NOW PLAYING ONLINE: http://futurestates.tv/episodes/6th-world
By Brenda Norrell
With an original and brilliant story by writer/director Ninobah Becker, Navajo actors Jeneda Benally and Roger Willie deliver incredible performances in a new short sci-fi film, available online as of today, May 8. The story is not only a look at the future, but is based on Navajo legends, and reveals the beauty of Dine' songs and the beauty of the land. There's never a way to go wrong with cinematography at Monument Valley.
Roger Willie of Windtalkers also delivers a powerful performance as General Bahe, especially when he speaks of Navajo corn, and how it is a gift of the Holy People.
Becker describes how the legends and sci-fi mystery came together in a profound way on the red earth.
"Navajos on Mars was the kernel of the idea that led me to this film. Perfect, I thought, Navajos already live in a red desert! I was re-imagining Navajo emergence stories and found it vital to shoot on the Navajo Nation, within our sacred mountains where these stories were born. From the beginning, I knew the perfect spot on the reservation would be Monument Valley," Becker said.
In the The 6th World Navajo Astronaut Tazbah Redhouse, played by Benally, is a pilot on the first spaceship sent to colonize Mars. However, a dream the night before her departure indicates there is more to her mission.
The series Future States asks, "What will happen to our families, our rights, and our economy in the not-so-distant future? These are just some of the questions explored in the third season of FUTURESTATES, an online series of sci-fi shorts."
Produced by the Independent Television Service (ITVS), FUTURESTATES presents narratives created by established filmmakers and emerging talents that transform today’s complex social issues into visions about what life in America will be like in decades to come. The series of shorts is available for free via streaming video on futurestates.tv and simultaneously on pbs.org, and PBS iPhone and iPad application.
First stop: Monument Valley. About a week and a half before principal photography, our DP Kim and I hop into a jeep with a camera and some props to shoot the desert. We drive all day until sundown when Carlos, our location scout and an old friend, leads us into Monument Valley. We camp there under a million stars. We wake before dawn to start shooting in the valley.Filmmaker Bios
Navajos on Mars was the kernel of the idea that led me to this film. Perfect, I thought, Navajos already live in a red desert! I was re-imagining Navajo emergence stories and found it vital to shoot on the Navajo Nation, within our sacred mountains where these stories were born. From the beginning, I knew the perfect spot on the reservation would be Monument Valley.
Through sand and up mesas, searching for cornfields and amazing views, Carlos knew where to go. The red earth desert was amazingly beautiful and the locations stunning. I told Carlos I wanted to shoot a rainbow while we were there, but no luck. On our last day, Kim and I were getting some last shots of corn before heading back to the city. Then I got a text from Carlos: a rainbow was forming in the valley. Sure enough, we looked up and saw it. Thanks Carlos!
Second stop: the San Fernando Valley. From one valley to the next, the rest of the shoot was on a stage in the San Fernando Valley on some steamy hot days toward the end of summer.
Pre-production was a challenge. Futuristic sci-fi is difficult on a limited budget, but Mars, our production designer, and her crew did an elegant job. Kim and Ashish and their crew worked extremely hard, enduring the heat of those dog days of summer. Alax and Claudia (hair and make-up) were amazing. Ken, our producer, and David, our first assistant director, along with Fred, Camille, and all the production assistants worked tremendously hard to make the film happen. Kevin was a pro.
I also had a committed, caring cast. Jeneda, who lives in Arizona, and Luis rehearsed over Skype. I wrote the part of General Bahe for Roger Willie, only knowing him from a John Woo film years ago. (It took a few weeks to track him down via word on mouth on the rez. Luckily, he graciously agreed to play the part.) Leith is an amazing talent who was wonderful to work with on this film.
The last day on the stage we shot Jeneda chanting in front of the green screen. Visual effects were completely new to me, and Adam, our fantastic visual effects supervisor, was there to guide. Jeneda shined in her performance that day, and we were feeling good about the stuff we got. Later, she would be riding that rainbow to Mars.
—Nanobah Becker, Writer/Director
Nanobah BeckerWriter, Director
Filmmaker Nanobah Becker earned her MFA in directing from Columbia University in 2006. Her shorts Flat and Conversion (official selection, Sundance Film Festival) have screened around the world. Her screenplay Into the Ring got her a Sundance Institute-Ford Fellowship, and she was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship for her screenplay Full, which went on to the Tribeca All Access program. Becker’s producer credits include the award-winning Navajo-language short Shimásání (Tribeca and Sundance film festivals). She is a native of Albuquerque and a graduate of Brown University.
Ken Kristensen received an MFA from Columbia University’s film school, where he distinguished himself by being the only student in the history of the school to win all three screenplay awards with three different scripts. While still in film school he was selected to both the Sundance and IFP labs, and worked as an associate producer onSorry, Haters. After graduation, he sold two scripts to Image Comics and Dark Horse Entertainment, both of which will be published as graphic novels in 2011. Kristensen’s producer credits include seasons of JAIL, Las Vegas Jailhouse, and Road Warriors.
Cast BiosLuis Aldana – Doctor Smith
Luis Aldana is a graduate of UCLA and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He has worked with Peter Sellars in the adaptation of Gean Genet’s The Screens. He has also worked extensively with the Latino Theater Company, where he was part of the lab that created and performed the award-winning piece Melancholia. Aldana has starred in a number of films, including Crabgrass Manifesto, The Silent Cross,Pelea de Gallos, The Invitation, and For The Love of Money. He co-founded Cinetico Productions.
Jenada Benally – Tazbah Redhouse
Jeneda Benally is Dine’ (Navajo) born into the heart of the Navajo Hopi land dispute. Her clans are Bi’ee’lichii’ii, born for To’dichiinii. Her maternal grandparents are Polish and her paternal grandparents are Naakai Dine’. As the bass player and singer in the musical group Blackfire, Benally has toured the world with her siblings to bring social and environmental injustice to an international stage. This is her first lead role acting experience.
Leith Burke – Corporate Official
Leith Burke’s theater credits include Judgment at Nuremberg with Maximillian Schell on Broadway, three seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Tempest with David Strathairn at A.C.T., Antony and Cleopatra at the Guthrie Theater, and the world premiere of Neighbors at the Matrix. His film and television credits include Black August, Brother to Brother, various Law and Orders, C.S.I. NY, Criminal Minds, Dark Blue, West Wing, Medium, and Numb3rs, among others. He is currently working on the second season of the web series The Steps.
Navajo educator, artist, and actor Roger Willie made his screen debut in John Woo's Windtalkers—a role which was informed by his own experience serving in the U.S. Army's elite 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, NC. This led to additional roles in Adaptation, Edge of America, Lost Stallion: The Journey Home, and Wesley. Willie is also an accomplished visual artist who teaches art and coaches high school football in Thoreau, New Mexico.
Brian Smolensky - Guard
Brian Smolensky graduated at the top of his class at the United States Air Force Academy where he studied Humanities and Philosophy, but also found time for acting and directing through the Academy's production company, BlueBards. Following his service as a U.S. Air Force pilot, Smolensky began to pursue acting, writing, and directing full-time. On stage he has performed in Hamlet, The Glass Menagerie, A Few Good Men, and Henry V. His film and television credits include roles in Prison Break,Disrupt/Dismantle, The Gadarene Swine, and Recalled.