Documenting Culture

Gila River teens produce own film

Native Press staff report

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The "Hollywood Indian" is a long way from reality.

But more and more Indians are making their own films, including a group of teens from Ira Hayes High School on the Gila River Indian Reservation south of Phoenix, Ariz.

Their 40-minute documentary, called The River People, explores what it means to be an Akimel O'odham (People of the River) teenager. It is one of 18 chosen for the Cinematexas International Short Film Festival in Austin, which will be screened Sept. 13 and 14 on the University of Texas campus.


“The video was chosen for its poetic and creative visual portrayal of Native American teens rarely represented in mainstream media,” said project organizer Stephani Etheridge Woodson, theatre professor at the Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University. ASU helped the students produce the film.

The class of 14- to 18-year-olds worked all of the 2002-03 school year to put together the film. The teens videotaped local elders and added their own poetic responses to questions such as "I am," "I want," "I see," "I say."

Most of the young filmmakers will be making the trip to Austin. The tribe has provided half the money needed, and the individual reservation districts will provide the rest. The school has come up with the money needed to pay for one or two of the parents to chaperon.

CinemaTexas is considered one of the best short film festivals in the world.

The River People is the product of a multimedia performing arts project called Place: Vision and Voice, a partnership between the Herberger College of Fine Arts, Huhugam Heritage Center and the Ira H. Hayes Memorial Applied Learning High School. The project’s goal was to focus on identity issues and the outcome was the realization that Akimel O’otham teens learn about Indian traditions almost entirely by oral customs passed through their families.

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