Dr. Justin de Leon (Ethnic Studies) was awarded a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Grants for Arts Projects Media Arts grant for the Creative Sovereignty Lab (CSL) project, which aims to address the issue of Native American communities being defined by cinema without active participation in their own representations.

“In breaking barriers and creating pathways for success, we aim to empower Native artists, promote their professional growth, and ensure their active participation in shaping the film and media arts industry,” notes Dr. de Leon.

Crew members

CSL produced the Braided Together film with 15 crew members and 7 apprentices. Everyone on set was given the opportunity to write and develop their own screenplays through a script accompaniment period.

By exploring Indigenous approaches, CSL provides increased training and opportunities for Native filmmakers, fostering career advancement and a diverse film and media arts landscape. CSL makes films through inclusive, Indigenous-based processes, championing equity-based approaches. Making films that matter, combined with a robust professional apprenticeship program, empowers Native American communities with professional skills and opportunities to transform the film and media arts field.

This NEA-funded project will focus on equipping Native creatives, particularly filmmakers, with the necessary skills, industry knowledge, and networking opportunities to thrive in their careers.

The project will offer a series of trainings and workshops to empower Native filmmakers/ creatives and transform film and media arts practice. It includes the production of a short film in Eagle Butte, SD, the Tribal Headquarters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, with a screenplay written by a local tribal member LennixBad Moccasin.

Braided Together

Throughout the entire process, the team studied and explored Indigenous relationality, intergenerational trauma and healing, and what healthy on-set relationships can look like.

The project will select five apprentices from the Lakota community, prioritizing Indigenous and people of color filmmakers, who will work with a professional film crew consisting of experienced filmmakers such as Jesse Shortbull (Lakota, Director), Victoria Anderson-Gardner (Anishinaabe, Producer/Director), and Morningstar Derosier (Anishinaabe, Cinematographer). Learning sessions before and after production will cover topics including Indigenous relationality, representation, Lakota oral history, storytelling, and screenplay writing. Following the production phase, a two-month screenplay accompaniment period will provide ongoing support to the apprentices. The project will culminate in a community follow-up session featuring a film screening, group learning sessions, and the sharing of screenplays, creating a platform for dialogue, reflection, and celebration.

CSL has carried out multiple programs over six years, including a Native film and storytelling pilot program on Indigenous screenplay development at UC San Diego and the filming of Braided Together, a short film in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Project Press Release

(Photo Header:The CSL Pilot Program at UC San Diego trained two dozen Indigenous and BIPOC youth in a comprehensive overview of filmmaking, with a focus on story and screenplay writing. This was all carried out in the context of Indigenous cultural practices of oral history and the recognition of historical media misrepresentation. The Pilot Program consisted of 15 workshops over 5 days.)