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Nia Tero is a proud supporter of Big Sky Film Festival 2023. Photo by Kiliii Yuyan, graphic design by Cindy Chischilly.

February 17, 2023

Indigenous Storytelling and Narrative Sovereignty at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 2023

Nancy Kelsey

Nia Tero is excited to sponsor the 2023 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival - a trusted longtime ally to Indigenous Peoples and advocate for narrative sovereignty.

The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival convenes annually in Missoula, Montana. It will be held from Feb. 17-26.

“Big Sky is an excellent forum for Indigenous filmmakers because of its long track record in both building capacity for creatives to grow in their careers and craft, as well as the ample opportunities offered to filmmakers to build their industry contacts and networks,” said Tracy Rector, Nia Tero Managing Director, Storytelling. “In addition, Missoula is a very welcoming and hospitable city that is open and affirming to all types of visitors.”

Narrative sovereignty is a central tenet of Nia Tero’s storytelling mission, a way to support the sharing of Indigenous stories by the Indigenous Peoples who are best able to tell them comprehensively as members of their Indigenous communities. Historically, this has been a challenge in media, with non-Indigenous Peoples taking those reigns. Narrative sovereignty upholds the power of Indigenous Peoples to tell their own stories.

When Indigenous Peoples have access to mentorship, resources and the tools to build their capacity to tell their own stories we all benefit from a more holistic array of cultural vitality and expression. We begin to better understand true histories, nuanced stories, ways to be in healthier relationship to the Earth and one another and break long held stereotypes and misperceptions that have been perpetuated by an industry historically not inclusive to diverse voices.

4th World Media Lab

This year at Big Sky, we are launching the 8th Cohort of 4th World Media Lab fellows in partnership with our collective allies in this work of amplifying Indigenous stories.

Six Indigenous filmmakers have been selected to participate in this year-long fellowship for emerging and mid-career Indigenous filmmakers, providing opportunities to develop filmmaking skills and networks through festival participation, hands-on training, masterclasses, workshopping projects in development, pitch activities, and meetings with funders and other industry decision-makers. Fellowship activities take place at Camden International Film Festival (CIFF), Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). The program is a collaborative partnership between the festivals and Nia Tero. The Points North Institute in Camden provides a vast network of peer and industry mentors and resources at CIFF, including access to the Points North Forum and opportunities for one-on-one connections with future collaborators and funders.

4th World is a concept that was shared by a Coast Salish elder. It is the story about a time when the environment and the earth are suffering, and Indigenous storytelling functions as the medicine to create healing. The 4th World Media Lab experience has been designed to uplift Indigenous voices and perspectives through artist fellowship, immersion in industry events and Indigenous project development as we collectively envision a future more whole.

Kin Theory Doc Shop

The Kin Theory team will be represented at Big Sky and invite attendees to join them for the “Kin Theory DocShop Panel at Big Sky: Caring for Story by Caring for Community.”

The session will focus on documentary film’s long history of inequitable extractive practices often made by outsiders to communities for their personal gain. Experienced Indigenous creators will discuss community-focused and accountable filmmaking practices that center care and reciprocity, leading to respectful collaboration (making films 'with' instead of 'about'), authentic storytelling, and narrative sovereignty that honors the creatives, the subjects, and the audience. Moderated by Tracy Rector of Nia Tero, with panelists including filmmaker David Hernández Palmar (Wayuu, IIPUANA Clan) from If Not Us Then Who? and Reciprocity Project.

It will take place on Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. MT. Click here for more info and to RSVP.

Kin Theory is a global community of Indigenous media makers that supports the telling and sharing of our own stories. Our goal is to make more visible the vital work by Indigenous creatives that has already begun, as well as to enhance opportunities for Indigenous narrative sovereignty. As an Indigenous creative, you’re invited to create a profile to highlight your work and access other working Indigenous creatives. As a non-Indigenous ally, whether in the industry or not, you are welcome to explore our resources, learn about the work of our Indigenous creatives, and connect to our members for projects.

See You There, or Watch Online!

People can watch the many great Indigenous made films programmed at Big Sky this year in person or online.

In addition, please follow the projects and careers of this wonderful 4th World Media Lab cohort and past cohorts by visiting the 4th World fellowship page.

It’s an exciting moment to build bridges with diverse communities in support of Indigenous narrative sovereignty while also bringing awareness to the importance of Indigenous guardianship and environmental protection.