Most of the time of the time that Sky Hopinka is on a road trip, he says he has a camera with him. He used his latest footage of beautiful landscapes to help him create his most recent documentary short, “Jáaji Approx.”
The UCLA American Indian Studies Center, in collaboration with the Sundance Institute, is presenting “Native Documentary Short Films,” at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park on Saturday, where Hopinka, along with other Native American filmmakers, will screen their works. Each film highlights Native stories and subjects told from a Native American point of view, emphasizing the importance of authentic storytelling. The event was organized by Shannon Speed, the director of UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center, as a part of the American Indian Arts Marketplace hosted by the Autry Museum.
“There’s just a wealth of Native talent out there, in the film industry, and all too often people don’t see that,” said Speed. “We wanted to really get these films out there and also showcase that talent.”
The American Indian Arts Marketplace is the largest Native arts fair in Southern California, said Diana Terrazas, manager of community outreach at the Autry Museum. The event features 200 Native artists from around the country, who represent about 40 different tribes.
Telling Native stories from a Native lens raises the value of these films, said Cesar Barreras, a fourth-year American Indian studies student and American Indian Students Association president.
“It promotes awareness that it is ourselves telling the story,” he said. “Not anyone else telling the story of who we are.”
It also sets a precedent for Native American people who have goals of becoming filmmakers and encourages them to approach film from a Native perspective, Barreras said.
Events like this allow Native students to connect with their culture since many did not grow up in Native communities, he said.
The American Indian Arts Marketplace event can impact the view people have of Native American stories by giving American Indians a chance to present them, said Maya Solis-Austin, the program manager for Sundance Institute.
One documentary, created by Hopinka, is inspired by recording he had been collecting of his father over the course of 10 years.
As a child, Hopinka didn’t spend a lot of time with his father, he said. His father was a powwow singer, and Hopinka grew up going to powwows. He asked his father to sing him a song or tell him a story as a way to get closer to him, Hopinka said. He began collecting voice recordings of his father over the course of 10 years.
About a year and a half ago, Hopinka went on a road trip around the west of the United States. As he was driving around and collecting footage, he realized that his father traveled on the same roads. He felt a connection to his father and felt it would make a good documentary to pair the footage of his road trip and the recordings of his father.
Hopinka is interested in showcasing the ethnopoetic in his films, which means to use audio and visual to capture what would otherwise be lost in text. Native American filmmakers can thus display their message about their stories to an audience by displaying things that are of importance to Native American lives, opposed to other stories, Hopinka said.
“Where traditionally, in an ethnographic film, there’s always white people looking at the other, not people of color, minorities, people of other countries, other continents,” Hopinka said. “I look at the ethnopoetic as a response to that.”
Many of the Native American films are entrenched in a specific place, which is reflective of each director’s different experience as an American Indian, said Bird Runningwater, the director of the Native American and Indigenous Program at Sundance.
Although the United States has been colonized, indigenous people still reside on their ancestral homelands, Runningwater said. As a result, the topics explored in films are closely tied to their Native American lands.
One film, “Seal Hunting With Dad”, directed by Andrew MacLean, focuses on the Inupiaq people of Alaska, their ancestral tradition of seal-hunting on the tundra and how it persists into the modern day. The films represent an original and distinct perspective that people may not have seen before, Runningwater said.
Hopinka hopes that people who view these films will try to better understand the points of view of Native American people.
“There is a wide range of native, indigenous voices that are using this contemporary medium of storytelling to express where they come from,” Hopinka said. “It’s a different voice and a different perspective than what a Western audience is often used to.”