Representation Matters | Movies | Style Weekly

Baby Boomers and devotees of classic television may recall Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels as Tonto, the faithful sidekick in the 1950s TV series, “The Lone Ranger.”

“Jay Silverheels: The Man Beside the Mask,” tells the story of Silverheels, the Native American actor who grew up on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario and went on to have a career in film and TV as the Lone Ranger’s trusty companion. The documentary is just one of many films and shorts being screened as part of this year’s 7th annual Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival, which runs Nov. 17 through 19. [Disclosure: VPM, which owns Style Weekly, is a sponsor of this event.]

The annual film festival was originally created because storytelling and filmmaking have long suffered from a dearth of representation of significant groups, notably Native Americans. Around six years ago, the 2019 Commemoration; American Evolution group fully funded the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival as a legacy project for three years. That sponsorship allowed the festival to grow and become established and recognized on an accelerated time frame. Over the past six years, the festival has screened over 120 films and hosted over 40 actors, producers, directors and writers. “By all accounts, the festival has become the largest and best Native Film Festival on the East Coast of the United States,” says Brad Brown, the festival’s executive director.

For the first three years, the festival gained momentum at the Byrd Theater. In 2020, the Pandemic brought all that to a screeching halt. With an in-person festival impossible, Pocahontas Reframed successfully transitioned to a virtual festival with over 1,000 people from around the world tuning in. In 2021, the organizers became a community partner with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and this year, the festival is partnering with both VMFA and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. “Attendance has grown every year,” Brown says. “We expect 2023 to be our best and to host our largest audience yet.”

INHABITANTS: Indigenous Perspectives On Restoring Our World from Inhabit Films on Vimeo.

The power of film

At the heart of the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is the belief that representation matters. Brown stresses that it’s crucial because it affects how we interact with our fellow Americans and the way that we educate our children, while shaping our path forward as a democracy. “Native culture is rich, steeped in history and multifaceted, yet mainstream films don’t often capture this nuance,” he says. “The Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival honors the contributions of Native Americans and reinvigorates conversations about telling stories of indigenous life. We try to choose currently released films and classic films to raise awareness about Native culture, language and history.”

With an eye toward educating the public and supporting Native American tradespeople, the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival will also be hosting the first Tsenacommacah Eastern Indian marketplace during this year’s festival. The marketplace will take place Saturday, Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature over a dozen native artisans selling handmade décor, art, jewelry, and apparel.

click to enlarge

  • An image from “American Masters: Zitkála-Šá: Trailblazing American Indian Composer and Writer (2020)” presented by VPM.

Besides film and a marketplace, the festival also includes performances of music and dance, two art forms integral to Native culture. From a tribute to Mohawk/Cayuga rock musician Robbie Robertson of the Band, to Ojibwe/Tohono O’ddham flute player Darren Thompson, to powwow drumming and dancing by the Adamstown Singers from the Upper Mattaponi, Sappony and Tuscarora tribes and dancers from the Upper Mattaponi, Mattaponi, Chickahominy and Nansemond tribes, the festival offers almost as much live entertainment as films. “We want our audience to be able to have an immersive experience during the film festival,” says Brown.

Among the other films being shown this year: the popular sci-fi action film, “Prey,” which made a big splash on Hulu, and the film, “Inhabitants: Indigenous Perspectives on Restoring our World” from 2020. For a complete list, check out the festival website.

Even after seven years, Brown still gets excited about planning and executing the film festival each year. “For me, it’s an honor to be able to curate this festival. Seeing the audience react to the filmmakers and films is extremely rewarding. And the positive reactions that our filmmakers express makes it all worth the effort.”

The Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is held November 17-19 at various locations. Tickets range from $20 weekend passes to $100 VIP passes. Tickets and more information are available:

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