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Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Navajo filmmaker Arlene Bowman: Reflections, Amiens, France

By Arlene Bowman, Dine' filmmaker
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Photos copyright Arlene Bowman (Photo one: Mirror self portrait. Photo 2 Group photo (L) Chad Burris' partner, producer & Chad Burris, Reaghan Tarbell, someone who is organizing a film festival, Bennie Klain, Leighton C Peterson. Bottom row seated: Carlos Pienado, Sam.
FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DU FILM D'AMIENS at Amiens, France happened from November 12-21, 2010 where I and other Indigenous filmmakers showed our film-video works. I had not traveled outside of North America since 2000 and I am a traveler type.

I was unable to view some of the films and videos that screened although I wanted to such as: "In the Footsteps of Yellow Woman, "Paatwaqatsi: Water, Land and Life," "Wapikon Mobile" and "Shimasani," but was able to view: "A Thousand Roads," Four Sheets to the Wind, Good Night Irene," "The Cave," "Conversion," "Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back," "The Return of Navajo Boy," "WaterBuster," "Weaving Worlds" and "Kissing by Lightning," which I enjoyed a lot. Also, I showed "The Graffiti," the experimental drama I made. The program I was in were all dramas, thirty minutes or less. We all had two screenings. I missed the first screening on November 12th because I had not arrived. The repeat took place on November 18th. Most of the producers and filmmakers showed up such as Chad Burris, producer for Sterling Harjo, Bennie Klain and Leighton C. Peterson for "Weaving Worlds," Carlos Peinado for "WaterBuster," Shelley Niro for" Kissing by Lightning," Reaghan Tarbell for "Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back" and myself, Arlene Bowman. We screened and afterwards answered the question/answer. The program was a retrospective of Indigenous films and videos mostly made by Indigenous filmmakers from North America.

Jean Pierre Garcia is the director of Festival International du Film d' Amiens, and Gilles Lapre'prevotte helped to program it. Through the 2010 Amiens film festival, Gilles Lapre'prevotte and Thierry Roche wrote a book called "Indian's Song,"a description about Indigenous films/videos from the past to the present.

The Festival International du d' Film d' Amiens previously has held Indigenous film-video retrospectives with the Indigenous filmmakers present. As an independent Dine' filmmaker, my point-of-view is that the French and German nations of all the European nations have been the most active to promote, are attracted and motivated enough to invite Indigenous filmmakers to speak and present their films-videos at their festivals. I have attended previous Festival International du Film d' Amiens in the 90's, but since July 1997 I had not been invited to any film festival. 00 I attended a gathering in New Zealand where Maori and other Indigenous women filmmakers presented-screened their works, but it was not a film festival. That event was the last time I saw Merita Mita, a Maori filmmaker, one of few Indigenous women who has made a dramatic feature. She died in 2010. Also, I have not made film or video projects continuously since 1994-04 like other filmmakers which is a goal for most filmmakers, but hard to do, although I wished I could have. Great gaps in in between film-video projects in my life. It is and has been difficult to financially survive as a filmmaker. Other filmmakers are way luckier, especially the male Indigenous filmmakers. As you know the filmmaker raises the money and then makes the project. It has taken me twenty-six years to be able to learn how to write a successful film or video proposal with a budget to obtain funding. My proposals have been rejected many times. However, this proves that a person who does not write film-video proposals very well can greatly improve. Practice makes perfect and not to give up, but at times I felt like giving up. Also, I like to get to know other Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers, but sometimes there are barriers created to keep the distance, which I do not understand. Could it be competition among all the Indigenous filmmakers? Or is a hierarchy present? In 1997 I showed the "Navajo Talking Picture," the first film I made at Prades Festival of Films, the Cine-Recontres at Prades, France in July 1997. There I met Christi a French woman who helped to organize the front desk at the film festival. She travelled by train four hours to the north from the south to attend and view "The Graffiti." I had not seen or talked to her in person since August 1997. She is the only French person from France I really know a lot. I do not know many French people other than her. I was told people at Amiens remembered me when my hair was long to my waist. Now my hair is short.

It was fun to meet other Indigenous filmmakers and producers I had heard about such as Chad Burris with his partner, Shelley Niro and to meet the new ones such as Bennie Klain, Leighton C. Peterson and Carlos Peinado. In Amiens I did things by myself and with the new friends such as to attend film-video screenings. Also, sometimes we all ate together at restaurants during the week. We did some sight seeing of Amiens together such as to visit the floating gardens.

About the Indigenous films and videos: the dramas and documentaries I viewed, I liked them all. More and more Indigenous people make dramas such as "The Cave" by Helen Haig-Brown, but the documentary filmmaking will continue on such as with Weaving Worlds by Bennie Klain and Leighton C. Peterson. Especially I liked Shelley Niro's Kissing by Lightning because it was a dramatic film, which featured a female Indigenous lead actor, Kateri Walker. Shelley Niro expressed to me and to the public, I made this film because there are not many film dramas which feature an Indigenous female lead character. I expressed to her, that is the exact reason why I made the Graffiti, too.

From the film festival, the people I became better acquainted with were the translators who translated English to French: Susan Christophe, Andrew Christophe-Brown and Eleonore. Susan Christophe was Andrew's mother. She translated at previous film festivals. Curious bunch. I do not speak French. When I needed translation even anything not related to the festival such as when I lost my eye glasses: for example, Elenore helped out and she did not mind to help. Elenore spoke to the young woman at the cafe and she asked if she had seen some eye glasses on the table or on the floor, the day I lost them. They eventually showed up before I left. Whew!

In Amiens I walked around on my own because I like to be alone and walk about. If I could have, I would have bought a bike in Amiens and biked around more because I like to bike and it is how I get around in Vancouver and Surrey BC. I walked up street boulevards in Amiens. On one street I noticed a lot of young people hung out. Youth were not white, French. Those French youth had black hair, dark skin and dressed in the hip hop style of North America. They looked like they stemmed from India, Pakistan and Turkey. Another time, I visited the cathedral in the middle of town in the fog. I was informed about a pitch session of screenplays happening in Amiens if I wished to attend it, but I was unable to. Now I now wished I could have, but I could only do so much in the days presented. Also, I like to look at clothes. Andrew Christophe-Brown showed me some places to go to. I could not afford to buy the clothes, but to look at what is out there is okay. There seems to be more variety of shoes in France than in the U.S. and Canada, which I liked a lot. It seems that most French people dress up in the latest style from the very young to older; for example, a lot of women wore calf length or knee high boots. Definitely France is different in this way than the U.S and Canada because North Americans do not constantly really dress up. I think North Americans dress down more. North Americans who have money dress up more; yet, at the same time, I have been to parties in the U.S. and noticed people who have money, they dress down as well. In the U.S. it is a mixture of dress up and down which I like.

Besides the dependence to speak French to get by on, the French peoples' esthetics differs from North America. This point-of-view shows up in the way their cafes and buildings looks. French use bright colors and lights to design their buildings. Hate to say it, but when I returned back to North America to Seattle International Airport, their airport looked drab compared to Charles-de-Gaulle airport. Possibly this links up with the fashion scene I viewed.

On my way back I stayed two days in Paris and did more sight seeing of places not seen before such as still photo shows. Lots to do in two days. Viewed lots of graffiti painted upon walls in Amiens and Paris, which most likely happens world wide. When I first came to France during November 1986, I disliked French people and France. I hated Paris. In my travel experiences the Espanol people from South America, Centro America and Mexico were far more friendlier than the French to meet as strangers. The experience to show the "Navajo Talking Picture" in Southern France in July 1997 and with the French people I met, totally changed my prejudice 360 degrees. The terrain mattered. Combined the weather was like Los Angeles and Arizona: drier. I expressed this to Christi. Maybe it was better not to like Paris in the beginning. This last time when I visited Paris and France in November 2010, I said to Christi, Paris is a city made for the artist such as the filmmaker, painter, dancer, still photographer, the writer, fashion designer and other types of artists. I took lots of pictures of Amiens and Paris. I wish I had a small digital video camera, but I did not have one. I hope that with the filmmakers I met at Amiens we can continue to assist each other and keep up the contact. To attend and screen "The Graffiti" at the Festival International du Film d' Amiens was a highlight, one among few artistic highlights to happen in 2010, but I am grateful. Thank you.

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