Untold stories steal the stage

by Rachel Milkovich

Grab Day is a Laguna Pueblo tradition in which tribe members throw food and gifts from their rooftops to a crowd below.
Media Credit: Film Still from 'GRAB'
Grab Day is a Laguna Pueblo tradition in which tribe members throw food and gifts from their rooftops to a crowd below.

All roads lead to a story.

A belief the National Geographic-sponsored All Roads Film Festival, which brings stories of minority and indigenous groups to the big screen, hopes to spread to filmmakers.

The festival will run from Sept. 14 to 18, featuring more than 40 films that highlight cultures from 24 diverse countries. The event will take place at National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium, and following each film, directors will be available for intimate panel discussions with their audiences.

This year’s festival theme is “Stories That Shape Our World.”

Starting with more than 400 submissions, the festival has narrowed their selections down to 10 thematically different showcases, presenting full-length films, accompanied by several short films, from around the world.

“National Geographic as a whole is all about storytelling. Whether that storytelling is in science, whether it’s in exploration, whether it’s in discovery,” director of the All Roads Film Project Francene Blythe said. “All these stories come from either a sense of retelling cultural traditions, or they are new creative stories that are made up by the filmmakers.”

Director Billy Luther’s film “GRAB,” documents the Laguna Pueblo Indians in New Mexico on Grab Day – an annual event celebrated by throwing food from rooftops to the community below.

“It’s the very first time in well over 50 years that photography has been back allowed of the Pueblos,” Blythe said.

Previously the Pueblo people forbade photographers from capturing their villages for fear that the sacredness of their traditions would be misrepresented in film. Luther, a native Laguna Pueblo himself, along with three other photographers, were granted permission to bring Grab Day to the big screen. The unique Pueblo tradition is representative of the native people's cultural values rooted in generosity, giving, reciprocity, redistribution and respect.

Other indigenously inspired films with never-before-seen footage include Jody Kemmerer’s “Sky Dancer,” which follows the life of Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo, the first female reincarnated monk in Tibet.

Frederic Courbet and Eugenie Reidy’s “God is a Liar: Tradition and Change in Turkana” recounts the life of the Kenyan Turkana tribe, a group of people also never before captured on film.

“That’s the thing about our audiences is that they’re extremely diverse from age ranges, from educational backgrounds, from economic backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds. I think we have something for everybody,” Blythe said.

The All Roads Photography Awards also allocates prizes to as many as four outstanding story-telling photographers. The winning photo essays will be on display at the National Geographic Society’s outdoor courtyard until November.

The All Roads Film Festival offers student tickets for $8 with a student ID with some free screenings throughout the week.

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