Richard Ray Whitman and Casey Camp-Horinek star in "Barking Water." Photo Courtesy of Cine Las Americas.

The Briscoe Western Art Museum will host its inaugural Native Film Series starting this month, with three film screenings taking place through April.

The series is an attempt to spark discussion about the portrayals of Native Americans in film that have long stereotyped the Native community as violent, emotionless, vulnerable, or worse. The films chosen for the series portray diverse stories and each stars Native American actors or is directed, produced, or written by members of the Native American community.

The Briscoe will screen the first film, “Smoke Signals,” on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

All film screenings are free and open to the public and will be shown in the Clingman Education Gallery at the Briscoe, 210 W. Market St.

For more information on the series, click here.

Courtesy image.
Courtesy image.

This year’s film lineup was curated by Yaqui actor and artist Michael Horse. Horse has appeared in several movies and television shows such as Twin Peaks. The films in the series, Horse said, are ones that offer a more accurate and holistic portrayal of Native American culture in general.

“(Film Series attendees) are going to come away with really good insight on what it is to be a Native person today and how diverse the communities are,” he said.

“Smoke Signals” is a story of a young man’s journey from Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene reservation to collect the ashes of his father who abandoned him as a child. It is the first feature film to be written, directed, and co-produced by Native Americans.

“(‘Smoke Signals’) is a really good insight into reservation life and stepping off the reservation,” Horse said. It also shows “how the non-Native community sees us and how we see them.”

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” the second film of the series, will be shown on Tuesday, March 29 at 5:30 p.m. and is a story based on an ancient Inuit legend about heartbreak and revenge. The entire film is in the Inuit language and portrays life in an extremely isolated Native community in the Canadian arctic.

“I have friends in the movie business that say it’s one of the best films they have ever seen,” Horse said. “It’s very interesting and is a great example of in-house Native storytelling.”

"Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner" was directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Photo by The Canadian Press.
“Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” was directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Photo by The Canadian Press.

The last film of the series, “Barking Water,” will be screened on Tuesday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. The movie depicts a Native man’s journey to meet his newborn grandchild and reconnect with his estranged daughter. It won awards for Best Film and Best Actress at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival.

On Tuesday, April 26, Horse will be a guest speaker for the “Voices of the West: Distinguished Lecture” at the Briscoe and will discuss the evolving representations of Native Americans in the media. He hopes the Native Film Series will prime the audience for the interactive lecture.

“I’m curious to see what (the audiences) saw and see if the films changed the perception that they have of indigenous people.”

As an actor in the business for more than 40 years, Horse has experienced firsthand the lack of authentic storytelling in films about Native American people and culture. For him, having his people consistently depicted as emotionless was not only disappointing but completely contrary to his experience growing up Yaqui.

“For years we were being portrayed as being violent and especially as having no sense of humor, and tribal people are extremely funny – that’s how we survived,” he said. “When you show somebody as without a sense of humor then that makes them less human and you can more easily justify what was done to (Native American people).”

Only recently, he said, there’s been a shift from stereotypical portrayals to more real reflections of his people. Horse is looking forward to the Native Film Series and the lecture to help enlighten more people about his diverse heritage.

“For years our stories have been told by the Hollywood system and it’s the same thing with the African-American and Hispanic communities,” he said. “Now, we have the opportunity to tell our own stories through the media of film, but we still have a long way to come.”

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*Top image: Richard Ray Whitman and Casey Camp-Horinek star in “Barking Water.” Photo Courtesy of Cine Las Americas.

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com