Milk River Productions Makes Progress on Current Film Project


June 22, 2022

Media Arts in the Public Schools (MAPS) was in Blaine County from June 7-10 working with area youth. Clare Ann Harff, Executive Director of MAPS, and Craig Falcon, Media Lab Director, set up at Aaniiih Nakoda College (ANC) to assist Milk River Production filmmakers with their current project on the subject of blood quantum.

Milk River Productions is a student driven filmmaking group that resulted from a 2018 Harlem High School (HHS) MAPS project. According to Harff, part of the MAPS workshop model includes idea generation and instruction on logo design for a student company name.

About this project, Harff stated: "As with all MAPS media projects, the 2022 Fort Belknap film workshop content is 100% student driven. As a non-native and coming from the perspective of a creative youth educator, what is of particular value to me about blood quantum as a film topic is that it resulted from student conversation, observation, and courage. Falcon facilitated our weekly pre-production meetings with cultural awareness as he continually challenged the students by asking, 'How can we create this film to help reach an understanding of blood quantum from multiple perspectives?'"

Joshua Johnson and Dillon Jenkins, the co-owners of Tell Media, a video production company subcontracted to MAPS, were also onsite. In describing their work, Johnson said, "We taught the student group the basics of filmmaking and production and how to bring their story to the screen. We also discussed effective interview questions as being open-ended and conversational, explained the technical aspects of equipment operation, and talked about the art of putting all the pieces together. They caught on quickly, so by day two, the students took the initiative to collect footage on their own."

With so many ways to tell a story, Johnson claims that video storytelling possesses several advantages. The marriage of sound and pictures while giving the viewer physical and emotional interaction using camera shots, music, and a script enables a filmmaker to elicit a multi-sensory response.

Agreeing about the power of visual storytelling and its strong subtext, Jenkins added that the ideas, vision, and creativity were all coming from a group of motivated youth. "These were willing participants with a common goal and a genuine interest, so it was fun to step into the instructor's role, fly a drone, and go on a discovery with them."

According to local supervisors, former instructor of Industrial Technology at HHS, Craig Todd, and outgoing English Teacher Matthew Hodgson, the work actually began with several months of planning and pre-production meetings via Zoom prior to the onsite, five-day intensive workshop.

Harff explained: "From February until the final week of school, Falcon and I virtually met each week with Harlem High students and teacher Matthew Hodgson. This pre-production process was critical to the success of the workshop as it provided intentional time for us to work with students on developing the project scope, storyline, interviews, and locations. These weekly sessions also provided the opportunity to get to know the students better and consciously create a space of trust and creative safety-critical to the success of all MAPS workshops."

That the project now has a connection to ANC pleases Falcon since it enables MAPS to tap into the talent at additional schools, such as Dodson and Hays-Lodge Pole, as well as that of college-age youth.

Falcon-who has on his résumé the experience of serving as the Cultural Advisor for the 2015 cinematic masterpiece The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio-said: "I'm happy that we're expanding since it will allow us to reach more young people. My roots are here, and it's important for me to fulfill the yearning to return home and to give back by promoting the idea of being fearless in life."

He described the week in Harlem as "amazing." From developing a story board, creating a shot list, and refining the story's vision, the young filmmakers "wanted to get it right."

According to Falcon, part of that process involves obtaining permissions and approval from the tribes. "We want to ensure that we are progressing with respect and that we are being culturally truthful. I want the youth to know the importance of building relationships and the value of protecting their people," he said.

A member of the Aaniiih and the Pikuni tribes, Falcon accepted the position as Media Lab Director in February, claiming that MAPS pulled him from the idea of semi-retirement by hitching their proposal to his two passions: teaching and film. That he serves as a role model was obvious when Keonna Medicine Bear said she hopes to be noticed more for her singing. She aspires to be the first Native American to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

It's that kind of access that Falcon wishes to provide for the young. "It's their time to take the reins. To push forward with positivity. I want to promote them as leaders so that they see themselves not as background characters, but as primaries; not as production assistants but as directors. I like to tell them, you can do anything really; you just have to refuse to be afraid, refuse to quit, and refuse to believe you're not good enough."

About this current cinematic project, one of the film's directors, Amilia Blackcrow said, "Our first film, Looking Forward from Yesterday was about addressing the issue of historical trauma; Waking the Generations is about repairing it, and this new film hopes to share ideas about how to address it. We need to grow past this blood card business. I'm tired of sugar coating the truth about this effort at segregation. Sometimes we just need to be blunt."

According to Blackcrow, the current film-whose title will emerge during the post production process-will approach the blood quantum topic from a spiritual rather than a governmental focus. "Who you are culturally matters more than what some card says. Our Indian ways of speaking, praying, and dressing play a role in our survival. I'm doing this film for the little ones, to give them a sense of acceptance, to send the message that being Indian is not about what you look like; it's about what's in your soul."

Post production activities will occur at MAPS administrative headquarters in Hamilton. Falcon and the editors will virtually meet with students throughout the summer to collaborate.

About MAPS, Communications & Marketing Director, Janna Williams stated: "MAPS Media Institute is a Montana nonprofit which empowers, inspires, and prepares future generations for success through professional media arts instruction, engaging community service, and compassionate mentoring."

In addition to their statewide Media Lab program, MAPS maintains year-round afterschool and summer program sites in Ravalli and Lewis and Clark Counties, as well as a seasonal afterschool program on the Flathead Reservation.

Rebranded as MAPS Media Institute in 2004 when they achieved nonprofit status, MAPS also offers classes in graphic design, music, new technologies, podcasting, and photojournalism.

This 2022 MAPS Fort Belknap film workshop was made possible with endorsement from the Fort Belknap Tribal Council, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and in partnership with ANC. Funding derives from MAPS, the Greater Montana Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Harff referred to this recent experience as especially rewarding. "As with all MAPS students, I am in continual awe and incredibly inspired by the students' dedication to the story and to the filmmaking process. Specific to this project, my understanding of blood quantum greatly deepened from the multiple perspectives of the students, community members, and interviewees. I know this film will spark many discussions and guide viewers to challenge their own perspectives. Ultimately, I hope the students' voices, and this film, will deepen the roots of understanding and empathy, a testament of why MAPS does the work we do."


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