MOVIES/Ed Rampell

Strong Women and New Paradigms Highlight Native Women in Film Festival

Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline—and the role of women leaders—was a central theme at the Native Women in Film Film Festival, held Feb. 23 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Founded by Joanelle Romero, the festival featured Ojibwe Nation tribal member Winona LaDuke along with Pearl Means, widow of American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, who flew in from North Dakota to present the documentary she executive produced, End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock.

The event kicked off with Daniela Riojas’ Standing Rock: A New Nation, a short that explores the heightened consciousness created by the massive resistance to the pipeline. Riojas describes the ad hoc city-state that mushroomed at the Oceti Sakowin camp as “a Mecca for activists.” The short also highlights the theme unifying so many different activists. As Lakota tribesman Isidore Zephier explains: “It comes down to one thing: everybody drinks water.”

William Michael Day, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, makes an appearance, describing how former armed forces personnel once charged with protecting fossil fuel interests abroad, are flipping the script at Standing Rock “to help protect against the multi-billion dollar corporations that are raping and pillaging the land.” He described the movement at Standing Rock as offering “a new paradigm.”

The transformative theme was also stressed by Savannah Thunder in Choctaw/Seminole director Tracy Rector’s Portraits From Standing Rock, a 35-minute short consisting of interviews largely shot in black and white and close up. Jane Fonda, a campaigner for native rights since at least the 1969 American Indian takeover of Alcatraz, makes an appearance along with Thunder, a young indigenous woman who lived at the people’s republic of Standing Rock for four months. Thunder spoke about the new awareness spawned by the occupation and opposition: “Everyone is loving, welcoming. They make you feel like a giant. The young people are fearless. They have restored pride in our people.”

In End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock, Emmy Award-winning director Shannon Kring, who specializes in indigenous issues, takes another look at the anti-DAPL struggle from a female point of view. She made an appearance at the festival with Pearl Means, who told the audience her late husband, prominent Oglala Lakota activist Russell Means said before his death in 2012: “The hope lies with the women.”

Winona LaDuke is the subject of First Daughter and the Black Snake. Director Keri Pickett described her 104-minute documentary of LaDuke as “the prequel to Standing Rock,” because of LaDuke’s long fight against a proposed pipeline near her Minnesota home.

Joanelle Romero’s provocative American Holocaust: When It’s All Over I’ll Still Be Indian contends that Hitler drew inspiration from American ethnic cleansing of tribal people, quoting the slogan attributed to General Philip Sheridan: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Romero pointed out that her film is the only work by an indigenous filmmaker to have been shortlisted for an Academy Award.

Toronto-born actress Michelle St. John (Pocahontas, Smoke Signal) makes her directorial debut with Colonization Road, about Canada’s version of Manifest Destiny. Hosting this 50-minute exposé, Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon provides pointed commentary about how Canada’s First Nations came under white rule and attempted to “eliminate the indigenous way of life” during the settlement of the “Dominion.”

By presenting the often overlooked female indigenous point of view, the filmmakers of the Native Women in Film Film Festival are pathfinders, blazing new trails in cinema and culture. For more info see:

L.A.-based critic and film historian Ed Rampell is the presenter and programmer of Ten Films That Shook the World, a monthly cinematic centennial celebration of the Russian Revolution taking place through November 7, 2017, at the Los Angeles Workers Center. This originally appeared at

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017

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