LA Skins Fest presents Native American Short Film Showcase

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, USC hosted a premiere and conversation of Native American short films at the Norris Cinema Theater.

Photo of  Norris Cinema Theater showing of SKINS FEST

On Monday night, USC worked in conjunction with LA Skins Fest, an organization dedicated to amplifying Native American voices in the film industry, to highlight Native American filmmakers.

The six films featured were “My First Native American Boyfriend,” directed by Joey Clift; “Your Name Isn’t English,” directed by Tazbah Rose Chavez; “Dogwood,” directed by Maya Rose Dittloff; “In Our Own Hands,” directed by Jennifer Varenchik; “OChiSkwaCho,” directed by Jules Koostachin; and “TwoBears,” directed by Anthony Florez and produced by USC alumna, Annika Dawson.

In an interview with Annenberg Media, Clift, a comedian and writer for Netflix as well as an enrolled Cowlitz Indian Tribal Member, explained the significance of the showcase for Indigenous filmmakers and audience members alike.

“The lack of Native American representation in film can have a lasting impact on Native American youth,” Clift said.

Despite his passion for comedy growing up, Clift didn’t believe that there was a place for him in the field until his college years.

“I really love comedy, but… I didn’t see any Native comedians on TV,” Clift said. “My professors fortunately in college gave me the very normal advice of, ‘Hey, you know, you can just work in comedy, right?,’ which was a very big shock to me in 2009 when I graduated.”

Some projects highlighted in the festival directly captured the alienation Native Americans feel in contemporary society, including Clift’s film that was inspired by his own dating experience outside of the Indigenous community. Chavez’s “Your Name Isn’t English” was also born from personal experience, demonstrating the uncomfortable conversations sparked by strangers regarding her first name, Tazbah.

The Hollywood Diversity Report from 2021 reported that Native representation in film is less than 1%. New evidence from 2020 suggests that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film content, UCLA’s Diversity Report found.

“Obviously, as a Native people, [we] aren’t really represented well in this colonized world and westernized society,” Amia Roach-Valandra, USC sophomore and secretary of the Native American Student Assembly said. “For native folks that don’t see [representation] very often, having stories that they can relate to is important, especially for uplifting native youth and future generations.”

The panel of Native American film industry members shared advice on how non-Indigenous filmmakers can uplift native voices.

Clift recommended including Native individuals in key decision making positions for movies with an Indigenous subject matter. Chavez emphasized the importance of co-writing with someone from the specific tribe that is relevant in the production.

Dittloff recommended that directors interested in Native topics familiarize themselves with the decision making process of Tribal Councils and their subcommittees.

“Part of my approach [consulting a Salish tribe] was me going to their cultural committee, which is a subcommittee of their tribe,” Ditloff said. “They only meet every three months, so knowing that the pace and the way things function and the way things get done is also vastly different… is so helpful.”

Clift hopes students gain a better insight into the world of Native cinema by expanding their perspective and understanding of independent short films.

“I hope that it opens [students’] eyes to a world of Native cinema and Native storytelling and filmmakers that are doing great work that they might not necessarily know about,” Clift said. “[I hope] students come to us and just watch a bunch of dope short films through a bunch of cool filmmakers.”

For more Indigenous resources and information, visit the official Instagram of the USC Native American Student Assembly.