native film fest 2020

The Power of Cinema

The 2020 Native FilmFest celebrates the finest cinematic perspective of indigenous people, March 13-14.

Jeremy Kinser Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

native film fest 2020
Warrior Women tells the powerful story of Madonna Thunder Hawk, an organizer of the American Indian Movement.

Celebrating its 19th year, Native FilmFest has been lauded as one of the country’s most highly regarded festivals of its kind. Since the festival launched in 2001, indigenous filmmakers from around the globe have descended on the Coachella Valley, the home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, to share their vivid work and dynamic stories.

When You Go

Native FilmFest
March 13-14
Mary Pickford is D’Place
Cathedral City
Visit for tickets and all-access passes.

The festival, produced by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, consistently opens a door for discussing and exploring indigenous issues, such as tribal identity and the exploitation of Native American land, onscreen.

The representation of Native people 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 Native FilmFest, locals and visitors can view indigenous storytelling in a new light and see some of the best that contemporary indigenous cinema has to offer. Noted films that have premiered at the festival include Words from a Bear, a look at Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American writer Navarro Scott Momaday, and Falls Around Her, a depiction of life on the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek reservation.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is honored to collaborate on this year’s FilmFest with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase in partnership with native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of native peoples. This is not the first collaborative effort between Agua Caliente and the National Museum of the American Indian. In March 2019, the Museum presented an exhibition entitled “Section 14: The Other Palm Springs, California” created by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and organized by the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.

This exhibition was open in Washington, D.C. through January 2020 and told the story of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indian’s work for justice and rights to their land in Palm Springs, California. Today, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian strives towards equity and social justice through education, inspiration and empowerment. This FilmFest showcases enlightening films, documentaries, and short films from some of today’s premier Indigenous filmmakers thanks to the continued partnership between Agua Caliente and NMAI.

Must-See Screenings

Plan your Native FilmFest itinerary around the following flicks.

march 13

The Ice Cream Man
This moving story follows two brothers who launch their own business and create a better future for the Blackfeet Reservation in Northwest Montana.
Time: 5 p.m.
Running Time: 5 min.

One World
This new music video from Taboo of the Black-Eyed Peas features Native hip-hop artists, the MAG
Time: 5:05 p.m.
Running Time: 57 min.


Warrior Women
The film tells the powerful story of Madonna Thunder Hawk, an organizer of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who fought for Native liberation as a community of extended families. She helped mold the children of activists — including her own daughter Marcy — into the “We Will Remember” survival group. Together, Madonna and Marcy fought for Native rights in an environment that made them more comrades than mother and daughter. Following the screening, the Richard M. Milanovich Award for Indigenous Filmmaking will be presented to director/producer Christina D. King.
Time: 5:10 p.m.
Running Time: 64 min.

we are birds film

We Are Birds

march 14

We Are Birds
This fascinating documentary focuses on the Head Bird Singers, who are currently leading the tribes in their cultural traditions. The Head Bird Singer fulfills a critical role not only as a cultural leader but also as a preservationist of songs and the traditions that go with the performance of these songs.
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Running Time: 106 min.


Emptying the Tank
A striking portrait of Chippewa female mixed martial artist Ashley Nichols.
Time: 3 p.m.
Running Time: 10 min.

emptying the tank film

Emptying the Tank


Fight Before the Fight
Jake Rameriez shares the story of his life and examines the experiences that pushed him into Muay Thai.
Time: 3:10 p.m.
Running Time: 3 min.


Turning Tables
Joshua DePerry (Anishinaabe), also known as Classic Roots, deftly navigates the two worlds that inspire his music to be urban and Indigenous.
Time: 3:13 p.m.
Running Time: 16 min.

turning tables film

Turning Tables


Blood and Memory (2)
This split-screen remix of home movies demonstrates how the construction of Indigenous memory fast forwards and rewinds and then stops to dance.
Time: 3:29 p.m.
Running Time: 3 min.

Hooghan film



Larry and Carmelita Lowe tell their family history over images of a Hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling.
Time: 3:32 p.m.
Running Time: 11 min.


A History of Service (Auburn Vet)
This film explores the warrior tradition and the exemplary record of service among the United Auburn Indian Community of California.
Time: 3:43 p.m.
Running Time: 4 min.


Kelly Robinson-4D Carver-Bringing it Back Home
Kelly Robinson, A Nuxalk carver, brings two masks to life and bestows his carvings upon his people.
Time: 3:47 p.m.
Running Time: 10 min.


Disturbed by their community’s declining health, Native American women reclaim ancient traditions leading toward better food ways and spiritual awakening.
Time: 3:57 p.m.
Running Time: 28 min.


dukʷibəɫ swatixʷtəd (Changer’s Land)
The Salish people sing and drum in celebration of the ocean, mountains, and creatures of the Salish Sea.
Time: 7 p.m.
Running Time: 5 min.

Changers Land film

dukʷibəɫ swatixʷtəd (Changer’s Land)

Edge of the Knife film

Edge of the Knife


SGAAWAAY K’UUNA (Edge of the Knife)
At a seasonal fishing camp in the 1800s, two families endure conflict between the nobleman and his best friend. When the nobleman accidentally causes the death of his friend’s son, he flees into the rainforest, descending into madness and transforming into Gaagiizid – “the Wildman.”
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Running Time: 100 min.

jason momoa


Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal Council Members with actor Jason Momoa; (from left) Vincent Gonzales III, Jeff L. Grubbe, Momoa, Anthony W. Purnel, and Reid D. Milanovich.

Jason Momoa Experiences Tribal Culture

One of this year’s cinematic highlights is the anticipated premiere of The Last Manhunt (working title). The adventure film offers the latest retelling of the true story of Willie Boy, a member of the Chemehuevi Tribe who accidentally killed his girlfriend’s father in self defense in 1909, prompting the young couple to flee. The search for him led to what is often described as the last great manhunt of the American west.

Jason Momoa, best known for playing the title role in Aquaman and Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones, headlines the film as a character named Big Jim. In a 2018 interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the actor, who is of Native Hawaiian descent, described the story as a “Native American Romeo and Juliet story.”

Production took place in the Indian Canyons on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in fall 2019, as well as in locations near the Coachella Valley, such as Banning, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms. Momoa took a break from shooting last September to meet with Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe and become more familiar with the Tribe’s heritage and culture.

Momoa stopped by for a special visit with Tribal members and youth as a way to say thank you for the Tribe. Grubbe said that he and Momoa had spoken by phone a few times prior the meeting. “He has a genuine respect for indigenous people,” Grubbe said.

Momoa, who signed photos for young people at the gathering, said he was honored to be there.

“It’s an honor to be able to come here and shoot a beautiful love story that needs to be told,” Momoa, who also has a producing credit on the movie, told the crowd. “This story goes through your land and it’s phenomenal. Anytime you can tell a true, indigenous story — myself being indigenous — I wanted to tell this story. I’ll obviously come back here and play it. That will be exciting.”

This story originally appeared in MeYah Whae, The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Spring/Summer 2020. To read the current digital edition, click HERE