Montana Public Radio

Documentary Filmmakers Part 2: "Sisters Rising"

Apr 2, 2020

Part 2 of our special series on documentary filmmakers features Willow O'Feral and Brad Heck, the artists behind "Sisters Rising," which screened at the 2020 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The film tracks six Native American women reclaiming personal and tribal sovereignty in the face of ongoing sexual violence against Indigenous women in the United States. In this interview, we'll discuss the historical and modern reinforcers of exploitation, obstacles to justice, and powerful stories of reclamation and healing. Additionally, the filmmakers share reflections of their own sense of privilege and what it means to break the fourth wall. 

Sisters Rising

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About the Film:

Sisters Rising is the story of six Native American women reclaiming personal and tribal sovereignty in the face of ongoing sexual violence against Indigenous women in the United States. 

Dawn was in the Army, now she's a tribal cop in the midst of the North Dakota oil boom that threatens to pull the last threads of her Native culture apart. Sarah is an attorney and scholar fighting to overturn restrictions on tribal sovereignty and increase legislative protections for Native women. Patty teaches Indigenous women's self-defense workshops. Loreline and Lisa are grassroots advocates working outside of the system to support survivors of violence and influence legislative change. Chalsey is writing the first anti-sex trafficking code to be introduced to a reservation's tribal court. 

Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than all other American women. Amnesty International found that 1 in 3 Native women reports having been raped during her lifetime and that 86% of the offenses are committed by non-Native men. Non-Indian perpetrators exploit gaps in tribal jurisdictional authority and target Native women as 'safe victims' with near-impunity.

In a portrait of six brave participants who refuse to let a pattern of violence against Native women continue on in the shadows, this film shines an unflinching and ultimately uplifting light onto righting injustice on both an individual and systemic level.

About the Filmmakers:

Willow O'Feral
Credit Willow O'Feral

Willow O'Feral is the award-winning director, producer and cinematographer of two feature documentary films, Break the Silence: Reproductive & Sexual Health Stories and Sisters Rising. Break the Silence was awarded the 2018 Choice Champion Award from Planned Parenthood of New England, and the 2019 Best Documentary Feature Award at La Frontera Queer Film Festival. Sisters Rising world premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in 2020 where it won the Honorable Mention Big Sky Award. Willow was a Fledgling Fellow at the 2018 DX Investigative Film Festival in Washington DC. She is a member of New Day Films, the longest running distribution cooperative for independent documentary filmmakers in the US, and a co-founder of Haptic Pictures, a production company producing beautiful original content around pressing issues of social justice.

Brad Heck
Credit Brad Heck

Brad Heck is a filmmaker, cinematographer, and educator. Sisters Rising is Brad's directorial debut. He also recently co-produced Willow O'Feral's feature documentary Break the Silence: Reproductive & Sexual Health Stories, and is a co-founder of Haptic Pictures production company. In his career Brad has worked as a cinematographer on commercial and independent projects, including documentaries featuring diverse visionaries such as Barack Obama, Howard Zinn and Miranda July, and was awarded a regional Emmy for his cinematography work for BRIC Media in NY. Brad currently teaches Film & Video Studies at Marlboro College and holds an MFA in Film from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he was honored with the Emerging Filmmaker Scholarship. Most recently Brad was awarded a Community Engagement Lab Grant to develop a virtual reality project chronicling the impact of climate change in Vermont.

Website: 

https://www.sistersrisingmovie.com/

Socials: 

https://www.facebook.com/sistersrisingmovie/

https://www.instagram.com/sistersrisingmovie/