The unimaginable occurred at the recent LA Skins Fest when “Escape,” the first movie ever produced by Ute Mountain Ute teens, won Best Student Film.
An authentic story that aims to change the negative stereotypes of Native youths, the fictional film premiered at the Sunflower Theater in October. Subsequently selected to screen at the 2015 LA Skins Fest in Los Angeles – the biggest Native American film festival in the country – “Escape” was also tapped as Best Student Film.
“I never imagined something like this happening,” said 14-year-old Kamea Clark. “Our film has touched people in ways I never thought it would. It’s making people think twice about what they do.”
“Escape” centers on the lives of two main characters, Rachel, a bullied teen played by Clark, and Adam, a teen struggling with his sexual orientation, portrayed by 17-year-old Wendell Mills, Jr. The duo form a suicide pact to escape their perceived hopelessness.
A difficult role to portray, Clark said filming the suicide scene was intense, but she gained a greater appreciation for the social anxieties that many of her peers endure.
“We should be grateful for the things we have,” Clark said.
The film also addresses other social ills associated with poverty on tribal reservations, including substance abuse, absent parents, hunger and domestic violence.
At its premiere in Cortez, award-winning filmmaker Alex Munoz, founder and creative director of Films by Youth Inside, explained that the 23-minute narrative film was written, directed, produced and performed entirely by Ute Mountain Ute teenagers in just nine days. In reaction to winning Best Student Film, Munoz said it was “mind-bending” what the inexperienced filmmakers were able to accomplish.
“On our first day of class, most of our students were distant and split off,” Munoz recalled.
Munoz said the teens ultimately gained the ability to critically assess their own lives and existence.
“One of the young girls who was present to accept the award told me, “I will never forget this experience. I am a more open person now, and I have more hope about my self and for everyone in my community,’” Munoz said.
In April, tribal officials set out to re-connect its youth with their cultural roots, strengths and passions. A five-year agreement with Films by Youth Inside, an arts organization that teaches tribal youth how to tell their stories by making their own films, ensued.
“We’ll be back next summer to do it again,” said Munoz.