The NativeLab program, a film workshop for promising American Indian auteurs, is put on each year by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute; the first of its two stages is happening this week on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in Mescalero, New Mexico.
This stage consists of five days of intense workshops with veteran filmmakers. This year, the creative advisors are Joan Tewkesbury, a seasoned TV writer and director who also wrote screenplays for the Robert Altman films Thieves Like Us and Nashville; Sterlin Harjo, two-time “best film” award winner at the American Indian Film Festival, for Four Sheets to the Wind and Barking Water; Taika Waititi, a Maori actor and director whose film Boy has won numerous awards at film festivals; and Allison Anders, director of such features as Mi Vida Loca, Gas Food Lodging and Things Behind the Sun.
Each of the four NativeLab fellows comes to the event with a project in some phase of development and receives guidance on seeing it to completion. Jason Asenap (Comanche/Muskogee Creek) is working on Rugged Guy, the story of a Native filmmaker struggling to break his writer’s block. Asenap is a veteran of the American Indian Arts/Disney/ABC Summer Television and Film workshop, and is also currently working on a documentary on the history and influence of the Comanche Nation on the Native American Church. Navajo writer/director Daniel Edward Hyde’s project is The Way Things Are, about an urban Indian who seeks refuge from the modern world. Hyde’s 2010 documentary Fast Women, about elite female marathoners, won the award for best documentary at the 2010 Mammoth Film Festival. Ty Sanga (Hawaiian) screened a short film, Stones, at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and is working on Kalama Brothers, about a boy who is trying to reconnect with his estranged family to avoid wingding up in a foster home. Tracy Rector (Seminole/Mississippi Coctaw) is an experienced producer whose documentaries have been shown at festivals and on PBS. She is also the executive director of the Seattle nonprofit indigenous media facilitator Longhouse Media. Her NativeLab project is Clearwater, a story about aboriginal people of Puget Sound.
The second stage of the NativeLab will occur next January at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, when the filmmakers participate in the Native Forum, described in a release as “a vibrant space where Indigenous filmmakers and industry come together to share their expertise with one another at the Festival.”