Episode 31. Interview with Razelle Benally

Razelle Wiyakaluta Benally (Oglala Lakota/Navajo) is an indigenous filmmaker creating impactful and memorable films from the Native perspective. Benally has produced content ranging from music videos to experimental pieces to short documentaries. Having been fully immersed in the indie film culture for over ten years Benally recognizes she is still only at the start of her cinematic career and speaks to Broken Boxes about where she is in her process. 

"I feel it is a creative duty of mine to represent native women in a positive manner, and to show the world that we are still here, that we still have a voice. Our stories are important and so are our people and history. I intend to explore filmmaking as an art form and create collections of moving images as a voice of visual poetry." -Razelle Benally

Here is the conversation with Razelle Benally:

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More from the artist: 

"I was born in a small town in Eastern Oregon but grew up and graduated high school in Rapid City, South Dakota. I am half Oglala Lakota and half Navajo. As a child I grew up in a family of artists and found myself fascinated with stories and film from an early age. I would read book after book, and watch and re-watch my favorite movies. As a kid I really took a liking to Roald Dahl’sJames and the Giant Peach and Tarantino’s Pulp fiction.

When I started high school I got into skateboarding and punk rock music; I also rooted myself in a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. By then my parents had split up, so my mom and I moved up to north to be closer to family in Pine Ridge; she also wanted me to learn more about my culture and language. I became really involved with Lakota spirituality and built a strong foundation of self-identity based on ceremonial and traditional values. My perspective on life changed during this time, and I no longer wished to pursue science (my original plan) after graduating; I wanted to do more for my people.

During this time, the sanctity of one of our sacred sites was being threatened. There were rallies and protests with people gathering for a bigger purpose, the whole thing was empowering for me. By then I had become a straight edge enthused and spiritually driven young woman. In some way I wanted to do more, so I decided to archive and capture what was happening. I picked up a camera and started filming. I found purpose when I was running the camera. My whole life I had longed to tell stories and often considered myself a writer at times, but it wasn’t until I began filming and editing that I realized what my calling was.

I wanted to become a filmmaker, so I looked up prospective schools and found the budding New Media Arts program here at IAIA most appealing. Both of my parents are IAIA Alumni and they encouraged me to follow my passion. During that first year I completed here at IAIA, I got sponsored by a skateboard company and had the opportunity to skate and film for a living. I took the chance and traveled the United States doing skateboard competitions and demos with the team, while filming and making videos for the them as well. After three years and countless injuries I decided to throw in the towel on skateboarding in order to fully focus on independent filmmaking.

I got into making music videos, experimental pieces, and short documentaries not long after I stopped skating. I kept writing and creating and in 2012 it paid off; I earned the Sundance Film Institute’s Native Lab Fellowship. I am currently working on a project that is being supported by the Institute. I work hard on a daily basis perfecting my passion of writing so I can make impactful and memorable films. I feel it is a creative duty of mine to represent native women in a positive manner, and to show the world that we are still here, that we still have a voice. Our stories are important and so are our people and history. I intend to explore filmmaking as an art form and create collections of moving images as a voice of visual poetry." -Razelle Benally