A film made on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and starring Miss Blackfeet has won a major award.
Iniskim, a short film by Thunderheart Films, won an Emmy for its photography this month in addition to being nominated for best Historic/Cultural Program and for best director.
The film follows a young, Blackfeet woman recovering from trauma as she goes on a buffalo drive. It was filmed in October 2016 and stars Alia Heavy Runner, Miss Blackfeet. She was a junior in high school at the time. Working on Iniskim was her first time acting.
"This was really hard," Heavy Runner said. "I don’t show my emotions. I always thought, 'Don’t cry. You’ve got to be strong,' and all of that. They almost had to put onions under my eyes because it was so hard.”
Heavy Runner says that she wanted to make the film because she hoped to inspire her peers.
"I just wanted to show my younger siblings, my younger cousins, and pretty much everybody on the reservation...to tell them, 'Hey, you know, if I can do it, you can do it too. Just because you're on a small reservation. Doesn't mean you can do anything. The sky's the limit,'" Heavy Runner said.
Director Daniel Glick says most of the scenes were improvised during an actual buffalo drive on the reservation. The narration was written later with the help of Blackfeet tribal members.
"It was very much a collaborative effort. Then we got the music, and we were lucky enough to get music from Mike McCready, who’s the guitarist from Pearl Jam. Yeah, it was a really cool experience," Glick said.
Glick and his crew, including Producer Sarah Clarke and Photography Director Zane Clampett, were inspired by the true story of a veteran who coped with his PTSD by going on a buffalo drive.
"It’s a fiction wrapped in a kind of documentary skin," Glick said.
The BZN International Film Festival will release Iniskim online on July 9. Afterward, Thunderheart Films will publish the film on their website and social media for the public.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America tribal affairs reporter.
Update June 18, 2020: A previous version of this story said BZN will release Iniskim online on June 25. The film group will release Iniskim on July 9.