The ACT Human Rights Film Festival comes to a close Saturday, April 13, at Lory Student Center Theatre with the Colorado premiere of Words from a Bear at 7:30 p.m. The documentary film, made by Indigenous (Kiowa) filmmaker and media artist Jeffrey Palmer, examines the enigmatic life and mind of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Navarro Scott Momaday, one of Native America’s most celebrated authors of poetry and prose. The film premiered at Sundance in early 2019.
Momaday will be in attendance Saturday evening to receive the festival’s Harry Belafonte Resistance through Art Award and, along with his daughter Jill Momaday, will join Ty Smith, director of CSU’s Native American Cultural Center, for a post-screening Q&A discussion. The evening, presented by the College of Liberal Arts, concludes with a reception in the theatre lobby. The film is presented by the Department of English.
“We are honored to not only close out the fourth annual festival with Words from a Bear,” says Beth Seymour, ACT managing director, “but to also host Dr. Momaday here at Colorado State, recognize him for his significant literary and artistic contributions, and celebrate his life.”
Momaday was the first Native American writer to receive a major literary award when he won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel, House Made of Dawn. The book and subsequent works helped launch the “Native American Renaissance” in art and literature, influencing a generation of Native American artists, scholars, and political activities.
Words from a Bear visually captures the essence of Momaday’s writings while taking audiences on a spiritual journey through the expansive landscapes of the West. Palmer uses shots of sweeping landscapes and animation to take audiences to where Momaday’s Kiowa ancestors roamed the Great Plains with herds of buffalo and then to the sand-painted valleys of Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, where Momaday’s imagination ripened.
Although his unique heritage is a central theme of the film, Momaday’s work asks the questions every audience can relate to: what are our origins and how do we connect to them through our collective memories. Words from a Bear illuminates how Momaday has grappled with these basic questions of human existence and his own identity while revealing intimate details of the writer’s personal life along with the trials and tribulations he faced as a Native American artist in the 20th and 21st century.
Honored with multiple awards
The Harry Belafonte Resistance through Art Award honors an individual who has demonstrated the important role that artistic and cultural productions play in challenging discriminatory attitudes or repressive systems of thought and action. The award is named after the internationally recognized American actor, singer, and social activist Harry Belafonte, who ACT first honored with the achievement in 2017.
“It’s a powerful statement to receive ACT’s Harry Belafonte Resistance through Art Award, especially from a land-grant institution,” Momaday says. “I am honored and look forward to sharing Words from a Bear with northern Colorado audiences.”
Momaday has also been named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and Oklahoma’s poet laureate. He received the 2007 National Medal of Arts for “introducing millions worldwide to the essence of Native American culture.” He is also the founder of The Buffalo Trust, dedicated to the preservation of Native American culture and heritage, has held tenured teaching posts at UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of Arizona, and received an honorary Doctor of Human Letters form the University of Illinois at Chicago.
ACT closing weekend lineup
ACT’s closing weekend screenings begin Friday, April 12, at The Lyric with documentary films Eldorado, starting at 4:30 p.m., and Letter from Masanajia at 7:30 p.m. The festival’s final day begins at the Lory Student Center Theatre on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., with a collection of five short films from around the world.
“This is the first year we’ve included short films in our line-up, and audience feedback has been extremely positive,” Seymour says. “Saturday’s program includes five Colorado premieres of short films – and one of those, Trapped in the City of a Thousand Mountains, is making its North American premiere at ACT.”
Three feature-length documentary films, including Words from a Bear, will bring the festival to a close. Tickets for all films as well as closing weekend passes are available for purchase through the festival website and are also available at the door, pending availability.