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UCLA to premiere indigenous film after 15 years of production

(Courtesy of Shelley Niro)

"The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw - L.A. Premiere!"


James Bridges Theater


By Jessica Li

Jan. 14, 2020 10:46 p.m.

After 15 years, “The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw” will finally be arriving to UCLA’s silver screen.

Filled with a mix of humor and magical realism, such as spirit guides and fantastical sequences, the film follows the story of aspiring hat designer Mitzi Bearclaw. Written and directed by Shelley Niro and co-produced with Amos Adetuyi and Floyd Kane, “The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw” will premiere Thursday at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater. After the screening, Niro will be holding a Q&A, discussing topics ranging from the film’s thematic elements to Mitzi’s conflict between her life in the city and having to return home to care for her sick mother.

“I just wanted to make a story that was kind of comedy based but also had a sense of reality in it,” Niro said. “I wanted to show a family that is going through the process of being a functioning family.”

[Related: UCLA Film & Television Archive showcases 40 years of student filmmaking]

The film centers around Mitzi Bearclaw, who goes on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection. She first reluctantly fulfills her duty as a daughter by putting her hat-designing career and relationship on hold to help her father support her sick mother on a reserve. But as she spends time on the reserve, she also finds healing and acceptance.

Since Niro started writing the script in 2005, she said the project continued to evolve up until its final release. Niro hopes that the audience will appreciate the years of work put into the film – through workshopping with others and finding funding – leading to a story balancing both comedic and serious tones. The script highlights several themes, including finding one’s identity in different situations and environments, regrets about returning home and imperfect family dynamics, she said.

The film’s score, composed by Niro’s longtime collaborator and member of the Mohawk tribe, ElizaBeth Hill, adds to an atmosphere of both humor and self-reflection, she said. For instance, she said the opening song, “You’ve Got the Power,” elicits a fun and empowering mood. Although the film primarily centers on indigenous culture and has indigenous music accompaniment, Niro wants the audience to relate to the characters and the storyline, regardless of their cultural background.

“You can read a book and listen to music regardless of the history or origin behind it,” Niro said. “I like to think of the film as being like that too, that you can watch it and appreciate it, regardless of having any cultural information about it.”

Since the film is primarily set on an indigenous reserve, Niro offers a glimpse of life there, as well as the dynamic between families and communities that live there. Specifically, she delves into the relationship between Mitzi and her mother, as well as the different ways they express love, Niro said.

Despite the tidbits of indigenous culture ingrained in the film’s storytelling – in which scenes can shift from a spaceship to a mystical forest to Mitzi with her parents – Adetuyi sees an imaginative way of looking into a character’s mind. Through a combination of such storytelling, the film takes the audience into Mitzi’s mind as she discovers who she is and what her passions are, Adetuyi said.

Although applicable to any audience demographic, UCLA students can draw parallels between Mitzi and themselves, Adetuyi said. For instance, albeit unconventional, Mitzi’s pursuit of her own educational path mirrors the potential of education to open doors for college students in their careers and beyond, Niro said. The clash between Mitzi’s newfound independence and familial influences at home can be inevitable for college students transitioning into adulthood, Adetuyi said.

“The theme that’s explored in the film is when (Mitzi) wants one thing and her parents want another thing, which is common between young adults and their parents,” Adetuyi said. “There’s the idea of breaking away from, and that to grow into your own person, you need to be away from your parents.”

[Related: Graduate student to direct ‘Romeo and Juliet’-based short film in sculpture garden]

Those who attend the screening can also learn about indigenous culture and Niro’s worldview as someone with an indigenous background. Fourth-year economics student Juan Felipe Díaz, a Bruin Film Society board member who helped organize the event, said he looks forward to the screening and hopes that students hear an indigenous perspective. Adding onto what he perceives as a lack of indigenous film screenings in Los Angeles, Díaz said he thinks the audience will gain a different outlook from the screening compared to previous ones on campus.

“Even though we’ve had filmmakers come (to campus) in the past, we’ve never been able to host someone that I feel like people really haven’t heard about and need to hear about,” Díaz said.

Ultimately, Niro said she aims to convey a central message about healing and reconciling oneself to the nature of life. She hopes that through Mitzi’s own journey throughout the film, viewers will be able to feel healed themselves after leaving the theater.

“Life doesn’t stay where you think it is. It keeps going on, and the more you contribute to your life, the better it gets,” Niro said. “It’s just trying to resolve and find peace within yourself, and somewhere along the lines, you do find that.”

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Jessica Li
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