The second annual Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival brought artistic creativity, community involvement and cultural education to Richmond.
Held at the historic Byrd Theatre, the festival presented films ranging from full-length documentaries to five-minute short films. The four-day event sought to promote and celebrate native culture while addressing the various social issues facing the Native American community today.
Brad Brown, executive director of the festival and assistant chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, said the primary goal of this festival is to collect films that tackle Native American stereotypes and misconceptions, and present those films to the public.
The festival’s goal is not to “hammer” anyone about Native American issues, but “to educate and to entertain,” Brown said.
According to Brown, Pocahontas Reframed was born out of the realization that there were no significant Native American film festivals in the East Coast. Virginia Commonwealth University film professor, Peter Kirkpatrick, and noted Native American actor, George Aguilar, discussed the possibility of creating a festival in Richmond to fill the void. Kirkpatrick invited Brown to start the project.
“Peter came up to me and said, ‘as the only Virginia Indian in the meeting, you have to run this thing,’” Brown said. “I said, ‘I’ll do it, but I’m going to need your help.’”
Hosted by actor and activist Michael Horse, this year’s festival included an extensive list of programming. It featured 20 Native-American-affiliated films, musical guests Pure Fé and Cary Morin, special guest Sam Bearpaw, panel discussions, and lively questions and answers. This year’s event drew more than 600 attendees.
Festival attendant Nancy Lesh, 58, said her interest in environmental films drew her to the festival because she knew Native Americans were “strong” on environmental issues.
Lesh, however, said the films also provoked her thoughts about issues she previously was unaware of, and she expressed her feelings of frustration with politicized racial discrimination.
“There’s this whole arrogant attitude in white America. You see it with our president as well,” Lesh said. “That ‘we’ know best what these minorities want. It’s absurd.”
Another festival attendee, Susanna Getis, 18, said her favorite film was Mankiller, a 2017 film that shares the story and hardships of activist and political leader Wilma Mankiller. Born into poverty, Mankiller overcame a multitude of hardships to become the first women elected as principle chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Getis said she appreciated the “unique” perspective of the film. In addition, Getis praised how the universality of the film’s message translated beyond the native experience to represent a “huge” and collective “experience for everyone.”
Likewise, Brown said, another reward of his work lies with his ability to help present these films not only to the public, but also to the Indian community.
A number of tribal members and several chief tribal members came out in support of the festival. This list includes chiefs from the Pamunkey tribe, the Mattaponi and Upper Mattaponi tribes of King William County, and the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) tribe of South Hampton County.
During a questions and answers session following the world premiere of his film, The Indian System, director Sheldon P. Wolfchild described the educational importance of his work.
“The education process in our country denies our (Native American) historical truth,” Wolfchild said. “When we look at history through our filmmaking and tell our stories, it’s a process of education from us to you.”
Top photo: Wilma Mankiller/via Facebook