34th Annual American Indian Film Festival a star studded award showcase

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By Sandra Hale Schulman
San Francisco, California (NFIC) 11-09

Jim Thorpe

The American Indian Film Institute (AIFI), has announced the 34th annual American Indian Film Festival, November 6-14, 2009. The Festival will premiere over 80 innovative feature films, shorts, public service, music videos and documentaries of USA American Indian and Canada First Nation communities.

Founded in 1975, AIFF has established itself as the premiere Native film festival in North America. This year’s selection continues to celebrate the Festival’s tradition for excellence and diversity with powerful music and dance performances and new cinematic expression by cutting-edge media makers.

Public screenings and events will be held for nine days, from Nov. 6-11 at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema, and conclude Nov. 12-14 at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St. @ Bay Street.

“The film festival and awards show are the cornerstone of what we do — provide an opportunity and national venue for emerging and established filmmakers, entertainers and performing artists to convene, renew their artistic spirit and share their gifts,” says Founder/ Director Michael Smith.

Opening the Festival on Nov. 6, is the feature documentary People of the Seal, an in-depth exploration into the insight and understanding of the Netsilik (People of the Seal) who reside in the world’s harshest environment and whose culture is near extinction.  People of the

Seal is preceded by short film Tungijuq (7 min), a story about Inuit seal hunting which stars Inuit singer-artist, Tanya Tagaq and produced by award winning filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner).

Closing the American Indian Film Festival on Nov. 13, is the  dramatic feature film Barking Water (81 min) directed by award- winning director


The late actor
Floyd“Red Crow ”

and AIFF favorite Sterlin Harjo (Four Sheets to the Wind). The film traces the impromptu journey taken by estranged couple Frankie and Irene as they visit the stations of their fractured relationship and learn the meaning of coming home and what it takes to get there. Director Sterlin Harjo and actors Casey Camp- Horinek and Richard Ray Whitman, in attendance for Q&A.

Other Noteworthy Film Selections:

Nov. 7: * Pearl (117) dir. King Hollis- The true story of Pearl Carter Scott, a daring young Chickasaw girl who became the youngest licensed pilot in U.S. history.

*Special screening of Peter Bratt’s (Follow Me Home) powerful second feature film La MISSION (117min) Set in the colorful, seedy streets of the San Francisco district that bears its name, La MISSION is a story of healing and transformation among father and son, in a multi- ethnic neighborhood struggling to break the chains of violence.

Nov. 8: Jim Thorpe Spotlight – A cinematic look into 20th Century’s Greatest Athlete *Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete dir. Tom Weidlinger- Considered the finest athlete of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe was a US Olympic multiple gold medal winner as well as  a star of professional football and baseball. He was a man who used his amazing physical prowess as a way to affirm his American Indian identity in the face of unrelenting efforts to eradicate  Native American culture.

Nov. 12:  * The Only Good Indian (113min) dir. Kevin Willmott - Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teenaged Native American boy (Winter Fox) is taken from his family and forced to  attend a distant Indian “training” school to assimilate into White society.


When he escapes to return his family, Sam Franklin (Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Cherokee descent, is hired to find and return him to the institution. Franklin, a former Indian scout for the U.S. Army, has  renounced his Native heritage and has adopted the White Man’s way of life, believing it’s the only way for Indians to survive. Along the way, a tragic incident spurs Franklin’s longtime nemesis, the famous “Indian Fighter” Sheriff Henry McCoy (J. Kenneth Campbell), to pursue  both Franklin and the boy. Director Kevin Willmott and actor Wes Studi, in attendance for Q&A.

Special Events:

Nov. 12: AIFI Panels @ Radisson Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf                                             

*10:00am – “Native American Women vs. Hollywood Stereotypes”. This panel explores the stereotypes of Native women in Hollywood from the common portrayal of the “Indian Princess” to the modern Native woman today. Panelists include Shirley Cheechoo, Carole Nee-ta-key Marie, Larissa Fasthorse, Annie Frazier - Henry, Kateri Walker and Casey Camp-Horinek.                               

*1pm – Panel hosted by CBS Television Diversity Office, NY                                                                                       

AIFI seminars will be bringing noted industry professionals to San Francisco to teach, inspire and share their knowledge with current and the next generation of media makers. These programs  are free and open to the public.  Must Advance Register.

Nov. 13 – Tribal Touring Program

The American Indian Film Institute (AIFI) is proud to celebrate its ninth year of youth film programs during this year’s Festival.

Nov. 14 – American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show, honoring filmmakers and showcasing contemporary Native American talent, Saturday November 14, 2009 @ the Palace  of Fine Arts beginning at 6:00pm.

Fourteen awards will be presented including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Documentary. The awards show will include a mix of live entertainment by established and emerging Native artists and performers including:

*Joanne Shenandoah: A Grammy Award and 11 time Native American Music award winning artist, Joanne Shenandoah has become one of the most critically acclaimed Native American singers, finding crossover success with her ethereal voice and blend of traditional melodies and contemporary styles.

*Jana Mashonee:, Jana brings a fresh outlook and exotic style to today’s music.  Jana refers to her cultural anomaly as “Urban Indian”. Her powerful voice, coupled with the sensibilities of pop, R&B, world and gospel music create a compelling new mix.

* The Sampson Brothers: Samsoche and Lumhe Micco Sampson are the youngest of the Late Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). They have always been connected to their Native roots through dance. “The Sampson Boys,” as many call them, are known for their hoop dance which they perform in unison to create original formations. They will be performing alongside singer Jana Mashonee.

* The Plateros: Hailing from the Navajo Nation, The Plateros merge blues, rock, gospel, and funk with a positive message. Featuring 16-year-old Levi Platero — whose hard-driving exuberance on guitar is nothing short of extraordinary — his father, Murphy, on bass, and cousin,  Doug, on drums, they have already earned comparisons to such groups as Los Lonely Boys and Indigenous