The “Strength of Siblings,” a short dramatic film made by youths of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, will premiere on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Sunflower Theatre in Cortez.
Show times are at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The film tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of substance abuse and the resilience of sibling unity.
“One can’t help but be moved, touched and inspired by the courage and honesty of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe’s youths,” said Rebecca Gardner, of the tribe’s Recidivism Reduction Initiative.
The film was written, directed and performed by 18 youth ages 10-22 in 2016 under award-winning director Alex C. Munoz.
During a 10-day workshop, participants brainstormed for the film and decided to address the impact of meth use and addiction on the family unit, Gardner said. The actors wrote the script in cooperation with FYI Films and developed scenes shot in Towaoc and Cortez.
At-risk kids and others were recruited for the project.
“The kids learned to get comfortable with acting, sets, writing and got to experience the hard work and long hours needed to put together a successful film,” Gardner said.
“It was fun and very busy,” said Deandra Eaglefeather, 13, of Towaoc. “I worked the cameras, did sound, and worked as the assistant director.”
Wambli Mills, 21, was inspired to act in the film by his younger brother, Wendell, who acted in a previous film directed by Munoz in Towaoc.
“The film shows the problems of substance abuse, and how the love of family helps to bring people together and overcome difficulties,” Wambli said. “Acting was a new experience, you have to be very focused and not get distracted.”
The film’s goal is to inspire youth to “take the good path and not do drugs,” added Wendell, whose character dies from drugs then rises as a spirit guardian for the family.
For actor Talia Whyte, it was about issues the community faces.
“The idea is for youths to talk to adults and family members about difficult issues,” Whyte said. “We’re saying that it hurts kids to see adults and other kids abuse drugs and not get the help and support they need.”
Some students were picked because they’ve had legal, truancy or family problems.
“We know youth 18-26 have a higher rate of recidivism, so the strategy is to redirect at-risk individuals into positive activities like film making so they don’t re-offend,” Gardner said. “It brought the shy kids out of their shell and made them interact with people they normally would not interact with, like movie professionals and other kids outside their group. It gave them career ideas, too.”
Director Munoz said the story is unique because it was told through the eyes of the youths.
“The story is theirs, they saw a need to tell it the way they did because of what they see happening around them,” he said. “I admire their courage and brutal honesty to take on a difficult topic and say ‘this must stop, it can’t be ignored any more’ but in a way that is positive and not judgmental.”
The project was funded through the Recidivism Reduction Initiative with a $250,000 grant from the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of Justice Services. It is the second of five films. A third film project begins this year.
“Strength of Siblings” follows the award-winning film “Escape,” which also made by Ute Mountain youths. “Escape” was awarded top honors at the LA Skins Fest, a Native American film festival.
For tickets to “Strength of Siblings” premiere go to https://sunflowertheatre.org. The film will also be available for streaming online beginning March 13.