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Short Film Showcase: Experience America’s Largest Powwow

Filmmaker Keeley Gould captures contemporary Native American culture at the 31st annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over 700 tribes attend this three-day cultural heritage celebration.

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How did you hear about the Gathering of Nations?

I have had a personal fascination for Native American Indians since I was a child growing up in London. A few years ago I was doing some research online, and I came across the Gathering of Nations Powwow. It became part of my consciousness each year, but I missed the event a few times.  In the summer of 2013 I decided that I had to go.

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Why did you want to capture this event?

My original goal was to just be a spectator, but I had this desire to share my experience.

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What was it like to film a powwow?

At times it was a struggle to pull myself away and focus on directing. It’s easy to get lost in the experience and lose focus. The energy of the people and the drumming brought me to tears at times. The arena, although it seems like an unnatural place to hold the event, actually transcends from being a basketball arena into something that feels vaguely out of this world. It was like connecting the past yet being in the future.

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Was there a story you heard from an attendee that stuck with you?

There were many stories that I recorded during the interviews that were captivating, [such as] the personal history of who they were and how they came to be at the event. However, the stories they told really connect to a much bigger narrative, which goes back to the virtual destruction of the First Nations people and the effects that it has had on Native Americans today. This is a devastating story that needs to be told and honored.

The Gathering of Nations is one of the places you can witness the beauty and strength of Native American culture and how this is reflected in the young, 21st-century, contemporary American Indians of today.

I felt that I couldn’t focus on one personal story and decided to weave the memories of many of the participants into the soundtrack to take you on a journey of Native American life and culture.

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Who was your favorite performer?

I loved the children—their faces are full of intense concentration and determination while performing.   I also loved the neon dance-offs. It’s hard to single out anyone. The elders have as much energy as the young bucks and are at the event from early morning to late at night. There is a move that many make that is a personal favorite of mine—it’s a way some performers move their head in rhythm with the drum. The dancers perform and dance with such passion because it is said that they are there to dance for the ones who cannot.

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What are you working on next?

I have a few projects in the works, but I would like to build on this film to tell a more detailed story.

The Short Film Showcase

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s mission of inspiring people to care about the planet. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of the National Geographic Society. Know of a great short film that should be part of our Showcase?

Email SFS@ngs.org to submit a video for consideration.

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