By Hans Pedersen, Oct. 9, 2014. Read Hans Pedersen’s review of Drunktown’s Finest here.
Drunktown’s Finest, an enlightening tale about three young people facing identity challenges on New Mexico’s Navajo Reservation, is one of five films with LGBT themes playing at the Scottsdale International Film Festival Oct. 9-13 (read more here).
Director Sydney Freeland, who spent her undergrad years at ASU, weaves together a tapestry of life on the reservation while keeping her focus firmly squared on three characters as the main threads of the story.
“My goal with the story was to not go in it with an agenda,” she said. “I just wanted to try to tell the best story I could tell, to make characters that other people could hopefully identify with.”
Freeland added that her main objectives were making sure she assembled a creative team and to tell stories set in the Navajo culture.
“I grew up on a reservation in New Mexico,” she said. “I feel like the reservation is a very diverse place and I wanted to try and show the people and places I knew, and how diverse it is, and that was the jumping off pointing the story.”
Carmen Moore, a trans woman who grew up in Arizona, recalled her family telling her about the third gender in Navajo culture.
“My grandmother used to tell me stories about how we were perceived a long time ago as being very spiritual people,” Moore explained the Navajo belief in a third gender. “And people would come to us, because we endured both the male and female roles.”
Moore portrays Felixia, a trans woman struggling with the decision to move to a big city and potentially compromise herself. Through this role Moore said she hopes shed light on misconceptions about the trans community.
“A lot of people who are ignorant label women like myself as being gay,” Moore said. “I identify myself 100 percent as a woman. I don’t consider myself gay, I consider myself straight … What’s going on with my genitalia is nobody’s business.”
While she is willing to share some of her experiences, Moore said she’s not looking to become more of an inspiration than a spokesperson for the trans community.
“I’m not looking to be a role model for trans women, or anything like that,” Moore says. “But I’m just hoping this movie can inspire other people in the LGBT community to pursue what they really want. I hope that I inspire other trans women to pursue their dream, because this was my dream, to be a part of this.”
Moore is joined by Jeremiah Bitsui, who plays Sick Boy, and Morningstar Angeline Wilson, who plays Nizhoni, a woman launching an effort to find her biological family after growing up with adoptive parents who alienated her from her culture.
“That’s really what I think is inspiring in some degree,” Wilson said of her character’s quest to reconnect with her Navajo heritage. “Not only that she’s doing it for herself, but she’s trying to do it for something bigger, and that’s her family and just her culture that she’s been shielded from,”
Wilson, who helped Freeland with pre-production on the project, said they did not set out to make “the” iconic Native American movie, but rather, to tell the story of three characters on or around the reservation and to make sure they have a chance to be talked about and seen.
“Even though its not a pretty view all of the time, it’s just like, that’s my home,” she said proudly, admitting that she was in tears when she finally saw her hometown of Gallup, N.M., on the big screen. “That’s the biggest reservation in the United States.”
Freeland said she wanted the trio’s various struggles to reflect different aspects of the traditional rite of passage, and the coming-of-age ceremony at the conclusion of the film is what brings all three characters together.