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It isn’t every film festival that features Native American films, so it was a treat to see these unusual stories at the first annual Tulsa International Film Festival held on Sept. 22-25, 2011. Screening more than 150 short and full-length films from over 20 countries in just four days is a huge undertaking, so I have to commend the staff for their efficiency. The fest was very well run, and most of the movies were screened at a comfortable Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Besides the Native American films, horror genre work was especially featured, as well as student films, but there were also many comedies, dramas, and documentaries to be seen.
My favorite short documentary was Save the Farm by Michael Kuehnert, which also won the festival’s Best Short Documentary award. You can watch it in its entirety on Netflix or Hulu. It is the dramatic story of a community in South Central Los Angeles that began urban farming in order to feed their families more economically but found themselves in a legal battle to keep their farm. Celebrities like Darryl Hannah came to their aid and got arrested in the process.
Another of the documentary shorts was A Message From Pandora by Oscar-winning director James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic), which chronicles a real life Avatar crisis – the battle to stop the building of the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon.
One of the Native American-themed films was the very touching feature-length documentary, Paskenta: Nomlaqa Bōda, about the plight of the Nomlaki Indian tribe and the life of Tribal Elder Everett Freeman, who is interviewed extensively in the film but passed away in 2010. Members of his family, including his widow, were present at the screening, and they spoke about Everett after the film. They couldn’t stop praising the man; he must have been an extraordinary person.
The tribe contacted filmmaker Harry Dawson to create some oral history for them, and the documentary developed out of that over a four-year period. The film is one of those “one person can make a difference” stories, but in this case, it’s absolutely true. It follows Everett’s leadership, as the Nomlaki, according to the film’s website, “face down the U.S. Congress to successfully reclaim their history, restore their sovereignty, and revitalize the culture of a displaced tribe, building a powerful vision of the future.”
My favorite short comedy film was Good News, Oklahoma! by Los Angeles filmmakers Channing Powell and Doug Hannah, who edits the television show, White Collar. While Hannah doesn’t believe the film puts Oklahomans in a bad light, he had some reservations about screening his movie there. Luckily, the locals received it positively. The film is a dark satire about a liberal who creates a show about good news only to find that it has a destructive impact on the community.
Like me, Hannah was very impressed with the staff’s organization of such an enormous event. “It didn’t feel like a first-year festival,” he says. “I was at some festivals that have been going for five or six years that weren’t as well run as this one.”
He enjoyed the experience a great deal, commenting that everyone he met was very nice – from the other filmmakers to the representatives from the Oklahoma Film Commission. “It was very inspiring,” he says. “Someone made a feature-length film for $65,000. My short film cost $25,000!”
Good News, Oklahoma! was shown in a program with other comedy shorts, some of which appear to be pilots for sitcoms. One of these was Kosher Pig by Eric Patton and Moon Cho, which is the story of a young Chinese woman who was adopted by a Jewish family but seeks out her biological parents. Suddenly, she has two dysfunctional families who don’t exactly like each other. With the right cast and writing team, I think this could turn into a long-running show with unlimited opportunities for politically incorrect hilarity.
It’s impossible to mention all of the worthy films screened at the festival. Visit the fest’s website for a list of all films (I skipped the horror movies since I’m not a fan), as well as a list of the winning titles. The big winner was the dramatic Face to Face, an Australian movie by Michael Rymer (Angel Baby) based on a play by David Williamson, which took home the Best Feature award.
As an aside, besides the festival, Tulsa is worth a visit for its terrific museums and fine examples of art deco architecture. If you’re a filmmaker or film lover, I highly recommend checking out the festival in 2012, but take time to also see the city itself.
Also check out: Native Americans in Film: Are They Portrayed Well?
Melanie Votaw is a New York City-based freelance writer and the author of 13 non-fiction books. She’s a former actress/singer/dancer who started performing at age 4 and now loves to write about film and theater. Visit her Web site, Rule the Word, and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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