Sundance Film Festival 2020
WORDS FROM A BEAR
When N. Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native American literature and the vibrant contemporary culture it described. Now, Momaday’s transportive words come to life in this cinematic biography of one of the most celebrated Native American storytellers.
Hi Jeffrey thanks for talking to The New Current, you all set for the festival?
Yes, I am very excited to be a part of the festival.
Do you ever get any nerves ahead of a festival screening?
I do. I'm very self-conscious of my work. I think I spend most of my time watching the reactions of the audience and making sure they are following the narrative arc.
How does it feel to be at the festival with your film?
The Sundance Film Festival is a huge achievement for any filmmaker. Moreover, being an Indigenous filmmaker, it's monumental and allows us to have a large platform to tell our stories.
With this being your World Premiere are there any extra nerves ahead of your screening?
Yes. You want everyone to be satisfied with the premiere, and I mean everyone. Your crew, funders, the subjects of the film, and of course the audience. I also want to be satisfied seeing the film for the first time in this important space.
Tell me a little bit about Word From A Bear, how did the film come about?
I was first approached by American Masters to do a film on N. Scott Momaday in 2016. Of course, I jumped at the chance to tell his amazing story. I had just come off of a festival run with my first short film "Isabelle's Garden." The opportunity that was in front of me seemed like a natural transition for me, to cross into the world of feature-length documentary filmmaking. After the first few months of production, I was off and running, making the film my own. I was also a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, as is N. Scott Momaday, and we share similarities in how we grew up in the rural spaces of the West. I think from our shared experiences, we were able to visually capture the essence of Momaday’s writings and storytelling, relating each written line to his unique Kiowa/American experience representing ancestry, place, and oral history.
"You need to balance your daily, with this massive project that can take years to create."
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
I have. The first time I ever picked up a video camera, I began making films. My father brought home a video camera from work one day and my sister and I made two or three music videos. I used the fade button on the camera to cut the film and change location in the room as my sister moved to new scenes. We had no idea what we were doing, but I loved it.
As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?
Absolutely. This was a decent sized production and collaborated with many people. Most of my early films are me with a camera and microphone. Simply put, I had to adjust to directing a team of creative professionals, with diverse opinions. The result was magnificent. My team was so eager to be a part of the film and wanted to learn all they could, to present the best story of Momaday. They helped me in so many ways, to complete the project. From the editing, sound design, camera work, composing, and to all the participants that sat in the interview chair, I couldn't be happier with the collaboration.
How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut short film?
I am much more scheduled than I have ever been in my life. As a director and producer working on a feature, you have to be ready to take on multiple tasks in every phase of production. The work never stops and you become fully dedicated to your craft and to your project. I really had to train myself to be focused. I also had to find time to step away from the project and rest.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?
Achieving balance is something I am working hard on for my next projects. You need to balance your daily, with this massive project that can take years to create. This is a difficult challenge as a filmmaker. We love our jobs and want to spend every waking moment working, but you have to find time to get away and have time for yourself.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a commissioned project for a company called Actual Films, out of San Francisco.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
I want all audiences to know that this film relates to them. Although Momaday's unique heritage is a central theme of the narrative, Momaday’s work asks the questions every audience can relate to: what are our origins and how do we connect to them through our collective memories? Who are we, and how do we relate to each other through our similarities and differences?