N. Scott Momaday doc to screen at Shining Mountains Film Festival in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

N. Scott Momaday doc to screen at Shining Mountains Film Festival in Aspen

Author N. Scott Momaday in the new documentary "N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear." The film screens Sunday at the Wheeler Opera House's Shining Mountains Film Festival.
Courtesy photo


What: ‘N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear’ at Shining Mountains Film Festival

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Sunday, Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m.

How much: TK

Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com

More info: The feature-length documentary will screen on a program with the short documentary “That Is All” about Lakota artist Dwayne Wilcox; wheeleroperahouse.com



9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Shining Mountains Kickoff (Free), Wheeler Parcel

4 p.m. Sweat Lodge, 13 Moons Ranch in Carbondale


11 a.m. Pow Wow Regalia Demonstration and Master Class (Free), Red Brick Center

Noon to 6 p.m. Native Arts and Crafts, Wheeler Parcel

3 p.m. Short Films ‘Throat Singing in Kangirsuk,’ ‘Names for Snow,’ ‘Sweetheart Dancers,’ ‘Sonny Side Up,’ ‘Carrying on the Tradition,’ ‘Warrior Women,’ Wheeler Opera House

6:30 p.m. ‘That is All’ and ‘N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear,’ Wheeler Opera House


Noon to 6 p.m. Native Arts and Crafts, Wheeler Parcel

Noon ‘Trudell’ (Free), Wheeler Opera House

6:30 p.m. “Blood Memory: A Story of Removal and Return,’ Wheeler Opera House

Special guests include C.J. Bradford, Amos Cook & Family, Phyllis Bald Eagle, Roland McCook, Henry & Silas White Cloud, Cheyleen Yazzie, Skyler Lomahaftewa, Barbara Dills, Sage (Trudell) Balsz, Long Soldier, Drew Nicholas, Sandy White Hawk, George McCauley Jr., and Sheldon Spotted Elk.


Fifty years ago, when N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel “House Made of Dawn,” he became the first Native American to win a major literary award and he marked the beginning of a new era for indigenous writers and artists.

The new documentary “N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear,” captures the Kiowa writer’s lasting legacy and paints an intimate portrait of his early life and how it shaped his immortal work.

In the film, Momaday, now 85, recalls receiving the phone call from his editor informing him he’d won the Pulitzer.

“I thought she was kidding,” he recalls with a laugh.

Former Heard Museum director Letita Chambers says the publication and mainstream embrace of “House Made of Dawn” was “electrifying for a generation of Native Americans” in the film, which demonstrates how it fueled the Red Power movement, influenced a generation of artists and scholars and the began a more nuanced cultural understanding of indigenous Americans that moved away from the stereotypes perpetuated through generations of white propaganda and decades of cowboy-and-Indian movies and books.

Momaday’s breakthrough novel – about a Native American veteran of World War Two struggling to integrate in the U.S. after the war – took Native American writers out of the folklore section of bookstores and into the literary canon.

This new documentary is directed by Kiowa filmmaker Jeffrey Palmer, who grew up in a family of competitive powwow dancers steeped in Kiowa history and tradition. Through his Rainy Mountain Films, Palmer aims to make movies about Native American subjects for a wide audience that capture the rich and diverse experience of indigenous peoples.

“I was always in the presence of Kiowa elders and listened closely to the stories they told,” Palmer said in his director statement. “Telling the profoundly important story of N. Scott Momaday, therefore, is more than a job for me – it feels like an important obligation that I owe to my family and my people.”

“Words from a Bear” makes evocative use of Momaday’s writing. The author himself recites his poetry along with sections of “House Made of Dawn,” “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and the memoir “The Names,” often with the text running across the screen. The film itself carries on the Kiowa oral tradition and innovates upon it,

using lively animations to illustrate Momaday’s telling of the Kiowa legends of Sitting Bear, Tai-Me and the Seven Sisters.

The film includes commentary by Momaday’s family, scholars and authors like Joy Harjo and Rilla Askew, who observes of Momaday: “He’s not just writing to native people. This is the story of America.”

Hollywood figures like Robert Redford and James Earl Jones also speak to his influence. Beau and Jeff Bridges tell the story of developing a film about the “Indian boarding school” era, for which Momaday wrote an unproduced screenplay about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School defeating West Point in a 1912 football game.

“Words from a Bear” also details Momaday’s early life in Oklahoma, in the wake of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

“We would be considered on the bottom of the scale, in terms of poverty,” Momaday recalls.

But their life was rich, inspiring his continued work as a writer and painter.

“Writing came to be more or less naturally because of my mother, she was a writer,” Momaday says, explaining that he announced at age 8 his intention to be a writer.

It also depicts Momaday’s stylized portraits and his painting practice.

“Painting is the other half of my spiritual expression,” Momaday says in the film.

“Words from a Bear” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and will be broadcast on the PBS series “American Masters” next month.

The film will screen Sunday evening at the Wheeler Opera House’s second annual Shining Mountains Film Festival, showcasing new films by and about Native American and indigenous peoples. Presented by the Aspen Ute Foundation, the Wheeler Opera House and Aspen Film, the festival includes free events all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday along with screenings of 10 new movies.

The festival coincides with Indigenous People’s Day, which the City of Aspen began officially celebrating — in place of Columbus Day — in 2017.


In the pocket park Wheeler Parcel, beside the historic Wheeler Opera House, the Shining Mountains Film Festival will host free events throughout the festivities Oct. 12 through 14.

Saturday’s family-friendly activities include storytelling, dancing and songs. Sunday’s and Monday’s include Native American arts and crafts hosted by the Ute Indian Museum.

“We are so thrilled to have so many amazing partnerships that will help enhance Shining Mountains for the community and our native guests as we make the festival an important part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Valley,” Wheeler executive director Gena Buhler said in an announcement about free events running through festival.

In preparation for the event, the Wheeler has installed four large-format paintings in the park by artist Andrew Bolam. The installation of massive six-by-six foot portraits was curated by Valley Fine Art, located around the corner on Mill St.

Bolam was profiled in this month’s issue of Southwestern Art magazine, in which he explained his move from working in tiny, intricate landscape works to the large-format portraits.

“Now I barely paint under 40 by 40 inches – that’s a small painting for me,” he said. “I usually like to work 48 by 48 or larger.” Off-site festival events include a sweat lodge ceremony in Carbondale with the Aspen Ute Foundation on Saturday and a free pow wow regalia demonstration by Ci Bradford of the Ute Indian Museum at the Red Brick Center for the Arts on Sunday.


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