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Photo courtesy of Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné) from the film MURDER IN BIG HORN.

Photo courtesy of Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné) from the film MURDER IN BIG HORN.

January 18, 2023

Narrative Sovereignty is Reaffirming Indigenous Guardianship at Sundance Film Festival

Nancy Kelsey

At the Sundance Film Festival, taking place January 19-29 in Utah, audiences will have a robust selection of a dozen Indigenous made films that tell the stories of the first peoples from lands around the world. Nia Tero is proud to support Sundance and, in particular, three filmmakers' films that tell the story of the important connections between Indigenous Peoples, their homelands and cultures.

“The relationship between Indigenous Peoples and place is interconnected,” said Tracy Rector, Nia Tero Managing Director, Storytelling. “Not only do Indigenous Peoples hold knowledge to reciprocal relationships but are often responsible for the guardianship of their homelands, while they also grapple with the aftermath of colonization which has often led to displacement and the subsequent perils of removal from land and culture.”

By telling these important stories and sharing them with the world, Indigenous Peoples reclaim their rights and the narratives about themselves in media – work that is long overdue.

Learn more about the three films below by Nia Tero alumni and grantees plus the Indigenous programs at Sundance Film Festival:

Sundance 2023 Murder In Big Horn film still courtesy of Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné)

Photo courtesy of Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné) from the film MURDER IN BIG HORN.

Film 1: MURDER IN BIG HORN by Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné)

Synopsis: The deaths of a group of Native American women in rural Montana are the focus as Native families, journalists, and local law enforcement reveal a violent crisis set in motion almost 200 years ago.

Film Director & Writer: Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné)

Razelle is an alumna of the 4th World Media Lab, of which Nia Tero is a partner member. She is an MFA candidate of Film Production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She was also a 2015 Sundance Institute NativeLab Short Film Production Fellow. She is also a writer for AMC's Dark Winds. She previously directed a PSA promoting the Indigenous Vote featuring Mark Ruffalo, Tonia Jo Hall, and Shailene Woodley. Her short narrative Ókiya was funded by Academy Award Winner Spike Lee. She has received support from the Sundance Institute’s 2018 Creative Producing Summit and has participated in the 2020 Sundance Institute Feature Film Program as part of the Screenwriters Intensive track.

Producer: Ivy MacDonald (Blackfeet)

Ivy is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet tribe of Browning, Montana. She graduated from the University of Montana in 2017 with a BFA in Digital Filmmaking. Over the last three years she has produced and directed work for ESPN, ACLU, and is currently working on her first feature length documentary titled When They Were Here. When They Were Here is a documentary that sheds light on the invisible Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls crisis.

Producer: Ivan MacDonald (Blackfeet)

Ivan is a Blackfeet filmmaker based in Missoula, Montana. He is a director and producer focused on indigenous stories and experience. The most recent project he produced was Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible which aired nationally on ESPN and was just nominated for a Critics Choice Award. He is currently in production for his first feature length documentary titled When They Were Here, which focuses on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis in Montana.

Image of two people walking from the film Fancy Dance.

Photo courtesy of Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga) from the film FANCY DANCE.

Film 2: FANCY DANCE by Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga)

Synopsis: Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact.

Cast: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski

Writer & Director: Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga)

Erica Tremblay is a Nia Tero grantee and alumna of the NATIVe Stand Fellowship Programme, of which Nia Tero is a sponsoring partner. She recently worked as an Executive Story Editor on RESERVATION DOGS at FX, where she directed her first episode of TV for the series. Together with Sterlin Harjo, she is developing a series adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize finalist, YELLOWBIRD, for Paramount+. Erica was an Executive Story Editor on the AMC series, DARK WINDS, produced by George R.R. Martin and Robert Redford. Her feature project, Fancy Dance, was accepted into the 2021 Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Labs. In 2021, she was also awarded the Walter Bernstein Screenwriting Fellowship, the Maja Kristin Directing Fellowship, the SFFILM Rainin Grant, and the Lynn Shelton Of a Certain Age Grant. Her short film, Little Chief, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was included on IndieWire’s top-ten list of must-see short films at the fest. In addition to writing and directing, Erica is also studying her Indigenous language.

Photo of objects on a table from the film MILISUTHANDO by Milisuthando Bongela (Xhosa Nation)

Photo courtesy of Milisuthando Bongela (Xhosa Nation) from the film MILISUTHANDO.

Film 3: MILISUTHANDO by Milisuthando Bongela (Xhosa Nation)

Synopsis: Set in past, present, and future South Africa — an invitation into a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn't know it was happening until it was over.

Writer and Director: Milisuthando Bongela (Xhosa Nation)

 Milisuthando Bongela is an award-winning writer, editor, cultural worker and artist who is also a Nia Tero grantee. Her career began in the fashion industry but the last 15 years has seen her traverse the worlds of music, art, media and film - continually turning towards Indigenous knowledge. For 3 years she was Arts Editor for the Mail & Guardian's Friday section and was host and co-producer of the podcast Umoya: On African Spirituality with Athambile Masola. After 8 years, she has recently completed her first film, a personal essay documentary titled  MILISUTHANDO, which will have its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. She is an inaugural fellow of the 2020 Adobe Women at Sundance Fellowship. Milisuthando lives in Johannesburg.