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Indigenous Film Festival Brings Movies, Cross-Cultural Discussion To Missoula

The second annual Indigenous Film Festival will begin at 5:30 pm. Friday, May 18 at the Missoula Community Theater.

The second annual Indigenous Film Festival takes place this weekend, featuring not just films but also panel discussions, art exhibits, food at music at the Missoula Community Theater.

Ivan MacDonald is a Blackfeet tribal member with Shoshone heritage, and a therapist at the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center, one of the organizations sponsoring the event.

He says that what began as a way to help the local community get to know the center better has grown into a celebration of storytelling and resiliency, and a rare opportunity for cross-cultural understanding.

I spoke to MacDonald this week about the festival's ethos of indigenous resiliency, and what viewers can expect this weekend.

Olga Kreimer: What are you most excited about that's coming up this weekend?

Ivan MacDonald: We have panel discussions after all of our sort of big headlining films, and most of the panelists are from the community. So we're having fellow filmmakers, academics, activists. Last year we found that discussion was really enriching for a lot of people, because a lot of the time there isn't really chances to do that cross-community, cross-cultural discussion, and we really try to foster that.

We hand-pick each film to ensure the quality, what the community will be seeing, and to really try to ensure that if it's not an indigenous person directing it, that it is really centered in indigenous stories.

OK: Can you tell me a little about the power of storytelling? Specifically, I know a lot of the stories that come out about indigenous communities are often a little tone-deaf, or focused on maybe the wrong things. What's the effect and what's the meaning of having this festival dedicated to indigenous stories, led by people from indigenous communities? What can that do, do you think?

IM: I think that's really important. I think this is really a chance as indigenous people to sort of control the narrative around us. Even studies show that most of the education or exposure non-Natives have to Native American people or indigenous people are through media. So I think this is a really good chance, even if this wasn't really something we blatantly planned when we first started, I think the ability to really showcase indigenous stories, but also be able to sort of facilitate that discussion around them. You know, we may see something on the screen, and the fact that there's a group of indigenous people there, like, hey, you know, this is sort of a fact for a lot of people on the reservation. There's so many of these different facets that happen that provide a lot of context.

OK: What are you expecting or hoping the presence of this kind of artistic event over the weekend might have on the work that you do here at the center?

IM: I think Native Americans are just storytellers in general. We pass down our oral history through storytelling. Storytelling is really central to a lot of indigenous cultures. We have storytelling-based workshops, so we do a digital cultural storytelling workshops for clients, which is really trying to get them to tell their stories of resiliency through media.

We've done short videos. We'll actually be doing some short videos on the 19th that we did with past clients. And I just think it's important to understand that storytelling is really central to us, and that's really what we're looking for, and we do that a lot in general. A lot of our programming is sort of centered around that, even if it's not a central tenet, it's sort of that storytelling piece and sharing stories. Because so many of our clients and so many of the people in the community, we have stories, but they're not often heard. So we think that giving this space during the festival for that, we think it's really important for the people to know that it's there.

We really try to center on films that focus on resiliency. We think there's so many narratives out there of historical trauma, a lot of the deficiencies in Native communities; and while we think that's important to showcase, because it is a reality, we also try to focus on films that also celebrate the resiliency of Native people, and the fact that, you know, Native people have been surviving on this continent for milleniums, really. Carrying over from last year, I just think celebrating indigenous resiliency, even if that's not sort of our big focus, I think that's probably our core tenet, probably the ethos of the festival.

OK: The second annual Indigenous Film Festival will begin at 5:30 pm. Friday, May 18 at the Missoula Community Theater.

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