KYLE — Mark St. Pierre believes in the power of storytelling, the tradition of art, and the possibilities created at the intersection of those two ideas – particularly in the context of film making. St. Pierre sees potential to put storytelling back into the hands of Indians while helping to develop a viable economic development tool for Pine Ridge and all of South Dakota.
“There are over 180,000 Lakota and Dakota people” across the Midwest, he points out, over twice the population of Rapid City. And at this point in time, there are almost no Indian centric television or film outlets for those voices. Through his Reel Jobs Film School project, St. Pierre and his wife – Tilda Long Soldier St. Pierre – hope to change that.
The couple dream of a future wherein film production on Pine Ridge and the surrounding region is a tool of economic development; providing the necessary resources to both Hollywood style films, and independent native storytellers, bringing their voices to outlets like YouTube or Netflix, and – perhaps eventually – to support a full-fledged Indian television station. At the present time the only television show hosted and produced by Native Americans is Oyate Today which airs on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. on KEVN-TV.
Through the course of his work as the Lead Technical Advisor to HBO for their production of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, St. Pierre saw first-hand how film production can impact and support a community – in this case he bemoans, the community was in Alberta, Canada. “They have movie sets you can rent, sound stages, equipment…” he enumerates, “They made an advantage for themselves.” An advantage St. Pierre believes could also be made by Pine Ridge, the place where – by all rights – Bury My Heart could have been shot. “South Dakota has some of the most beautiful light in America,” he says, pointing to films like Dances With Wolves and Neither Wolf Nor Dog. “[Those films] are an indication of what we have going for us that you can’t buy.”
Given the worldwide interest in native culture and native stories… coupled with the growing population of native people, and fed by impassioned native youth who need jobs that can carry them into the future… native youth who probably already have cameras in their pockets… St. Pierre sees a future teeming with potential. “If we could produce quality material; stories, news, commentary, from Indian country…” he suggests, there is quite likely a market ready and waiting. Not to mention the value of Indian stories, told in Indian voices, resonating across reservations and the country as a whole.
To that end, St. Pierre and his wife founded Reel Jobs Film School, a training project under the banner of the Cloud Horse Art Institute – founded by Long Soldier St. Pierre herself – and funded in part by a grant from the USDA Rural Development organization. The term ‘school’, however, is somewhat misleading, St. Pierre suggests, asserting that “Cloud Horse [Art Institute] is the host, bringing in people with amazing resumes,” to do the instruction. “It’s Adult Education,” he clarifies. “There are no grades. All you get out of it is what you put in.”
Classes offer instruction on all elements of film production; script writing, costuming & wardrobe, production organization and method, documentary film, lighting, and more. “We want people to be generalists… to be as flexible as they can.” Introducing students of all ages to the elements of film production is just the first step, but an important one. “Believe me,” St. Pierre chuckles, “watching movies isn’t enough. There’s a great distance between watching, and understanding what it takes to make a feature film.” Simply by offering people a chance to experience the different elements of film production, though, Reel Jobs can, for example, prepare a participant for a future in film. “If a director on set asks for fill light,” St. Pierre elaborates, “they’ll know what that is.”
Familiarity, too, with the current technology and equipment is foundational to a participant’s success. So Reel Jobs acquired cinema quality cameras, a variety of specialty lights – both the new LED versions and the old “hot” versions – and great sound capture equipment. “We’re trying to teach people on equipment that is industry standard,” St. Pierre explains, so that, “should they have the chance, they’ll be familiar with the equipment.” As is true for any skill, practice is essential; using a camera until you’re good at it, understanding the importance of proper lighting, setting up and tearing down sets… And Reel Jobs is giving their participants just that.
In addition, students of the program have the opportunity to learn from highly acclaimed industry experts. The list of past instructors is impressive: Cathy Smith; Emmy-award-winning Costume Designer, German Valle; Cinematographer and Lighting Technician whose resume includes films like Footloose, The Change Up, Big Mommas House 3, Talladega Nights and others, Irene Bedhard; Producer and Actress who twice played Pocahontas, among other notable roles, Tara Ansley; a top line Producer of major films like Hunger Games and a young woman listed among FORBES Top 1000 Female Entrepreneurs, just to name a few.
With each class, each success, though, the program is both growing, and quickly outgrowing its funding. So, as St. Pierre confesses, “Our biggest concern [right now] is looking for partners. Our grant will run out by August. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that has to be the end of what we do?” While actively seeking and welcoming support, though, Reel Jobs continues to march forward optimistically, hosting regular classes and hoping to one day expand to Rapid City, and even further through South Dakota. “We’d like to reach everybody. We think that the whole film industry in South Dakota needs support.”
Reel Jobs participants are mostly “walk-ins” St. Pierre notes, and interested participants are encouraged to reach him at 605- 890-2680 or by subscribing to the email list at www.cloudhorseartinstitute.org/contact. Parties interested in partnering with Cloud Horse Art Institute to support Reel Jobs can connect to St. Pierre and Long Soldier St. Pierre through those same channels.
(Contact Jaclyn Lanae at AuthorJaclynLanae@gmail.com)