One endearing aspect of artistry is how anyone’s raw talent will shine through regardless of background. Art is relatable and creates a larger space for empathy. It’s also an avenue to bring people together, and can draw attention to larger, necessary conversations, like the importance of inclusivity. Kim Pevia, director of the Lumbee Film Festival—held each July at UNC Pembroke near Lumberton—is acquainted with the issue.
“I’ve always loved film, starting as a kid with ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Pevia says. “It was a challenge not seeing myself represented on the screen; it was highly problematic. As I got older, I came to [articulate] that and saw what the identity challenge has created for my people, [Native Americans]. I just really wanted to do things that could help us see ourselves reflected in ways that could be more identity-positive.”
The Lumbee Film Festival was created in 2018 to give Native Americans, particularly Lumbee and other southeastern NC tribes, a chance to create an “identity-positive” environment for themselves. Though the 55,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe make up the largest state tribe in North Carolina, and the largest state tribe east of the Mississippi River, Pevia notes the Lumbees—along with the Tuscarora and other indigenous people in the region—are talked about much less than the Plains Indians and other Western tribes.
A partnership between the Lumbee Tribe of NC, the Cucalorus Film Foundation and the NC Arts Council, the Lumbee Film Festival is free to attend, thanks to generous fundraising and donations. This year the festival was granted $10,000 by prolific film director Ava DuVernay, whose notable works include “Selma” (2014), “When They See Us” (2019) and the television series “Queen Sugar” (2016-present). DuVernay’s mission is to create a more stable platform for women and black and brown filmmakers to find success.
“She [donated the money] because, as a filmmaker, she really struggled to find festivals where she could promote her work,” Pevia explains. Pevia further points to the unbalanced nature of white male voices in film. “Now, she doesn’t have that problem, of course, but that’s what was so beautiful about this practice: reaching forward and also reaching back [to her community].”
The third annual festival—originally scheduled to be part of the recently canceled Lumbee Homecoming event in July—will now proceed in two parts. Organizers will stream films during the Fourth of July weekend, and then host the proper Lumbee Film Festival in November (date to be announced). Those who want to submit a film can do so at FilmFreeway.com/LumbeeFilmFestival until May 8. There is a $5 submission fee, and folks can sign up using your Facebook or Google account.
The festival includes a block of short films, leading up to one big feature, with panels of filmmakers speaking after every movie. Having a community discussion was part of Pevia’s vision from day one, and it has proven to be one of the most popular aspects of the event.
“Indigenous people by nature are storytellers, and oral storytellers at that, so to see something visual and not be able to talk about it would almost be painful,” Pevia says. “[The discussions] have gone really well. I facilitate for a living, so I queue up the questions and connect with the filmmakers, then we open it up to the audience. By that point in time, they have had a moment to settle themselves, think about what they’ve just witnessed, and ask questions. The filmmakers have been so incredibly generous in sharing all of their stories, whether it be their financial or emotional challenges.”
Accepted films will tell a variety of stories, from traditional narratives to tales of Native American wisdom to sci-fi think pieces. There have been live-action and animated films from directors young and old, new and experienced. The festival is about fostering new creators, just as much as it is about showcasing seasoned talents.
Headlining the 2018 festival was “Warrior Women,” directed by Christina D. King and Elizabeth A. Castle. The film has inspired young indigenous women to step up and face the community’s ecological problems, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last year’s feature, “Sweetheart Dancers” by director Ben-Alex Dupris, starred a same-sex male couple who performed a traditional Native American dance originally intended for a man and a woman.
“For some [filmmakers], this was their first little thing that they did on their iPhone, and [others] are like, ‘We’ve been making videos and documentaries for 30 years!’” Pevia says. “I love the movies, but by the time we get to the film festival, I’ve seen them. My favorite part is the community conversation, and watching people’s faces and watching them engage with the filmmakers.”
Indigenous people make up just 1.6% of the national population, which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of visibility, according to Pevia. The festival still manages to draw in 30 to 50 submissions a year, with eight or nine being feature-length—totaling around 50 hours of content for curators to sift through. Narrowing submissions can be taxing, but it is encouraging for the Lumbee Film Festival advisory team to see passion ignited.