HARLEM – On Thursday, a film produced by Milk River Productions, a student-led filmmaking organization founded in 2019 through Harlem High School, will be recognized at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) as a nominee for the National Student Production Award.
This is the highest honor in the United States for high school filmmakers. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, founded in 1955, is an organization that recognizes production excellence with Emmy Awards. The award ceremony will be live-streamed through the NATAS website.
Their film, “Looking Forward from Yesterday: Fighting for Our Culture,” was selected as a finalist for this award among four other nominations nationwide.
Milk River Productions began work on this film in 2018 when they produced the short spoken-word documentary “HARLEM RAP – Montana Style,” with MAPS Media Institute. In this short piece, former student Hunter Gray describes life growing up on the Fort Belknap Reservation. “HARLEM RAP – Montana Style,” premiered at the 16th Annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (BSDFF) in Missoula, Montana in 2019. It was selected from nearly 2,000 entries and screened on Feb. 20, 2019 in the Montana Children’s Theatre.
Craig Todd, the instructor of Industrial Technology at Harlem High School (HHS), supervised the student filmmaking group and coordinated another five-day workshop with the MAPS Media Institute with production in May 2019.
MAPS, an acronym for Media Arts in the Public Schools, began as a filmmaking class for Ravalli County high school students in 2004. Since then, it has become a nationally awarded Montana-based educational nonprofit that offers free-of-charge, professional instruction in media arts to middle and high school students across the state. MAPS courses are taught by professional artists who focus on the creative and critical skills necessary for students to become expressive and interesting communicators.
The 2019 workshop resulted in the short documentary, “Looking Forward from Yesterday,” directed by Alexis Bigby and edited by Dante Jackson. These two students, along with a team of approximately two dozen others, worked diligently the student production crew with MAPS instructors. In Feb. 2020, “Looking Forward from Yesterday” premiered at the 17th Annual BSDFF in Missoula. This entry was selected with almost 100 others from nearly 2,000 regional entries.
About the film, the MAPS Media Institute website posted this description: “This film is a powerful and intimate story of the struggle to preserve a way of life that many thought to be lost. The Aaniiih (Gros Ventre) and Nakoda (Assiniboine) People work in ways, large and small, every day to preserve – and in some cases resurrect – their culture in modern-day life. The elder generations strive to teach their young the values of family, community, and sense of place. And although the younger generation is consumed with all of the trappings of modern-day life, there are many teens that are open and ready to learn and preserve their heritage, which has existed for thousands of years.”
To weave its tale of pain, of loss, and ultimately of hope, “Looking Forward From Yesterday” features a combination of landscape shots, found historical footage, and interviews with tribal elders. It was filmed and edited in a five-day workshop in May of 2019, an abbreviated timeline that makes the film’s accomplishments of storytelling craft even more impressive.
One month later, in March of 2020, this film earned the “Heart Award” from the Future Forward jury at the 43rd Annual Portland International Film Festival (PIFF), in Portland, Oregon. This film festival surveys work from up-and-coming teen filmmakers living in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia.
The ten-minute film was scheduled for a screening at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, on March 14, 2020. While in route to the screening in Portland, the student members of Milk River Productions were stopped in Kennewick, Washington, where they first received news about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the supervision of Todd and another teacher at HHS, Briayan Flores, the group turned around and returned home to await further news about the film screening.
Four months later, in June of 2020, “Looking Forward from Yesterday” won the Regional Student Production Award for Short Form Nonfiction from the NATAS Northwest Chapter.
In Jan. 2021, MAPS Media Institute presented a new series broadcasted on Montana PBS: “Stories from Montana’s Future,” a series filmed entirely by MAPS students from across the state. The first episode, titled “Blackfeet Country,” aired on January 7 and featured award-winning films produced and edited by students from Browning Middle School and Browning High School. A second episode in the MAPS MT PBS series “Stories from Montana’s Future,” will showcase films from the Assiniboine and Gros Ventres Tribes, including “HARLEM RAP – Montana Style”, “Looking Forward From Yesterday” and a 3rd film currently in post-production that documents the 2019 Native American Week, an event involving the different schools associated with the Fort Belknap Reservation.
And on Feb. 1, HHS’ student-made film was nominated for the National Student Production Award from NATAS.
Todd expressed his pride in the students by saying, “This is an amazing group of hard-working students. They have no idea how talented they are or what they have accomplished… top five in the NATION, incredible! Watching this group of students grow and change has been a highlight of my 32-year teaching career.” Todd continued by saying that the students of Milk River Productions are hard at work editing their current student production about the 2019 Native American Week yet to be titled. “We have hopes of other productions in the future,” Todd said.
All of these film projects have been made possible by generous support from Greater Montana Foundation, Montana GEAR Up, Island Mountain Development Group and MAPS Media Institute
A live stream of the award ceremony can be found at www.watch.theemmys.tv.
Information on the film and on fundraising to help the students with travel expenses can be found on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/milkriverproductions.