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Pocahontas Reframed now the largest Indigenous film festival on the East Coast

The Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is entering its sixth year as a staple of Native American Heritage Month. Held in Richmond, it has humble beginnings with a famous sponsor. Today, it’s the largest Indigenous film festival on the East Coast.

Brad Brown
Brad Brown
Brad Brown, director of Pocahontas Reframed

Brad Brown is a member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and directs the film festival. He recalls nearly 25 years ago the significance of a coming-of-age film called Smoke Signals. "And that was the first film with Native actors, Native crew, Native producer, director and everything like that."

Since then, Indigenous-made films have raised awareness about issues that directly affect them like the oil and gas industry in the short film being shown this year called Peace Pipeline.

Like any start-up, there was no money. Then, opportunity knocked in an email from Hollywood Director Francis Ford Coppola. He was starting up a Native American restaurant and wanted permission to use the name Werowocomoco, the Powhatan capitol colonists first encountered when they arrived in what is now Virginia. "It’s not really a name we own. He was asking for our blessing," Brown remembers. "So we said, “Sure, yes, you can use the name.” And then right before the chief sent the email back I said to him, “Put a p.s. in your letter back to him and say, ‘Hey we’re starting a Native American film festival, would you like to become a sponsor?’ And he got right back to us and said, 'Yes, where do I send the check?' So, he was our first and founding sponsor."

Peace Pipeline

They began in 2016 with a mini festival. There were two films and 150 people.
"Nobody knew anything about us. So, we didn’t have any submissions," Brown says. "So we had to kinda go out and find films. We did it in February. We didn’t realize we had scheduled it at the Byrd theater on Superbowl Sunday.

Every year, as they build the festival, more people are attending and funding is slowly growing. That means more Indigenous filmmakers, writers, artists and musicians are invited to share their cultures and ideas. "We’re becoming more well known. The first year we had zero submissions, this year we had 140 submissions."

Films are mainly from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. In addition, there are panels, music and dance. And after two years of the pandemic forcing it online, the festival is back again fully in-person. "You know it’s really important for people to be able to talk to the filmmakers. That’s the idea, is that they can come to the festival and run into them in the hallway and they can talk to them about their film. And the filmmakers are very open. These are independent filmmakers who really like to interact with the audience," he says.

The festival runs November 18th to the 20th at the Leslie Cheek Theater at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. You can purchase tickets online and see the schedule here.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.