Lissa Yellow Bird’s story rippled in me an awareness of what I was not seeing onscreen. Where are the indigenous stories and indigenous female stories? The book Yellow Bird by Sierra Crane Murdoch inspired me to take a deeper look into the indigenous female filmmaker community who are telling these stories. The bios below I hope to be the beginning of a deeper dive into this community in 2021.Rebecca Martin, Managing Editor of Cinema Femme.
Danis Goulet is a writer and director. Her films have screened at festivals around the world including Sundance, Berlinale, and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and have been developed with support of the Sundance Institute, the National Screen Institute and the TIFF Talent lab. Her film Wakening (2013) screened at TIFF and Sundance and her film Barefoot (2012) was recognized with a special jury mention at the 2013 Berlinale. She is a former programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival and a former director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her debut feature NIGHT RAIDERS was selected for the Sundance Institute’s inaugural Talent Forum in 2019 and is currently in post production. Danis is Cree/Metis, originally from northern Saskatchewan in Canada. (Sundance Collab)
Heather Rae has produced such films as Academy Award nominated Frozen River, Netflix Originals Tallulah and Dude, festival darling I Believe in Unicorns, award-winning The Dry Land and more recently Bull which premiered in Cannes. Rae has been recognized as one of Variety’s Producers to Watch and won the Piaget and Cinereach Producers Awards. She is a member of the Academy and serves on the Producers Branch Executive Committee. Rae is currently in a First Look deal with Amazon Studios and is an Executive Producer on series, Outer Range starring Josh Brolin. Rae is as a narrative change strategist with IllumiNative and works from both her settler and indigenous heritage to deeper the dialogue of reconciliation and responsibility in the Americas. (Bio provided by Heather Rae)
Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film and TV director. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and went on to receive the Jury Prize at LA Outfest. She also directed the digital series Her Story, which received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for Short Form Series. Her second feature, the Netflix original film Deidra and Laney Rob A Train, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is currently streaming in 190 countries. Additionally, Sydney has directed episodes for Grey’s Anatomy and the upcoming Heathers. (Free the Bid)
Writer/Director Aurora Guerrero has directed award winning short narrative films, including Pura Lengua (2005 Sundance Film Festival) and Viernes Girl (winner of the 2006 HBO/NYLIFF short film competition). Based on the strength of her first feature length script, Mosquita y Mari, Aurora was awarded the 2005 Sundance Ford Fellowship, the 2005 Paul Robeson Development Grant, was selected to participate in the 2005 Sundance Native/Indigenous Lab; 2006 Tribeca All Access Filmmaker Program; 2009 Film Independent Producer’s Lab. In 2007, she received an ITVS development deal and most recently was awarded a production grant from Latino Public Broadcasting. Her accomplishments as an emerging writer/director earned her a slot in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. She has also had the honor of assisting directors Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves) and Peter Bratt (La Mission). In 2000, Guerrero was in Film Independent’s Project:Involve, and in 2011 Film Independent awarded her the LG Cinema 3D Grant. (Film Independent)
Erica is an award-winning filmmaker (“Little Chief”, “In the Turn”, “Heartland: A Portrait of Survival”) and digital strategist with over 10 years experience across interactive and video content. Her projects have screened at 60+ film festivals and her work has been featured on PBS, CNN and IFC. She was recently honored as a 40 Under 40 Native American and was a 2018 Sundance Native Film Lab Fellow. Erica is currently studying her Indigenous language.
Leya Hale, 36, lives in St. Paul. She was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. She is Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Navajo Dine. She is a storyteller, a documentary filmmaker and a producer with Twin Cities PBS (TPT), where she’s been working for the past eight years.
She graduated from California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, studying radio television and film. She attended graduate school at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D., where she earned a degree in American Indian Studies and worked as a production assistant on a documentary about women in the Red Power movement. This is where Hale says the door to filmmaking opened for her.
When she moved to St. Paul, Hale said she was in awe because she could walk down the street and run into Native people. Back home in Los Angeles, she had to intentionally seek them out. Being around so many Native people, “just made me feel good that there was a strong vibrant community out here. I felt at home right away,” Hale said.
Hale has won multiple regional Emmy awards for her work. She is currently the Merata Mita fellow at the Sundance Institute, an imagineNATIVE 2020 Native fellow and an ambassador with Thrive’s “My Sisters are Warriors” initiative. Hale is currently producing a feature length documentary about missing and murdered Indigenous women, titled “Bring Her Home.” (mprnews.org)
Razelle Benally is an emerging independent filmmaker dedicated to creating stories
with strong Indigenous female protagonists and hopes to bring a new perspective to the male-dominated film industry that has a history of marginalizing Indigenous peoples.
She has helped facilitate several film workshops with Native youth in Oregon, South Dakota and New Mexico. Her film work has shown in Portland, Oregon, Long Beach, California, Phoenix, Arizona, and internationally in Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada, and Stockholm, Sweden. She was the 2010 Santa Fe Indian Market jury-awarded winner for Best Documentary in SWAIA’s Classification X and is an alumna of the 2012 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab as well as an awardee of the 2015 Sundance Institute Native Short film Production Grant for her most recent completed work I Am Thy Weapon.
Benally’s 2015 Short Film The Blanket was the 2016 New Mexico Film Foundation’s Student Showcase winner for Best Narrative, Best Actor, and Best Overall Film of the Showcase. I Am Thy Weapon also won SWAIA’s 2016 Classification X: Best Short Narrative. (First Peoples Fund)
Born and raised in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Tracey Deer is an award-winning Indigenous director, producer, writer, mentor, speaker, and leader. A graduate of Dartmouth College’s Film Studies program, Tracey is a visual storyteller who wants to have a positive impact on the world. (traceydeer.com)