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Joshua Tree Debuts Indigenous Film Festival

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Native elder Alfredo Figueroa.

November is Native American month, and many events commemorating Native American culture are taking place throughout Southern California. One such event is an exciting new film festival in Joshua Tree, which will screen nine indigenous-themed films during the weekend of November 15-17 focusing on desert and inland Southern California indigenous culture.

The festival is the brainchild of A.G. Vasquez, a Redlands native now living in Joshua Tree, who is a documentarian/storyteller with numerous indigenous films to his credit, as well as the acclaimed "Living on the Dime" project. He is also the founder of Casa de Culturas, and indigenous and regional study center located, which opened this past August.

The films and participants in this year's festival were chosen, according to Vasquez, as the result of how they have shaped his thinking in representing aspects of indigenous culture that he feels must be shared with the general public. "The films and the presentations represent the past, present and future of indigenous philosophy, culture and energy that the elders I work with believe will benefit all people," he says. "The purpose is to gather, share wisdom and learn." The festival already has plans to expand next year, and will accept submissions from filmmakers, but there will be no competitive categories. Musicians were selected based on the basis of their focus indigenous themes, as well as their use of indigenous instruments/methods of performance.

In addition to film screenings, the festival will also feature live music performances and presentations by local & indigenous artists and elders from throughout the southern California desert and beyond.

The festival kicks off November 15 at the Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater in Joshua Tree at Lake Joshua Campground by showcasing the work of native scholar and elder Alfredo Acosta Figueroa, who will open the festivities with a new presentation, "Seven Sisters: The Measurement of Time," which will focus the relationship between the Pleiades star cluster, ancient astronomy and Native American Sacred Sites. Figueroa is a longtime indigenous historian, cultural leader and desert defender based in Blythe. Indigenous-themed short films by Vasquez and filmmaker Robert Lundahl will also be screened. The music group Misled Children will perform, as well as native singer Jesus Figueroa.

The Salt Song Trail
"The Salt Song Trail."

The film festival will continue on Saturday, November 16 at Radio Free Joshua Tree Listening Lounge in Joshua Tree. Two films will be screened, including "The Salt Song Trail," a film produced by the Salt Song Conservancy. Chemehuevi Salt Song singer/elder Matthew Leivas will be the evening's featured speaker. The other film being screened will be "5 Suns: An Aztec Creation Story," an animated film produced in the 1990's by Teatro Campesino and directed by Patricia Amlin. The film tells the Mexica-Azteca creation stories through animated codices. Musician Miri Hunter will also perform.

Several films, including the critically-acclaimed "Chavez Ravine" as well as "Living On the Dime" will be screened on Sunday, November 17, beginning at Casa de Culturas. The evening's events also include a performance by the Joshua-based music group Machin' and a special Danza Azteca performance. There will also be a spirit walk, which Vasquez describes as "a new way for people to experience local indigenous sites as interpreted from an indigenous perspective." Sunday evening's program also includes a closing ceremony culminating in what Vasquez says is a way to share knowledge that could disappear. "I have long envisioned an event that would draw the diverse talents of the region to teach, learn, and pass on their stories, talents and visions to others," he says.

More information about the festival, as well as the participant's in the 2013 Joshua Tree Indigenous Film Festival, can also be found at the Inland Mexican Heritage site on Facebook or by visiting the Mexican Heritage website.

Friday, Nov 15
7 PM at Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater at Lake Joshua Campground. 2601 Sunfair Rd, Joshua Tree.

"Ancient Footprints of the Colorado River" by A.G. Vazquez
"Indigenous America Questions U.S. "Green" Energy Policies" by Robert Lundahl.

Featured speaker Yaqui elder Alfredo Acosta Figueroa.
Music by Misled Children and native singer Jesus Figueroa.

Saturday, Nov 16
7 PM at Radio Free Joshua Tree Listening Lounge 61597 Highway 62, Joshua Tree

"Chemehuevi Salt Song Trail"
"5 Suns: An Aztec Creation Story."
Chemehuevi elder/Salt Song Trails singer Matthew Leivas.
Music by Miri Hunter.

Sunday, Nov 17
4 PM at Casa de Culturas 7015 Sunset Road, Joshua Tree.

"Chavez Ravine"
"Living On the Dime."
Music by Joshua Tree's Machin'.
Special Danza Ateca Performance. Spirit Walk and Closing Ceremonies.

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