Lights, Camera, Indigena!

The 2019 Native FilmFest takes place March 8–9 and celebrates the cinematic perspective of North America’s indigenous people. We break down the who, what, when, and where of this year’s event.

Site Staff Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

A special Q&A after the screening with Momaday; his daughter Jill; and the film's producer, Jeff Palmer.

Since its inception in 2001, Native FilmFest has invited indigenous filmmakers from around the world to share their work and stories in the Coachella Valley, the home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The festival, produced by the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, opens a door for discussing and exploring indigenous issues, such as tribal identity and the exploitation of Native American land, on-screen.

The representation of Native peoples in film and popular culture in the last century has been largely misconceived, often resorting to stereotypes of noble savages or violent warriors. Thanks to the festival, locals and visitors can view indigenous storytelling in a new light and see some of the best that contemporary indigenous cinema has to offer.

When You Go

Native FilmFest
March 8–9
Mary Pickford Theatre,
36850 Pickfair Ct., Cathedral City, 760-328-7100.

Visit the box office for tickets and all-access passes. For tickets, visit For information on the festival, visit

Must-See Screenings

Plan your Native FilmFest itinerary around the following flicks.


Words From a Bear
The film examines the enigmatic life and mind of Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Navarro Scott Momaday, one of Native America’s most celebrated authors of poetry and prose. Cinematically, this story takes audiences on a spiritual journey through the expansive landscapes of the West, when Momaday’s Kiowa ancestors roamed the Great Plains with herds of buffalo, and to the sand-painted valleys of Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, where his imagination ripened and he showed superior writing skills as a young mission student.

Stay for:
A special Q&A after the screening with Momaday; his daughter, Jill; and the film’s director-producer, Jeff Palmer.

Falls Around Her
A musician returns to Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, to rest and reconnect with her homeland after years on the road, but she soon discovers that fame is not always so easily left behind and that we cannot run from our past. The film, which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and makes its California premiere during Native FilmFest, captures the intricacies of life on the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek reserve, where writer-director Darlene Naponse was born.


Falls Around Her makes its California premiere at the Native FilmFest.

Stay for:
A scheduled Q&A after the screening with writer-director Darlene Naponse and the film’s stars, Tantoo Cardinal, Tina Keeper, and Gail Maurice.


Generations is a look at contemporary life through the eyes of a single mother and her children.


A mother and her children on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation in Nevada are the lens through which the film examines Native identity.

Ka Piko
The film, which premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival in 2017, follows one man’s journey to connect with his Native Hawaiian culture after the death of his girlfriend during childbirth.

Wake up the Nakota Language
This documentary, which means “to wake up the Nakota language,” recounts one man’s dedication to preserving his language for future generations.

Basketball on the Navajo Nation is as much a part of life as the surrounding natural beauty and ancient traditions. Between dirt courts and a 7,000-seat high school stadium, much of life in Chinle revolves around the sport.


Junction shows how important basketball is to the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona.

Undiscovered Country
Frustrated by the partying ways of his young nephews, an uncle takes the boys on a life-changing journey out of town to reconnect with the land of their ancestors.

Run as One
In 1967, 10 indigenous boys ran the Pan Am Torch from Minneapolis to the opening ceremonies in Canada. Fifty years later, the runners reunite to share their memories and to discuss a heartbreaking injustice they all endured decades earlier.

Voices of Our Ancestors
In this award-winning documentary, a bicultural couple begins to teach their baby daughter their native languages, Yup’ik and Haida, with the hope that their languages can be revitalized.


Steven Collins, a ski jumper from Fort William First Nation who made it to the Olmpics, is profiled in Thunderbird.

Follow the amazing story of Steven Collins, a ski jumper from Fort William First Nation, who participated in his first Olympics at the age of 15.

When the Ochiskwacho, a sacred being who is a spiritual messenger, visits Kokoom, an elderly (spiritually ailing) two-spirit woman, she must make a difficult decision: Will she stay with her grandchildren or follow the Ochiskwacho?

Fast Horse
This film offers a rare look at the world of bareback horse racing through the experience of one Siksika horseman, Alison RedCrow, as he strives to build a team and take on the best riders in the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Cedar Tree of Life
The knowledge of cedar has been passed down for generations to these three extraordinary Salish women who use the material/medicine of cedar to practice and weave their culture and art in both traditional and contemporary contexts.

Telling People You’re Native American When You’re Not Native Is a Lot Like Telling a Bear You’re a Bear When You’re Not a Bear

An informational animated short explores what happens when people aren’t who they say they are.


This story originally appeared in MeYah Whae, The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Spring/Summer 2019. To read the current digital edition, click HERE.