Indigenous Animation Movement Rising
By Kade L. Twist
The Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah, Oklahoma might have more animation filmmakers per capita than any other community in the United States. And it’s a uniquely talented group of artists. The animation films of Joseph Erb (Cherokee), Nathan Young (Pawnee/Delaware/Kiowa) and Roy Boney, Jr. (Cherokee) have screened at film festivals nationally and internationally and have received numerous awards.
Recently, Erb teamed up with Boney and Matt Mason (Cherokee), another of his trainees, to create Hero, a 3D sci-fi animation series about a Cherokee named Runner who is leading a group of Cherokees fighting to retain their rights in the post–fossil fuel future, where the good guys speak Cherokee and the bad guys speak English.
If Anthony Deiter (Plains Cree/Ojibwe) has his way, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe will be the central hub for emerging Indigenous animation artists. Deiter is the chair of visual communications at IAIA. His experimental animation film Younghawk Seven, which utilizes a rich combination of digital photography and 2D and 3D animation, was featured in the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition Who Stole the Teepee and is exemplary of his creative vision.
The Oneida Nation has been investing in media for years and has established Four Directions Media, which operates Four Directions Productions (4DP). Through 4DP, the Oneida Nation has developed the premier HD video and 3D animation studio on the East Coast, as well as Web and interactive projects.
The first project for 4DP was the short 3D animation Raccoon and Crawfish, a traditional Oneida story about the evils of boastfulness, which had its world premiere on April 18 at the Syracuse International Film and Video Festival.
Canada Ahead—as Usual
Unfortunately, in the United States there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for Indigenous-produced content. American media is notorious for its lack of diversity. The U.S. doesn’t have anything resembling Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). American media executives “are quick to draw a line in the sand that Indigenous content is only for Indigenous people,” says Chris Keintz (Cherokee), co-creator of Raven Tales, a 3D animation series produced in Canada.
A Rising Star
Joseph Lazare (Mohawk) is hoping to join the ranks of APTN. He is the up-and-coming rock star of the Native animation movement. At the age of 19, in 2004, his film Might of the Starchaser, produced by Laura Milliken of Big Soul Productions, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. In the film Lazare uses multiple animation mediums—live action, stop-motion clay, computer-generated image (CGI) special effects and 2D—to tell the story of young space officer trying to save his planet from being destroyed by an evil baby lizard attempting to repopulate his species.
Lazare and Big Soul Productions have teamed up again to create a 30-minute pilot for the comedy series By the Rapids on APTN. The Mohawk-language 2D animation series is based on his hometown of Kahnawake (which means “by the rapids” in Mohawk). It’s an ensemble comedy that reflects “the humor of day-to-day life in Kahnawake, the people and all the strange things that happen in a small town.