See for Yourself

To spark the conversation around the 2013 Margaret Mead Film Festival theme, See for Yourself, we asked this year's filmmakers, "What compelled you to see for yourself?" Here and throughout the film pages you will find their responses. During this year's festival we invite you, the audience member, to join them in this conversation.


A smiling young woman in a red dress and wearing a strand of large beads around her neck, poses while leaning over a table covered by textile with a geometric pattern.

Before I became a filmmaker—which is really quite a recent endeavor—I was a photographer. During my childhood I enjoyed taking color photos of my pets and family members that I would compile into photo albums I kept proudly on my bedside shelf. The images were often blurry and underexposed, but though I lacked technical skill, I began to see the visual image as a way to understand the world I lived in. In high school, when I learned to develop black-and-white film, I spent countless hours in the darkroom attempting to capture an image that adequately represented a fleeting moment as I experienced it. While I never achieved the authentic perfection I sought I came to realize the elusive nature of media production itself.

Through these moments of transition, defined not only by the introduction of newer technologies and the abandonment of older ones, I found new ways to understand myself that coincided with every new camera purchase. Thus, it only seems fitting that after a lifetime of producing still images that I would inevitably learn filmmaking. This opportunity came after I was accepted into New York University’s Culture and Media Program in the Department of Anthropology, where I am currently pursuing my doctoral degree. I’ve since watched dozens of films, observing the early anthropological interest in documenting the “exotic other” and vicariously experiencing the estrangement those native communities no doubt felt from their cinematic depictions. So as I began studying the development of indigenous filmmaking, I also took in my hands for the first time the very instrument that was once used to systematically document those “near extinct” beliefs and practices as a tool of cultural empowerment.

As a Navajo filmmaker, indigenous media production is not just an innocuous act of documenting “tradition”; it is a defiant political act of self-representation and history in the re-making. While early anthropologists utilized media to study what the celluloid object might reveal about social relations in non-Western cultures, today scholars and filmmakers like myself are interested to learn about what these films can show us about the relationships between media producers, the communities they represent, and their influence on the ways we see ourselves. I’m beginning to learn that documentary work offers opportunities to create new ways of fostering human connection; between the viewer and projected onscreen worlds, between the Navajo community and myself, and maybe even a mutual understanding between you and me.

Teresa Montoya | Director, Doing the Sheep Good