Laura Beadling & Georgina Lightning: Thinking About Indigenous Filmmaking

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the connections between film scholar Laura Beadling’s discussion of indigenous filmmaking and Georgina Lightning’s film Older Than America. Beadling provided a wonderful theoretical foundation to Native films when she defined them as expressions of “cultural sovereignty –opportunities to tell one’s own stories and create one’s own images.”

Niro’s Kissed by Lightning seeks to reconcile the traditional narrative of Hyenwatha (Hiawatha) told by Whites both through Mavis’s paintings and the stories told by Jessie, her dead husband. Lightning’s film, while part of the canon of indigenous filmmaking (especially with its 23 film festival awards!), carries a different message. Georgina (I think lunch, dinner, and a goodbye hug allow us to be on a first name basis) doesn’t hide her social activism. Indeed, her film and television career seem like mere digressions in a blossoming career as a social and cultural changer. That’s why I think we need to consider her film as something closer to a bottom-up history. She’s not retelling a narrative; she’s telling a story that has never been told. Worse, it’s been obscured by historical ignorance and blatant cover-ups of a sinister, conspiratorial nature.

What distinguishes Older Than America is its ability to be read and interpreted and its simultaneous ability to elude us all. Yes, its pays homage to some of the great horror films and thrillers occupying the AFI canon; yes, it has themes, motifs, symbols, and language all waiting for interpretation. All that pales in comparison to its status as a protest film, crying out against vicious abuses by the American government and myriad religious organizations. Older Than America demands an authentic apology from our President and our government. Its showing at the National Museum of the American Indian on November 17th is a beacon of hope that legislators will listen: “common” experience payments aren’t cutting it. Acknowledgement and proper memorialization are needed to work through a healing process –Georgina’s ultimate goal.

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