This weekend, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) brings the Native New York Film Festival to Lower Manhattan. As part of the ​​Native Cinema Showcase, this one-of-a-kind free event will feature works from emerging and established filmmakers and include an array of short films, features, and discussions. In association with Native New York, an ongoing exhibition by the NMAI, the festival focuses on films exploring the histories and communities that make New York a Native place. All screenings will take place in the Auditorium at the NMAI, located at 1 Bowling Green.

“We have a very large population of Indigenous people here in the city, but everybody’s so spread out,” Cynthia Benitez, film programming manager at the NMAI, told Hyperallergic. “So when you have something like a film festival, we can bring people together.”

For the festival, Benitez explained how she and the NMAI worked with local Indigenous filmmakers, like Terry Jones (Seneca), to compile the list of films from both established and emerging artists.

“Whether it’s documentary, drama, or comedy — there’s something for everybody,” Benitez said. “We’re fortunate that a lot of filmmakers who are local are coming, so people will be able to ask questions and converse with them.”

The Native New York Film Festival begins tomorrow Friday, May 5 at 6:30 pm with a screening of Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back (2008). The 57-minute film follows Mohawk filmmaker Reaghan Tarbell as she retraces her familial roots back to the vibrant community of Mohawk ironworkers that once occupied north Gowanus in an area that came to be known as Little Caughnawaga. Audience members who may be interested in learning more about the film can stick around afterwards for a discussion with Tarbell. The film will also be preceded by “Rotinonhsión:ni Ironworkers” (2020), a six-minute short that explores the social and industrial influence of Mohawk ironworkers who built the New York City skyline. 

Still from “Keepers of the Game” (2016), directed by Judd Ehrlich (courtesy Flatbush Pictures)

The festival continues on Saturday, May 6, at 1pm with the Made In New York: Retrospective Shorts Program, a two-hour block featuring a collection of eight classic shorts that celebrate New York from Indigenous points of view. Some of the films include “First Voices” (2010), a documentary about a Cheyenne River Lakota radio broadcaster; “I Lost My Shadow” (2011), a music video from White Mountain Apache artist Laura Ortman’s second solo album; and “Kinnaq Nigaqtuqtuaq (The Snarling Madman)” (2005), a short that follows an Inuit cannibal through Manhattan while he hunts a young woman who is simultaneously stalking her former lover. The program will close with a discussion with Seneca filmmaker Terry Jones.

Later on, audiences can catch Keepers of the Game (2016), a feature-length film that follows an all-Native girls lacrosse team in upstate New York as they set out to become the first Native women’s team to bring home a championship for their community. The screening will run from 3pm to 5pm.

The final day of the festival, Sunday, May 7, brings another shorts program with a lineup of both contemporary and classic films from filmmakers of various nations. Showing at 1pm, the films range in length, with the shortest, “A Heart Free” (2022), clocking in at two minutes, and the longest, Tsi Tiotonhontsatáhsawe: Tsi Nihotirihò:ten Ne Ratironhia Kehró:non (When the Earth Began: The Way of the Skydwellers) (2022), running at 33 minutes. Audiences can stay after the screening for another discussion with Terry Jones and Shinnecock filmmaker Jeremy Dennis, a former Hyperallergic fellow.

Finally, the festival closes out at 3pm with a screening of Conscience Point (2019). Directed by Treva Wurmfeld, this film follows Shinnecock activist Rebecca Hill-Genia as she works with other tribal members and allies to protect their Nation from the threat of wealthy Hamptons landowners who threaten to displace them.

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Maya Pontone

Maya Pontone is a Staff Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from northern New Jersey, she studied journalism and political science at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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