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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

American Indian Movement film festival in S.F.

In 2010, as part of the observance of International Day of the World's Indigenous People, the United Nations celebrated indigenous filmmakers. At a special event at the U.N.'s New York headquarters Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered remarks before a screening of short works by indigenous filmmakers and a panel discussion. In San Francisco, AIM-West Director Tony Gonzales and the other members of the AIM-West committee took note.

"What the United Nations was trying to declare was, 'Make your own stories, produce your own movies,' so it was to encourage the Indian people to get involved with filmmaking," says Gonzales during a recent conversation at a Bernal Heights cafe.

"With that in mind, I and the committee, the American Indian Movement West, we had talked about initiating a film festival before. This gave us the impetus to move forward and organize one, an international indigenous film festival."

The American Indian Movement International Film Festival was born. Now in its second year, the festival will take place on Monday, Indigenous People's Day. Other events of the week include a sunrise gathering - also on Monday- on Alcatraz in remembrance of the 1969-71 occupation of the island and a march from Dolores Park on Wednesday to Yerba Buena Gardens followed by a rally to commemorate the resistance of indigenous people to colonization over the past 519 years.

Gonzales notes that in 2007, 30 years after the first indigenous people's conference was held in Geneva, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Part of the function of the festival is to educate people about what those rights are.

"So as the American Indian Movement we're once again in the vanguard in many of these issues," says Gonzales. "We're taking a step forward to educate the world community on a broader scale through the cinema and media about what our issues are and how can we work together with governments where we find ourselves today."

Inspired by 'Avatar'

Perhaps surprisingly for someone programming a film festival where the focus is on smaller art-house fare, Gonzales takes inspiration from James Cameron's record-shattering, 3-D blockbuster "Avatar," the height of glossy Hollywood entertainment.

"That really sprung a spark," he says. "It was cartoonish, but nevertheless it was very sympathetic to the plight and the cause of Indian people. That's the situation of Indian people. Whether we're in the forests, whether we're in the jungles, whether we're in the deserts, isolated areas, we are subject and prone to displacement. We are at the whim of governments, corporations, and even the military."

The briefest film in the AIM festival program is Thomas King's "I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind." The 2007 Canadian import is just five minutes long, and according to Gonzales, it is an acute depiction of how many people perceive American Indians and indigenous people.

"We still have to break down the stereotypical images that Hollywood created about who Indian people are," says Gonzales. "If you ask a child in a park right here in San Francisco to draw a picture of an Indian, that child will draw an Indian with a bow and arrow with a feather.

"The films that we have dispel the myths that Hollywood has created of us," he adds. "They are to educate people not only about who we are, but that we are still here and that we have more of a contribution to the world community."

Ishi documentary

Other films in the program include "Ishi, A Story of Dignity, Hope and Courage," a documentary that tells the story of the legendary last Yahi through Native American eyes; "Song for Dead Warriors," Bay Area filmmaker Saul Landau's award-winning 1974 documentary about the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Reservation by Oglala Sioux Indians and members of the American Indian Movement; "We Are One," Roberto Rodriguez and Patricia Gonzales' documentary about the origins and migrations of indigenous people in the Americas; an award-wining Spanish-French-Mexican co-production "Even the Rain," starring Gael Garcia Bernal as a film director who travels to Bolivia to make a movie about Christopher Columbus just as protests erupt over a scheme to privatize the water supply; "The Tiniest Place," Tatiana Huezo's 2011 documentary about her grandmother's home village, Cinquera, a place that was suffused with tragedy and terror during El Salvador's civil war; and San Francisco's own Peter Bratt's "La Mission," his popular drama starring his brother Benjamin about a gay teen's conflict with his homophobic father.

Landau, Bratt, and others will be on hand for Q&As during the festival. AIM leader Bill Means and KPFA radio personality Miguel Molina will be masters of ceremonies.

Looking to the future

The American Indian Movement International Film Festival is not to be confused with the 36-year-old American Indian Film Festival, which this year runs Nov. 4-12 in San Francisco. That festival focuses solely on films from the United States and Canada and is a much larger affair. But Gonzales is already looking toward the future and a larger AIM festival that might encompass cinema that represents all the world's indigenous tribes.

"Ideally, in the long term, we'd like to have a broader film screening," he says. "We'd like to have films from different regions of the world, so we can have continuity in depicting the different Indian people in struggle on a daily basis. We'd like to have films from Ocean- ia, the Pacific region; we'd like to have films from the vast region of Russia and Siberia; we'd like to have films from the African continent, from North Africa and the southern part of Africa. But all of that takes time and money. We're developing in that direction." {sbox}

The second American Indian Movement International Film Festival takes place Monday at Baha'i Center, 170 Valencia St., San Francisco. For more information, go to

Pam Grady is a freelance writer. Send comments to pink

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