Heather Rae


American Indian Film Festival

Director and Producer of "Trudell"

Friday April 14, 2006

Heather Rae (Cherokee), as Director of the Native American Program for the Sundance Institute from 1995 to 2001, nurtured the work of more than fifty emerging Native American screenwriters and filmmakers. She has also worked to develop the field of Native filmmaking through her work with Akatubi Entertainment's Film and Music Program on reservations throughout the West. In 2005 she premiered Trudell , which she directed, at the Sundance Film Festival.

Heather has worked in some producing capacity on more than a dozen documentaries and half dozen features through her fifteen years in the film industry.  She began working on TRUDELL in 1992 and after twelve years the project is the creative culmination of years of work as a filmmaker and activist.  For Six years Rae ran the Native Program at the Sundance Institute and was a programmer for the Sundance Film Festival.  After leaving Sundance in 2001 she went on to work for Winter Films as Senior Vice President of Production. For the past three years she has worked independently including a recently produced feature film, AMERICAN MONSTER, starring Adam Beach, Gary Farmer and Udo Kier.  She is also producing A THOUSAND GUNS, with Michael Robinson (TRANS, THE SLAUGHTER RULE) which Julian Goldberger (TRANS, THE HAWK IS DYING) will direct. Additionally she is producing THE SPACE BETWEEN ALL THINGS with Yvonne Russo (NATURALLY NATIVE, TRUE WHISPERS) and Randy Redroad (THE DOE BOY) directing. She co-produced BACKROADS, directed by Shirley Cheechoo, which premiered at Sundance in 2000.  Prior to her years at Sundance, Rae produced on such documentary films as CBS's 500 NATIONS, Turner Broadcasting's THE NATIVE AMERICANS, and PBS' STORYTELLERS OF THE PACIFIC. She produced the behind-the-scenes making of SMOKE SIGNALS for the Sundance Channel and was an Associate Producer on SILENT TEARS, directed by Cheechoo. Rae is more recently an Adjunct Professor at Boise State University and sits on the Board of Directors for Treasure Valley Television, Boise’s community TV affiliate, and Chairs the Board for the regional True West Cinema Festival.  Rae is Cherokee and a mother of three. She and her family reside in Boise, Idaho and graduated from Evergreen State College

"I think the state of Native Cinema is ever-growing and fluid. There is so much talent and new ideas and even a younger generation that is stepping forward with provocative images, new traditions and a solid vision. And the generation before did such important groundwork to create opportunity and a body of work to stem from. In some ways my film bridges between those generations— I know it took me thirteen years to make TRUDELL but the process overall was just right."

From Sundance:

Age. Day job (if you have one) and former jobs. Where you were born. Where you grew up. Where you live.
I am 38 years old and live in Idaho which is where I grew up. I lived in Los Angeles for 16 years and decided to move home last year with my family; my husband and three children. For the past fifteen years I have basically supported myself working in the film industry, in different capacities, but for the most part producing. I spent six years at Sundance running the Native Program, which Bird Runningwater now does. I also had a brief interlude as an executive, which solidified my conviction to work independently and do my own work.

Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking? How did you finance your own film? And any other insights you think might be interesting...
I graduated from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were playing in garages nearby and the entire faculty was comprised of lesbian experimental filmmakers. In fact, I think it may still be. I graduated with a degree in Cinema and Multi-Cultural studies. I built a good base there and then really learned through the empirical process of just doing it. I think studying the form from a theoretical standpoint is critical, even if it is not from the usual suspects. I was deeply informed by such makers as Trinh T. Minh-ha, Alanis Obomsowin, Merata Mita, Werner Herzog and Barbara Hammer.

I cobbled the financing for my film together over many years and various creative means. I did receive a grant from Native American Public Telecommunications, which is one of the five minority consortium that feed into PBS, funded by the CPB. And in the end I have six executive producers and some special supporters, including Russell Friedenberg, Rog Ganger, Angelina Jolie, Marcheline Bertrand, Chief Harry B. Wallace, James Haven and Bonnie Raitt.

I've been working on the film since March of 1992. Nearly 13 years.

Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
I was deeply influenced by John's work--his leadership and his spoken word. In my early 20's I was doing a lot of work as an activist and began listening to his recordings, namely the original Tribal Voice, and it was intrinsically a part of the formation of my mind as an adult. When I finally met JT in 1992, I approached him with the idea of working on a film about him and after talking about it, he obliged.

What are your biggest creative influences (this could include other filmmakers or films)?
Aside from the aforementioned filmmakers (I didn't mention Maya Deren above. Or the verite movement..) I have been greatly influenced by the land. I grew up in the mountains of Central Idaho and for many years without running water or electricity. We did not have television and the nearest movie theater was 75 miles away, one of those country theaters that shows one Disney movie a week. We were extremely poor, so getting there was a major privilege.

My first impressions in terms of art were landscape and mountain music. My father was a banjo player and mule packer. He also painted. My mother, a Cherokee woman, did beadwork and is an amazing seamstress. I was deeply influenced by simplicity.

Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance, where were you? And we'd love to hear more about how you've spent the last month preparing for the festival.

When I heard from Sundance, I was in some kind of disbelief. I spent the entire weekend just sure they were going to call me and say they'd changed their minds. When they called on Monday and said we were in Competition, I sat down and cried, sobbed. It was slightly embarrassing. The past month since has been a whirlwind, amidst realities of the outside world. There are strange contradictions between the dream world that is the film industry and the reality of what is real life. It's like a contrast between magical realism and social realism. I appreciate both tones.

What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
I hope to bring John's rhetoric and ideals to the forefront, by any means possible. I am realistic about the industry and its limitations, but I know that anything is possible. I am only interested in cinema as a mode for social progression and cultural expression. Cinema as commerce does not motivate me, but I'm open because it is part of the process.

What is your definition of independent film?

Independent film is independent in spirit, independent in form, and free of the legacy of industrial capitalism and the colonizing spirit. That's idealism!

Who are a few people that you would you most like to meet at Sundance?
Filmmakers. I'd like to meet Miranda July and I look forward to seeing Travis Wilkerson and meeting his companion Susan Fink ("Who Killed Cock Robin?") I also look forward to introducing Trudell to the community. He's a trip. I have to say, I have no interest in the celebrity system. I don't believe in it. I feel it is an insidious play of idolatry and social perversion. It keeps us from knowing the reality of who we are.

Since Sundance 2005 is on Inauguration Day, what advice would you give President Bush as he begins his second term?