Applause and cheers filled San Francisco Public Library’s Screening Room on Nov. 4, as the second day of the “American Indian Film Festival” concluded. The American Indian Film Institute, founded in 1979 began the festival as a means to foster “understanding and appreciation of the culture, traditions, and issues” that Native American still experience today, according to their mission statement.
Now in its 48th year, the festival held screenings of 56 films from Nov. 3–11th at various Bay Area locations, including the De Young Museum, Berkeley City College, and the California Academy of Sciences. Ranging from documentaries, to animations and music videos, all films were works made by and about Native American, Alaskan Native, and Canada First Nation peoples. Each day of the festival, a number of films were shown so viewers had the option to plan their visit around what they wanted to see.
USF’s Cultural Centers hosted a field trip on Nov. 4 to attend the Animations Program screening at San Francisco Public Library’s Main branch. “To have these events is to embrace more and more diversity in the city,” said sophomore computer science major, Ezequiel Beck, who attended the trip. “It’s important for these events to happen, and to invite students to come and learn.”
Assistant Director of USF’s Cultural Centers D. Perez Sornia emphasized the relevance of attending city-initiated cultural events. “I think the city putting their money where their mouth is by uplifting events happening all around us is great. It’s a way for us to stand with communities who we aren’t personally a part of, and a way of giving them opportunities to tell their stories.”
Some films explored the longstanding history of violence and racism against Indigenous people. One film, “Ohskennón:ten Owí:ra (Little Deer),” showed two Indigenous girls’ escape from the abuse and horror they experienced at the Mohawk Institute Residential School. This was one of many schools established by Christian missionaries and the U.S. government to eradicate Indigenous Culture and forcefully assimilate Native American youth into mainstream American society.
Mohawk writer and director Jonathan Elliot of the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario took to the stage to introduce his film “Ohskennón:ten Owí:ra (Little Deer).” “I don’t consider this my story, I consider it a community story. The survivors told me they wanted to make this film to educate audiences about what they went through at residential schools, but to make it a message of hope and resilience.” Elliot said, on the film’s significance. “I think it’s a testament to their strength and to their ability to help guide future generations to understand what they went through, because it’s important to not forget.”
USF Graduate student Yih Ren, who is the Gender and Sexuality Center Coordinator at the USF Cultural Centers, attended the festival and spoke on the impact storytelling has on our understanding of the people around us. “Oftentimes when we talk about representation, we’re talking about only one type for a whole culture or ethnicity, so if we add more stories, we add more layers to that representation.”
Screenings will continue until Nov. 11th both virtually and in person, at venues throughout Berkeley and San Francisco — information about tickets can be found on their website.