Trudell Film to Screen at American Indian Film Festival

Tara Trudell'

Tara Trudell

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University media arts student Tara Trudell’s documentary narrative film Poem Home will screen at the 38th annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco Nov. 1 — 10.

The festival is the oldest and most prominent media showcase of its kind in the world. Filmmakers whose work is selected to screen at the festival earn the coveted film laurels that Trudell may now display on all her future films.

Trudell’s heritage is Santee Sioux and Mexican Spanish. The 45-year-old Las Vegas resident will graduate in May 2014 with a BFA in media arts, with an emphasis in film and audio.

“Tara Trudell’s film is very intimate and powerful, with personal remembrances of her early life, including the American Indian activism of the time and the relationship with her stepmother, Tina Manning Trudell,” said Michael Smith, director and founder of the American Indian Film Festival. “We see a lot of value in promoting emerging artists like Tara in our film festival.”

Smith said the mission of the festival is to foster understanding of the culture, traditions and issues of contemporary American Indian and First Nation peoples.

“As a student and aspiring filmmaker, it means a lot to have your film screened at any film festival,” Trudell said. “Because I am an American Indian and the daughter of American Indian Movement activists, it’s a tremendous honor for my story to be acknowledged by the AIFF community.”

Poem Homechronicles Trudell’s poetry reading events and January 2013 journey to the legendary Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay. As a young child, Trudell lived with her family on Alcatraz during the Indians of All Tribes reclamation in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Trudell’s father, acclaimed poet and musician John Trudell, was the spokesperson for the Alcatraz reclamation and later was president of the American Indian Movement.

“With Poem Home, I wanted to connect again with the energy of being young and fearless on Alcatraz, where I learned to walk and run,” Trudell said. “My intent with Poem Home was also to honor my family and address my lingering grief so I could raise my four children.”  

Trudell’s grief stems from a tragic 1979 arson fire that killed her beloved stepmother Tina Manning Trudell and three of Trudell’s siblings at the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada. Manning Trudell, a Shoshone-Paiute, was a water rights activist on the reservation. Her unborn child and mother also perished in the fire.

“I call Tina my second mother. She was an amazing, kind woman who was guiding me on my indigenous path. It felt like a dark abyss when she died. I was 10 ½ years old,” Trudell said.

Four of Trudell’s poems weave through Poem Home, which includes haunting images significant in her life — stark scenes shot at Alcatraz, a traditional garment worn at her first Sun Dance ceremony, towering trees and water flowing over rocks, a hawk swooping low, footage of her poetry readings, and her children — Jackson, Talon, Daisy and Siah, who range from 7 to 16.

“It’s very important to me to have a poetic sense and natural earth elements woven into every piece I create. As a filmmaker, I strive to create visual art that has emotional impact,” Trudell said.

She has taken several filmmaking courses with media arts professor and department chair Kerry Loewen, such as experimental video, high-definition cinema workshop, and audio for video.

“It’s powerful how Tara uses striking visual imagery to enhance the words of her poetry in a visceral way,” Loewen said. “She has a wealth of life experiences that she harnesses in very creative ways in her work.

“Tara works incredibly hard and has mastered the technical techniques of filmmaking and can tell a story in a compelling way. I can’t wait to see what she’s producing 10 years from now,” Loewen said.

Trudell is a two-time winner of the Seabury Fellowship for Highlands media arts students. The second fellowship funded her Poem Home project.

“At Highlands, the media arts faculty has allowed me to explore and discover who I am as an artist. They encourage me to ‘make it your own,’ which helps me rise to the challenge. I’m extremely indebted to them,” Trudell said.

She said she is very grateful to the university’s Student Senate for helping fund her travel expenses to the film festival.

“Being an artist is a personal journey, and having artistic hunger is a good thing. I want to share that with my children. I’m thrilled that two of them, Daisy and Jackson, will drive with me to San Francisco for the film festival,” Trudell said.

Trudell’s first poetry book, Poem Home, is in process and includes poems from the short film and others penned over the last three years. Her poetry will be included in the 2014 University of Arizona Press anthology Poetry of Resistance: A Multicultural Response to Arizona 1070 and Xenophobic Laws.