2012–2013 Indigenous Film Circle Fellows’ Project Synopses and Biographies
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Philipp Abryutin
“Sunrise Diary” by Philipp Abryutin (Chukchi, Russian Federation)

Based on the true stories of the director’s grandmother’s life, we follow the journey of a Chukchi reindeer herding woman who marries an outsider to her community and reconciles the many hardships of leaving and returning home in the shifting political climates of Russia’s modern history.

Philipp Abryutin is from the Chukotka region of the Russian Federation and received both his Masters and PhD in Dramaturgy from the famous VGIK/All-Russian State University of Cinematography. In 2008, his Master’s thesis film “Prevention of Repeated Crimes” won several awards at the 28th Moscow International Film Festival including the Spectator Award given to the best student film. His most recent short, “Ivan and Ivan,” premiered at the prestigious Documentary Fortnight showcase at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and later at the SXSW Film & Music Conference in Austin, Texas. He currently works as a producer for Proveshenie TV in Moscow.
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Rosa Chavéz
“El Espíritu de las Piedras/The Spirit of the Stones” by Rosa Chavéz (Maya Kicha, Guatemala)

Lisandro is a Kaqchikel Mayan boy born with a destiny. When he follows a strange bird into a cave he discovers an obsidian stone that becomes his guide. Years later, we follow the grown up Lisandro, who has become an artist, teacher and a spiritual guide for his people. A lead example to younger generations and a motivator for his peers through the use of art, media and spiritual practices, his destiny gets cuts short when he is kidnapped, tortured and killed. Based on a true story, the film disect the society at large and the recent crime that is still under investigation that shook the hearts and minds of the Mayan people in Guatemala.

Rosa Chavéz is a Maya Kicha filmmaker and artist from Chimaltenango, Guatemala. She began her formal studies in film at the School of Film and Television at Casa Comal in 2010 and graduates in 2012. Rosa received her Masters diploma in the “Reconstitution of Being Maya” from the CIESAS/Sureste Anthropology Department in Mexico in 2008. She is also a poet, actress, producer and cultural manager of literary festivals and artistic events. Rosa is actively engaged in socio-cultural organizations asserting the vocal rights and knowledge of Mayan way of life. She wrote and directed the soon to be released film “Mirror” as part of her studies at Casa Comal and is also working on a documentary about Sámi joiker and musical artist Mari Boine.
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Tvli Jacob
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Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan
“Trickster” by Tvli Jacob & Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan (Choctaw, USA)

After Joe loses his job, his girlfriend and eventually his life, he makes a deal with Death. He wants to find his true love before he goes to the spirit world. Death gives him the chance, but their journey gets sidetracked when Coyote intervenes to enlist Joe and Death in his quest to kill a monster from the Underworld that is hell-bent on destroying the Earth.

Tvli Jacob and Valarie Jernigan are both from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Tvli gained most of his film experience by working on several documentaries for film and television, including PBS’s “We Shall Remain” series, “America’s First Horse: Hidalgo and the Spanish Mustang” narrated by Viggo Mortensen, and was most recently a runner-up in the NBC/Universal Comedy Short Cuts competition. He has worked as a scriptwriter for the popular daytime drama “One Life to Live” and was also the recipient of the ABC/Walt Disney screenwriter scholarship. Valarie studied creative writing at Yavapai College in Arizona and went on to study film at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, where she earned her PhD in film and public health. Valarie’s first two shorts, “A New Frontier” and “Carver,” premiered at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. Her first feature film “Forty Winters” won the 2010 Documentary Film Award from the California Council for the Humanities and is currently in post-production.
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Darlene Johnson
“Baru” by Darlene Johnson (Dunghutti, Australia)

A young TV journalist sets out to a remote indigenous community on a story and ends up on a roller coaster adventure that tests her faith, endurance and friendship with another woman from a totally different world from hers. Baru is suspense thriller about being stuck between the mythical Aboriginal world and the harsh daily existence of the treacherous Australian bush.

Darlene Johnson is from the Dunghutti people of eastern Australia. Her career as writer/director started with the internationally acclaimed short film “Two Bob Mermaid” in 1996, about the ‘assimilation era’ of post-war Australia. She continued to explore themes around race, identity and perception in both documentary and fiction, from “Stolen Generations” which was nominated for an International Emmy Award to “Stranger in My Skin” and “The Making of Phillip Noyce’s ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’” to her supernatural fictional drama “Crocodile Dreaming” which featured the first-time pairing of legendary Aboriginal actors David Gulpilil and Tom E. Lewis. Darlene has currently been producing for Message Sticks, making documentaries for the Aboriginal programs unit at ABC-TV.
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Sara Magrethe Oskal
“Let’s Get Married” by Sara Magrethe Oskal (Sámi, Norway)

The story is about a young modern couple living in a Sámi village. After deciding to get married in an untypical season for weddings, both become challenged by their modern ways clashing with their binds to tradition. She is an artist and single mother, and he is a reindeer herder from the same village. The groom takes action to manage the economic costs: by illegally slaughtering reindeer. Despite all this, things seem to be going well until the bride suddenly surprises her fiancé near the end of their courtship.

Sara Magrethe Oskal is Sámi from northern Norway. She began her artistic career working in theater for the Beaivváš theatre in Kautokeino as an actress and has since devoted much of her time to pursuing all aspects of drama, from acting to writing and to recently delving into the world of film and television through courses at the International Sámi Film Centre in 2009 and at Sandnes in 2010. She has been a writer for Sápmi Children’s television on NRK, directed the audio theater of “Beaivealgu” and is also a published award-winning author. In 2010, she received her doctorate in performing arts from the Oslo National Academy of Arts. Most recently, Sara has been touring with her self-written, directed and acted one-woman show titled “The Whole Caboodle.”
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Edgar Noé Sajcabún Mux
“El Tiempo en las Montañas/The Time in the Mountains” by Edgar Noé Sajcabún Mux (Maya, Guatemala)

Yax, a Mayan boy, dreams of traveling to the stars, deep in the roots of an old tree believed to be in a spaceship. But a natural disaster destroys his family’s entire crop of cornfield, so the father is forced to cut the tree and sell the timber to address their economic needs. Yax and his grandfather cannot stop this and as the tree is cut the grandfather dies. While mourning the loss of the tree and his grandfather, Yax discovers an offshoot of the fallen tree. That’s when he realizes the necessity of death for the renewal of life.

Edgar Noé Sajcabún Mux is a Mayan indian from a rural corn-farming community in the mountains of Guatemala. Growing up through devastations caused by war and natural disasters, Edgar witnessed the loss of his Mayan culture and language which has since motivated him to pursue storytelling through film in order to bring Mayan stories of past and present to wider audiences. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Screenwriting from the International Film School in Cuba and is also the recipient of the Ibermedia Award in 2009 for his script “The World’s Largest Home.”
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Álvaro Sarmiento Pagán
“Kay Pacha/Now” by Álvaro Sarmiento Pagán (Quechua, Peru)

Lucio returns to the rural community of Rancas after living in exile for trying to prevent the local mayor from selling communal land to a mining company. Everything starts to become more complicated when Lucio falls in love with Chaska, the daughter of the mayor. Lucio soon finds himself accused of terrorist acts and both he and Chaska fight to defend their land and their honor in this story which blends both mythic time and facts.

Álvaro Sarmiento Pagán is Quechua from the Andes of Peru and dedicates his life to preserving indigenous culture and language and defending indigenous rights. He has two bachelor degrees, one in Communications from the University of Lima in 2003 and in Film from the University Estacio de Sa in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2006 where he made his first films. He has gone on to make several films as writer, director and producer, including “La Oroya: Full Metal Air” that won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Sydney Latin American Film Festival in 2009 and also Best Peruvian Film Production in 2007 from the CONACINE (Peruvian Film Institute). One of his most recent projects, the feature-length documentary “Cerro de Pasco: The Forgotten City” screened at the 2011 Festival Internacional de Cinema del Medi Ambient Festival Internacional de Cinema del Medi Ambient in Barcelona, Spain and won both Best Human Rights and Best Environmental film awards from the Cusco International Short Film Festival.
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Siljá Somby
“Keeper of the Drum” by Siljá Somby (Sámi, Norway)

Magda is a 30 year old art student living in Oslo. Through an art assignment she learns that she might be of indigenous Sámi ancestry. This sends her on a life changing experience as she starts meeting incredible people and in extraordinary situations. Ultimately, Magda is pushed to the edge and she starts using desperate measures in her journey for answers. With her sanity at stake, she has to use all the strength she possesses to find out who are her friends and who are her enemies in her quest to find out who she really is, and her purpose in life.

Siljá Somby is a graduate from Lillehammer College with a BA in Directing. She has directed several short documentaries for NRK as well one short fiction film. Besides being a director for many educational documentaries she has also led multiple film workshops for children and youth. One of the workshops was a mini-film school that resulted to the production of two short films. She has also worked on several animation films, translating and dubbing them into the northern Sámi language and has been working with film politics as the current leader for the Sámi Film Association. Siljá was the main architect behind the programming for the Sámi Film Festival where she was the lead programmer in its founding years. Currently, she is writing her first feature film and most recently completed writing the first draft of a fictional television series for children in a collective writing team.
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Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
“Untitled” by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sámi, Canada/Norway)

This story is one that is inspired by children’s innate ability to overcome pain and adversity through the power of their mind and their connection to the spirit world. In Blackfoot culture, children are believed to have a very close connection to the spirit world. This is the story of a young Blackfoot girl named Virginia and her ability to escape the pain of her experiences in residential school through her connection to the magic of that spirit world.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is Blackfoot from Kainai (The Blood Reserve, Canada) and Sámi from northern Norway. Elle-Máijá is a graduate of the full-time Acting Program at Vancouver Film School. She also recently completed her Bachelors degree with a major in Indigenous Studies and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her film and TV credits as an actor include “The Guard”, “The Reaper”, “Shattered”, “Another Cinderella Story”, as well as a number of U.S. and Canadian national commercials. Along with her acting work, she is also an emerging filmmaker, published writer, and activist. Her film “The Bandit” was among the top ten Canadian national finalists in MTV’s For the Reel competition. Most recently, she wrote, directed and produced an experimental short film entitled “Bloodland” which has been accepted into a number of international film festivals including ImagineNATIVE in Toronto and the Vancouver International Film Festival.
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John Erling Utsi
“Mr. No One” by John E. Utsi (Sámi, Sweden)

The story is about a man lost in between two ethnic groups. Being born as a Sámi but brought up by Swedish farmers in the 1950s, he realizes that he is both a Swede and a Sámi, but his peers don’t recognize him as such. The Sámi accuse him of being a Swede, and the Swedish bully him as one of those “good-for-nothing-Lapps.” In spite of this, Niillas becomes very successful in life. But when he falls in love and starts dating the village’s most popular girl he faces severe problems. He has crossed an invisible line and has to cope with the consequences. For him they become fatal.

John Erling Utsi is a Sámi journalist, writer and emerging filmmaker from the Jokkmokk area of northern Sweden. He has been working as a journalist since the mid-70s, in publishing for newspapers and magazines and in television and radio. For thirty years he has produced news and programs for Sámi audiences and ten years ago he started his own production company. He has worked on several documentaries for Swedish and Norwegian television and film, including three that he wrote and directed. All his work pertains to indigenous culture and people. Of noted films, he wrote and narrated the IMAX produced film “The Great North” about Arctic peoples, “The Winds in My Heart” about Nils A Valkeapää and “The History of the Sámi,” a three-hour documentary made in partnership with Agaton Films. In the coming months, John will be publishing his first book made for Sámi children called “Cugo (the Puppy.)”
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Orgun Wagua
“El Retorno de las Garzas/The Return of the Herons” by Orgun Wagua (Kuna, Panama)

A young Kuna man returns to the village his family has been living in since the 1980s when they were in search of better economic opportunities. He soon realizes his village, which sits on the border of Panama and Colombia, has changed quite a bit. In need of money, he takes an offer from a business man to deliver a few parcels to Panama City and is eventually thwarted by the police. This film addresses the drug trafficking issues of our country and attempts to address the misrepresentation of the Kuna people living in these remote areas overran by the drug cartel.

Orgun Wagua is of Kuna origin from the island of Ustupu in Panama. When he was 15 he moved to Panama City to continue his studies. Soon he became involved in various indigenous movements across the country and in 2005 he won a scholarship for a filmmaking workshop at EICTV. Later that year he started working as a writer and co-director as part of the Igar Yala Collective for what is considered the first dramatic feature film from Panama “Burwen Dii Ebo/The Wind and the Water.” “Burwen Dii Ebo” screened at several acclaimed film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival in Park City and took home several awards in many other international film festivals. The Hollywood reporter describes the film as “hauntingly beautiful.” Orgun worked as a production assistant at Ngaba Films from 2005 to 2007 and later as a director and producer at the State Service of Radio and Television (SERTV) in Panama. In 2008 he won a scholarship to study at the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Bañols in Cuba where he graduated with a film degree in 2009.
Below: Indigenous Film Circle Mentors and Fellows at the Indigenous Film Circle workshop in Guovdageidnu, Norway, October 2011.

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