When Albuquerque native Joanelle Romero returned to New Mexico 24 years ago, after working in Hollywood, and attended the Santa Fe Indian Market, she felt something was missing something — such as performances of contemporary Native American music and screenings of contemporary Native films.
So, Romero (Apache, Southern Ute, Paiute and Diné) initiated a series of live concerts and started the Los Angeles-based Red Nation International Film Festival to showcase the work of Native filmmakers
Romero is bringing the 24th annual Red Nation festival to Santa Fe — with screenings of the 1989 cult film Powwow Highway, partially shot in the City Different — to coincide with Indian Market week. The three-day film festival includes panel talks and a visit from Romero and fellow cast members of Powwow Highway. Although the event is not officially tied to the market, film festival organizers are hoping to deliver a message that falls in line with the market’s theme, which centers on increasing the visibility of Native women and addressing a high rate of violence.
“If we are not seen or heard in media and film outlets,” Romero said, “then these violent predators can continue to prey on us.”
The 30-year-old Powwow Highway “was the first film to change the Native narrative forever,” said Romero, who stars in the film as Bonnie Red Bow, a Native woman who has been unjustly jailed in Santa Fe. “The story still holds up, and it is very relevant to issues Natives are facing in the country and world today.”
Powwow Highway tells the story of two Native American men — an angry political activist fighting groups that want to take Native land and an amiable ne’er-do-well on a spiritual quest — who end up sharing a car trip from Montana to Santa Fe. Their goal: to rescue the activist’s sister, Bonnie.
The film is an action-filled comedy with an energetic car chase finale, much of which is set on the streets of Santa Fe.
Powwow Highway’s director, Santa Fean Jonathan Wacks, will join cast members A Martinez (Blackfeet), Gary Farmer (Cayuga nation of Canada) and Amanda Wyss at a screening at 7 p.m. Thursday at Violet Crown Cinema. That event will be followed by a panel discussion.
Martinez, who played the activist Buddy Red Bow in the film, said in an interview, “Powwow is about how white America is going to take our resources whether we like it or not — and you still see this playing out, not just in America, but across the entire planet Earth.”
Wacks, who shot the film in late 1988 in 30 days on a budget of about $3 million, said the film also opens up the question: “What does it mean to be a warrior?”
A film festival panel talk at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hotel Santa Fe will center on the issue of Native American women in film as well as the epidemic of violence perpetrated against Native women.
Romero argues the two themes are directly tied.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., of Laguna Pueblo, who will participate in the talk, agrees.
Speaking by phone Tuesday, Haaland said she’d like to see more Native American women acting in films, television shows and other popular media outlets — in contemporary roles.
“So many times, Native Americans are portrayed in the past, like they belong in a museum,” the congresswoman said. “So people don’t always look at Native Americans as contemporary or modern. When you think about Native Americans in traditional garb, you sometimes don’t make the connection that, ‘Yes, we are here.’ ”
According to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, 4 in 5 Native women will experience violence in their lifetime, and Native women are 2½ times more likely to be raped than other women in the U.S. Romero and Haaland have worked to draw more attention to the problem.
Meanwhile, Romero said Native American filmmakers have to be included in any discussion about moving the film industry forward.
“We are the new Hollywood. Period,” she said. “That’s my new hashtag.”
If you go
Red Nation International Film Festival: The Los Angeles-based Native film festival brings screenings of the 1989 cult film Powwow Highway, largely shot in Santa Fe, as well as panel discussions on Native women in film. Screenings are planned Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at various locations around town, including Violet Crown Cinema. Some events are ticketed and some are free. Visit rednationff.com for more information.
Natives in Charge of their Native Narrative: Red Nation organizers and cast members from the 30-year-old Powwow Highway will speak from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday at La Fonda on the Plaza. Joanelle Romero, who lives part time in Santa Fe, will join fellow cast members A Martinez, Gary Farmer and Amanda Wyss at the event.