Short films are an essential building block for aspiring filmmakers to practice their craft. Even so, they aren’t always easy to find and watch. Fortunately, The Taos Center for the Arts (TCA), partnered with the Cinematic Arts and Technology program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe for the first time to bring award-winning shorts to the TCA virtual screening room. The program, Emerging Voices in Native Film, offers a selection of shorts from eight of IAIA’s most notable current students and recent graduates, all of whom are Native American.
James Lujan (Taos Pueblo), chairperson of the program Cinematic Arts and Technology at IAIA, curated the films. “I chose these particular films because not only have they won their fair share of awards, but also they track the growth of the program over the past five years. And I also wanted to demonstrate the wide range of films produced by our students, with two documentaries, four dramas, one comedy and one animated short,” Lujan says. The shorts run from two to 15 minutes in length for a total of 75 minutes.
Among the rising stars in the group, Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Navajo) tells a raw and painful story in Raven. The film follows a young mother (New Mexico actor MorningStar Angeline) as she struggles with the loss of her child. “Raven was inspired by the strength of spirit and the vulnerability of grief. I honestly made the film to honor the lives of the countless little ones who never got to meet their mothers or their fathers. I made the film so that audiences could create their own dialog around sensitive topics.” Benally says. Somehow, the film still delivers an uplifting ending.
Made with a “super-bare-bones crew” while a student at IAIA, Benally used Raven, in part, to gain admittance to the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she is working toward a graduate degree in film. One of her projects at NYU is a short film to be made with funding from director Spike Lee. Benally has also worked with well-known actors, including Tonia Jo Hall and Mark Ruffalo. Currently, she’s developing a project through the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.
Emerging Voices in Native Film will be presented as part of TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series and is available to stream from Friday, July 17, to July 31. Lujan will discuss the films online at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 19. Tickets for the shorts are available for a suggested $10-$50 donation at tcataos.org/big-screen. The discussion can be found at tcataos.org/calendar/ and is free of charge.