; Tully’s Coffee; and Whole Foods Market.