La Fetra was transformed into an international movie theater last week as the Growing with Diversity Committee held a three-day Indigenous Film Festival from Nov. 6-8.
The purpose of the festival was to teach students about different cultures as well as show students films they would not normally see in theaters.
“The themes are not blockbuster Hollywood themes,” Matthew Witt, associate professor of public administration, said. “They are just stories that have not been transmitted to the broader culture.”
The first day the committee showed four short films made by the students from the University of Hawaii Academy for Creative Media. Each film had a different topic.
One film was about women who migrated from China to Hawaii, another was a romantic comedy and the other two were shown from a middle school perspective.
Director of learning services Bailey Smith said they all had the common theme of displacement.
The next day around 30 people gathered to watch a film and a documentary about the Australian Aborigines.
The film “Rabbit Proof Fence,” released in 2002, is about the struggle of three biracial Aborigine girls who must find their way home.
In Australia during the early 20th century, the Chief Protector of the Aborigines AO Neville tried to breed out the Aborigine race.
He removed all “half-caste” children from their home and onto a settlement where they will be prepared to be married to someone who is white. He believed that by doing so, the Aborigine race would be erased.
These girls decide that this life is not for them, and try to escape for home.
They follow the rabbit-proof fence, which was used to keep the rabbits on the opposite side of the fence to find their way home.
Of course the road home was not an easy one with them almost running into capturers and deceitful travelers, but they never gave up.
“Just the determination of those characters really impressed me,” Smith said.
The documentary “Stolen Generations,” released in 2000, was a perfect follow-up to the film.
It spoke about many of the topics the film brought up, such as the attempt to breed out the Aborigine race by marrying off half-castes and removing them from their culture.
The documentary went beyond that by discussing the Aborigine movement during the 1970s and 1980s and the Australian denial that the discrimination ever occurred.
“It’s a shared story,” Witt said.
His heritage as a Cherokee and Jew allowed him to feel a connection with the Aborigines.
About 40 people found their way to La Fetra to participate in the final day of the festival.
The committee showed another film and brought in a guest speaker.
“Miss Navajo” follows Crystal Frazier as she participates in the Miss Navajo pageant contest.
She and five other participants traveled to Window Rock, Ariz. where they would live together until the contest is over.
“I thought (the film) was rough, but I think that was the point,” Brooke Gray, a senior biology major, said.
The film is currently playing at the Sundance Film Festival. Smith was excited that the University was able to show the film before it is released to the general public.
The pageant was created in 1952 but unlike most pageant shows today, there are no swimsuit competitions or declarations of “world peace.”
The point of the competition is for the young women to display their knowledge of Navajo tradition and culture.
They had to take a quiz about the Navajo government and tradition, demonstrate their knowledge of the language and perform a traditional talent.
The one skill they had to perform that will never be seen on “Miss America” was how they had to butcher a sheep.
When a woman becomes of age, she must know how to butcher a sheep. The women had to kill a live sheep and cook it without even the slightest hesitation.
After the documentary ended the 1982-1983 Miss Navajo stood at the front to give a lecture.
Sunny Dooley is also a storyteller, so she began with a story about how the Navajo use colorful words and Navajo language to represent some of their beliefs.
After her short story she answered questions from the audience.
She spoke about the punishments she received in school for speaking the Navajo language rather than English, the strength of the women and unique connection she fills with other Navajo people.
She believes that all of the Navajo people are connected through the umbilical cords which are buried in the earth by their parents.
This is the first year of the festival and it will not be the last.
Next year the committee is hoping to host another film festival, but with a different theme than this year.
Sher Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.