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Native film projects selected for funding, TV broadcasts

Katsitsionni Fox (Mohawk)

LINCOLN, Neb. — Each year, Vision Maker Media funds media projects intended for PBS broadcasting that represent the cultures, experiences and perspectives of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Films are reviewed by a panel of public media programmers and Native American filmmakers, and board approved based on Native involvement, topics of relevance that can garner a wide audience, guideline eligibility, and meeting technical standards of PBS broadcast quality. This year’s topics communicate social justice, climate and environment, health and wellness, democracy and arts.

Billy Luther (Navajo, Hopi, Laguna Pueblo)

Fourteen television projects were selected for 2021 funding and will be executive produced by Vision Maker Media for PBS television broadcasting. The filmmakers represent 23 different Native nations with a total $841,522 in funding support.

The films funded are at all stages of the production process, with some still in research while others are nearing the end of production. The Vision Maker Media Public Media Fund offers up to $150,000 in support for episodic programming and production, up to $100,000 for post-production, and a range of $5,000 to $25,000 for research and development.

Colleen Thurston (Choctaw Nation)

The purpose for research and development support is to fully develop a documentary or episodic program for television broadcast. The purpose for production support is to film, record and produce projects for television broadcast. The purpose for post-production support is to bring projects to completion and deliver a master cut for television broadcast.

“We’re elated by the variety of projects selected for the 2021 Public Media Fund,” Francene Blythe-Lewis (Diné, Sisseton-Wahpeton, Eastern Band Cherokee), executive director, said in a statement. “The group of projects represent an array of tribes, topics and impactful new stories that are vital to today’s dialogue. It is an honor for everyone at Vision Maker Media to be part of the creation of these important stories being told by and about Native Americans for public media.”

Projects Selected for 2021 Public Media Funding:

 Tiny Tot Nation

Animated Short 

Phase: Research and Development

Awarded $18,200

Producer/Director/Writer: Yvonne Russo (Sicangu Lakota Nation) 

Associate Producer: Reuben Fast Horse (Standing Rock Lakota)

Animator: Eric Peck

An adventure to find a lost moccasin in time for the Christmas Powwow.

Navajo Doctors Project (working title)

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $74,882

Director/Producer: Billy Luther (Navajo, Hopi, Laguna Pueblo)

Doctors on the Navajo reservation work through the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Salmon People

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $73,072

Executive Producer/Co-Director: Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation) 

Story Consultant/Narrator: Jay Julius (Lummi Nation)

Writer/Co-Director/Editor: Beth Pielert

Lummi Nation confronts the drastic decline of wild salmon that is threatening their way of life.

Kanenon:we – original seeds

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $57,182

Director/Producer/Writer: Katsitsionni Fox (Mohawk) 

Producer: Katja Esson

Cinematographer: Jaiden Mitchell (Mohawk)

Cinematographer: Mateo Hinojosa (Bolivian-American)

Indigenous women seed keepers working to propagate and protect our seed relatives for future generations. 

Good Fire

Short Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $53,127

Writer/Producer: Roni Jo Draper (Yurok)

Director/Cinematographer: Marissa Lila

Producer: Jenn Lee Smith

Disputing the notion of fire as our enemy.

(Untitled Tuscarora Short Documentary)

Short Documentary 

Phase: Research and Development 

Awarded $11,450

Producer: Stacey Rice (Tuscarora) 

Producer: Lindsey Ashley 

The Tuscarora Nation faces an ongoing water crisis outside of Niagara Falls.

Apache 8: Beyond the Fire

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $70,582

Director/Producer: Sande Zeig

Executive Producer: Heather Rae (Cherokee)

Producer: Katy Aday (White Mountain Apache)

Producer: Vicky Westover

Producer: Nina Mistry

Writer: Shepherd Tsosie (Diné)

Facing catastrophic fires on the west coast, Native women work to incorporate Indigenous burning rights.

And Knowledge to Keep Us

Episodic Series 

Phase: Production

Awarded $52,382

Producer/Director/Director of Photography: Torsten Kjellstrand

Producer/Photographer: Dr. Sven Haakanson, Jr. (Sugpiaq, Athabaskan) 

Producer/Photographer: Mark Blaine

Community Producers: Cheri & Speridon Simeonoff (Sugpiaq) 

Elder Producers: Judy & Mitch Simeonoff (Sugpiaq)

Alaska Native kids gather to connect with and celebrate their Sugpiaq ancestral knowledge.

The Land Returns

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $142,329

Co-Producer: Kevin Abourezk (Rosebud Lakota)

Co-Producer: Margaret Jacobs

Co-Producer/Director/Editor: Charles “Boots” Kennedye (Kiowa)

Opportune pathways whereby Indigenous nations are regaining their land.

Indigenous Genders (working title)

Episodic Series 

Phase: Research and Development 

Awarded $25,000

Writer/Director: Raven Two Feathers (Cherokee, Seneca, Cayuga, Comanche)

Executive Producer: Ciara Lacey (Kanaka Maoli)

Producer/Co-Writer: Nils Cowan

Producer: Eleni Ledesma (Indigenous Mexican descent)

Director of Photography: Steve Hyde

This documentary-series explores gender norms through Indigenous lenses.

#MMIW: Search for Truth (working title)

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded $100,714

Director/Executive Producer: Amanda Erickson (San Carlos Apache Nation)

Executive Producer: Sarah V. Burns

Executive Producer: Alex Sherratt

An Indigenous woman’s search to uncover the details of her sister’s death.


Feature Documentary 

Phase: Research and Development 

Awarded $25,000

Director: Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache) 

Producer: Mari Keiko Gonzalez

The untold story of the first Apache Scouts.

The Bears on Pine Ridge

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Post-Production

Awarded $80,597

Executive Producer: Sonny Skyhawk (Sicangu Lakota)

Director: Noel Bass

Co-Producer: Mirosala Gonzalez

A tribe’s suicide prevention team mentors young suicide-survivors.

Drowned Land

Feature Documentary 

Phase: Production

Awarded: $57,005

Director/Producer: Colleen Thurston (Choctaw Nation)

Producer: Michelle Svenson 

Director of Photography: Charles Elmore 

Editors: Gloria Shade (Cherokee, Diné) & Zach Litwack

Deep in the Choctaw Nation of rural Oklahoma, a group of water protectors fight to preserve the lifeline of their community.