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Native Sun News: Vision Maker Media shares Native stories

Filed Under: Arts & Entertainment | National
More on: film, native sun news, tv

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Associate Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Vision Maker Media shares Native stories that represent the cultures, experiences, and values of American Indians and Alaska Natives with the world.

So you want to be in the movies....
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Associate Editor

LINCOLN, NE. - Imagine if all it took to pursue your dream of making movies was to come up with seven written pages. Adrian Baker, producer of the animated series of nine half-hour shows, “Injunuity” did just that. “Whenever I talk to young filmmakers, I tell them I am living proof that six or seven pages can change your life,” he said.

“Injunuity” covers issues such as preserving sacred sites, the environment, health, language preservation and more. “We take information, make the story, then give it an animated background,” Baker said. “I had this project in my head for 10 years,” Baker said. Taking his idea, he wrote out the proposal and applied to Vision Maker Media. He received a “really positive” response, “And it took off from there,” Baker said, admitting that he was not new to the film scene and already had a comprehensive reel of films. “They knew what it would look like, and they wanted to do it. They gave me the initial funding,” he said.

Vision Maker Media is a Native organization that is heavily funded by Public Broadcasting. The group is always looking for provocative and engaging completed films from independent or public television producers. Their goal is to encourage works that address new and current issues reflecting the changing nature of Native American communities.

“We’re particularly interested in programs such as Native American Graduates, Women and Girls who Lead, and Veterans’ Issues,” said Shirley K. Sneve (Sicangu), Vision Maker Media’s executive director.

The group was founded in 1976 by public television managers who wanted to see more diversity in the medium. A consortium was formed so funds could be channeled through Vision Maker Media. “In 1990, we started funding productions and since then we have produced 300 documentaries. We acquire finished work and we also fund everything from research and development to finishing films,” Sneve said.

Besides documentaries, the group is interested in feature films and animation, as well as contemporary stories. “It's been a long time since we've seen a “Smoke Signals,” Sneve said. Historical pieces can be of interest if there is a modern twist. “Standing Bear’s documentary about a lawsuit at the turn of the 20th Century shows his relatives in the film, and how it affected the Ponca today. It is really important to let PBS audiences know we are still here, and we are still interested in our sovereignty and language,” Sneve said.

Sneve said that in their search for films, the group attends a lot of festivals, “And that is how we find some titles,” she said, adding that the stories can run from very positive to really hard. “We have a documentary of video letters from prison. It’s the story of three young girls and their mom and their relationship with their dad in prison, and the video letters shared between them,” Sneve explained.

Sneve said the field is competitive but that good films rise to the top. Because of the caliber of work expected, the producer must have a track record, even if it is a solid student film.

“We do purchase short films,” Sneve said. The company is very dedicated to providing opportunities to the next generation of filmmakers. “We have internships and paid summer jobs. We are offering one in Nebraska, one in Alaska, one in Seattle, North Dakota, San Bernardino, CA, Las Vegas, New Mexico and more.

Blue Tarpalechee, 27, (Muscogee-Creek) from Okmulgee, OK, graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts where he studied film and landed an internship with VMM. He is now working full time for the organization and is producing “Growing Native,” a series of one hour shows in seven parts.

The series travels to seven different regions of Indian country to explore the ways different tribes are addressing food and health issues. “They will explore what they are doing to combat the rising level of disease as well as the return to traditional foods and ways of living. We look at horticulture, games, it takes a broad approach,” Tarpalechee said.

“I am very blessed to have gotten the opportunity to step into this position, which came about through an internship,” he said. “I learned a lot of things by doing backpack journalism, traveling to follow stories throughout Oklahoma, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Nebraska. I worked on my production and reporting skills, learned about editing programs. I did a lot of skill and network building and learned the tools that a journalist needs to tell a good story.”

“Don’t work in isolation,” Sneve advises potential filmmakers. “Shoot, write, edit. It is a collaborative process and you need smart people on your team. Watch lots of documentaries, follow the films you like and meet the filmmakers. Attend film festivals, go to school, and you will learn so much about filmmaking and how to tell a story.”

Students interested in film careers might consider college majors in New Media, journalism, filmmaking, or mass communications, which is the background of the three filmmakers on their full time staff.

Vision Maker Media is always looking for new films. They can be submitted at any time throughout the year but should be high-quality, accurate, authentic and unique enough for national broadcast. Films can include documentary, performance, cultural/public affairs, and animation. For more information regarding eligibility and application procedures, please visit Vision Maker Media online at For questions pertaining to the acquisition submission process, contact Assistant Director Georgiana Lee (Navajo) at

(Contact Christina Rose at

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