2021 Public Media Fund Awardees

Ready for New Native American Media?

Each year, Vision Maker Media funds media projects intended for PBS broadcasting that represent the cultures, experiences and perspectives of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Films are reviewed by a panel of public media programmers and Native American filmmakers, and board approved based on Native involvement, topics of relevance that can garner a wide audience, guideline eligibility, and meeting technical standards of PBS broadcast quality. This year’s topics communicate social justice, climate and environment, health and wellness, democracy and arts.

Fourteen television projects were selected for 2021 funding and will be executive produced by Vision Maker Media for PBS television broadcasting. The filmmakers represent 23 different Native nations with a total $841,522 in funding support.

The films funded are at all stages of the production process, with some still in research while others are nearing the end of production. The Vision Maker Media Public Media Fund offers up to $150,000 in support for episodic programming and production, up to $100,000 for post-production, and a range of $5,000 to $25,000 for research and development.

The purpose for research and development support is to fully develop a documentary or episodic program for television broadcast. The purpose for production support is to film, record and produce projects for television broadcast. The purpose for post-production support is to bring projects to completion and deliver a master cut for television broadcast.

“We’re elated by the variety of projects selected for the 2021 Public Media Fund,” says Executive Director Francene Blythe-Lewis (Diné, Sisseton-Wahpeton, Eastern Band Cherokee). “The group of projects represent an array of tribes, topics and impactful new stories that are vital to today’s dialogue. It is an honor for everyone at Vision Maker Media to be part of the creation of these important stories being told by and about Native Americans for public media.”

Projects Selected for 2021 Public Media Funding:

Tiny Tot Nation

Animated Short | Research & Development | $18,200

An adventure to find a lost moccasin in time for the Christmas Powwow.

Producer/Director/Writer: Yvonne Russo (Sicangu Lakota Nation)

Associate Producer: Reuben Fast Horse (Standing Rock Lakota)

Animator: Eric Peck

Drowned Land

Feature Documentary | Production | $57,005

Deep in the Choctaw Nation of rural Oklahoma, a group of water protectors fights to preserve the lifeline of their community.

Director/Producer: Colleen Thurston (Choctaw Nation)

Producer: Michelle Svenson

Director of Photography: Charles Elmore

Editors: Gloria Shade (Cherokee, Diné) & Zach Litwack

Navajo Doctors Project (working title)

Feature Documentary | Production | $74,882

Doctors on the Navajo reservation work through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director/Producer: Billy Luther (Navajo, Hopi, Laguna Pueblo)

The Salmon People

Feature Documentary | Production | $73,072

Lummi Nation confronts the drastic decline of wild salmon that is threatening their way of life.

Executive Producer/Co-Director: Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation)

Story Consultant/Narrator: Jay Jalius (Lummi Nation)

Writer/Co-Director/Editor: Beth Pielert

Good Fire

Documentary Short | Production | $53,127

Disputing the notion of fire as our enemy.

Writer/Producer: Roni Jo Draper (Yurok)

Director/Cinematographer: Marissa Lila

Producer: Jenn Lee Smith

Kanen’onwe - original seeds

Feature Documentary | Production | $57,182

Indigenous women seed keepers working to propagate and protect our seed relatives for future generations.

Director/Producer/Writer: Katsitsionni Fox (Mohawk)

Producer: Katja Esson

Cinematographer: Jaiden Mitchell (Mohawk)

Cinematographer: Mateo Hinojosa (Bolivian-American)

And Knowledge to Keep Us

Episodic Series | Production | $52,382

Alaska Native kids gather to connect with and celebrate their Sugpiaq ancestral knowledge.

Producer/Director/Director of Photography: Torsten Kjellstrand

Producer/Photographer: Dr. Sven Haakanson, Jr. (Sugpiaq, Athabaskan)

Producer: Mark Blaine

Community Producers: Cheri & Speridon Simeonoff (Sugpiaq)

Elder Producers: Judy & Mitch Simeonoff (Sugpiaq)

(Untitled Tuscarora Short Documentary)

Documentary Short | Research & Development | $11,450

The Tuscarora Nation faces an ongoing water crisis outside of Niagara Falls.

Producer: Stacey Rice (Tuscarora)

Producer: Lindsey Ashley

Apache 8: Beyond the Fire

Feature Documentary | Production | $70,582

Facing catastrophic fires on the west coast, Native women work to incorporate Indigenous burning rights.

Director/Producer: Sande Zeig

Executive Producer: Heather Rae (Cherokee)

Producer: Katy Aday (White Mountain Apache)

Producer: Vicky Westover

Producer: Nina Mistry

Writer: Shepherd Tsosie (Diné)

#MMIW: Search for Truth (working title)

Feature Documentary | Production | $100,714

An Indigenous woman’s search to uncover the details of her sister’s death.

Director/Executive Producer: Amanda Erickson (San Carlos Apache Nation)

Executive Producer: Sarah V. Burns

Executive Producer: Alex Sherratt

The Land Returns

Feature Documentary | Production | $142,329

Opportune pathways whereby Indigenous nations are regaining their land.

Co-Producer: Kevin Abourezk (Rosebud Lakota) Co-Producer: Margaret Jacobs Co-Producer/Director/Editor: Charles “Boots” Kennedye (Kiowa)

Indigenous Genders (working title)

Episodic Series | Research & Development | $25,000

This documentary-series explores gender norms through Indigenous lenses.

Writer/Director: Raven Two Feathers (Cherokee, Seneca, Cayuga, Comanche)

Executive Producer: Ciara Lacey (Kanaka Maoli)

Producer/Co-Writer: Nils Cowan

Producer: Eleni Ledesma (Indigenous Mexican descent)

Director of Photography: Steve Hyde


Feature Documentary | Research and Development | $25,000

The untold story of the first Apache Scouts.

Director: Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache)

Producer: Mari Keiko Gonzalez

The Bears on Pine Ridge

Feature Documentary | Post-Production | $80,597

A tribe’s suicide prevention team mentors young suicide-survivors.

Executive Producer: Sonny Skyhawk (Sicangu Lakota)

Director: Noel Bass

Co-Producer: Mirosala Gonzalez

Walt Pourier

Vice Chair

Walt is Oglala Lakota and created the logo for Urban Rez. He is Creative Director, owner of Nakota Designs Advertising Designs and Graphics. Executive Director of the Stronghold Society nonprofit dedicated to instilling hope and supporting youth movements through Live Life Call To Action Campaigns.