NEW YORK — Another important film event took place outside the multiplex scene recently: the ninth Native American Film and Video Festival, presented by the National Museum of the American Indian, a division of the Smithsonian Institution, located at the George Gustav Heye Center in Manhattan.
While this festival kept its focus on tribal and independent productions relating to indigenous people of the Americas, its program featured an impressively wide range of works reflecting the enormous variety and productivity of native cultures. Participating filmmakers, video artists, and speakers represented not only North American tribes - Navajo, Crow, Cherokee, and others - but also groups from Latin America, Hawaii, Samoa, and Australia, to give just a partial list. The subjects covered were similarly diverse, programmed into series with titles ranging from "Cultural Memory" and "Women's Voices" to "Land and Life" and "Healing and Ritual."
The festival got off to an energetic start with "The Hero," directed by Canadian activist Gary Farmer, whom moviegoers will see as an actor later this year in "Dead Man," the superb new Jim Jarmusch western. Telling the seriocomic tale of two urban Iroquois men who reclaim an Indian artifact with help from a Clan Mother spirit, Farmer's video combines lively storytelling with a worthwhile message about sustaining traditional values in the contemporary world. It was followed by the world premiere of Sandra Sunrising Osawa's documentary "Pepper's Powwow," about the creative music of the late Jim Pepper, who brought distinctive Indian inflections to highly listenable jazz.
Organized with an imaginative touch that suited its heterogeneous content, the festival supplemented film and video screenings with unusual features like a Radio Kiosk, offering selections from native American radio shows, and a Video Kiosk that showed a continuous stream of music videos, news broadcasts, and other fare.
The event was assembled by Elizabeth Weatherford, who runs the museum's Film and Video Center, and many collaborators. It filled a conspicuous gap in recent film exhibition, and one hopes another edition will follow in its footsteps next year.