Hud Oberly (Comanche/Osage/Caddo) is the program coordinator for the Indigenous Program at Sundance Institute, where he touches a wide variety of areas including artist relations, Indigenous/tribal community relations, and creative input. He specializes his work to hit the broader goal of changing outdated narratives of Native American, Indigenous, and First Nations peoples. He believes that, through film and other modern storytelling mediums, old perceptions can be changed and new ones can be formed. Oberly visits the Walker March 7 to present the Sundance Institute Native Shorts Screening, part of INDIgenesis: GEN2.
Championing artists with an Indigenous perspective in the film industry in the United States is not only done to empower the Native American population but also to bring diverse stories and storytelling to the screen for the benefit and growth of American cinema as a whole.
The Native and Indigenous artists that Sundance Institute supports produce projects with an eye toward the unique nuances of their nations’ cultural perspectives. These artists are not limited to only showing physical aspects of Indigenous life. They also have a unique ability to apply their lens to non-Indigenous life. At Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, we find that the artists who can bring both—unique stories and a strong reason why they are the ones to tell that story—utilize their Indigenous lens well. The Native and Indigenous work that artists introduce to the world of independent film, and sometimes the larger film industry as a whole, is something that elevates all of us. Indigenous stories being more prominently placed in American film culture means new forms of storytelling never before seen by the public audience. It will also mean stories presented on the screen for Native communities to watch in theaters, resulting in seeing ourselves and our way of life accurately represented.
Outsider narratives and also Native-reinforced stories commonly capture the devastating trauma of genocide and the generational healing process of so many Native peoples. We are seeing a surge of Indigenous artists who are hungry to show different aspects of our way of life, i.e. a humor that will give you stomach pain from laughing, Indigenous love experiences that show unique acts of love, and also our way of navigating mainstream society to provide everyone with some new perspectives and interesting stories.
This moment in time right now is especially significant for Indigenous film because Native and Indigenous peoples’ stories are organically emerging in front of American eyes. We are no longer being hidden by media gatekeepers. N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/ Mescalero Apache), director of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, recently wrote about events, including Standing Rock, the national news headline story of the face-to-face confrontation between Nathan Phillips (Omaha) and MAGA hat–wearing teens during the January Indigenous People’s Day March, and the Best Actress Oscar nomination of Indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio (Mixtec/Triqui) for her performance in Roma. “In these representations, despite their severity, one good thing exists,” Runningwater stated. “They are modern representations of Native people. Living, breathing, Native people. Today. Here. Still here.” As a result of these events, we believe the broader American public’s interest in our stories has been piqued. What are modern Native American/Indigenous people doing? How are they living? We also no longer believe the public is satisfied with the classic western movie depiction or the mascot caricature. Indigenous filmmakers and their stories now have the eyes and ears of even more people. Thus, the stakes are higher for the Indigenous film lens to deliver for Native cinema.
The perspective that lives in the Sundance Indigenous Program’s three generations of artists has created success with their own stories and own interpretations of an Indigenous lens within and outside the United States’s film industry. We are now seeking out and molding the fourth generation, some of whom are featured in this year’s edition of the INDIGenesis film series. Watch their work as they push the boundaries of Native cinema with the unique styles of art each portray in their filmmaking.