SAN FRANCISCO – Michael Smith, the Relocation-era Sioux man who founded the American Indian Film Institute and the American Indian Film Festival, passed away on Wed., Feb. 14, 2018 in San Francisco. He was 66.
Growing up watching non-Natives play Natives, perpetuating stereotypes and disseminating inaccurate, often offensive portrayals of American Indians onscreen, a 20-something Smith started the American Indian Film Institute in 1975, in Seattle. It took zero persuasion on Smith’s part to recruit two of his heroes – Mvskokee actor Will Sampson (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), and Canada’s Coast Salish actor and tribal leader, Chief Dan George (“The Outlaw Josey Wales;) “Little Big Man”) – to become founding board members of AIFI. A couple of years later, Smith helmed the first-ever American Indian Film Festival; and, in November 2017, AIFF marked its 42nd year of creating countless filmmakers, screening hundreds of films by, for and about Native peoples, and shattering stereotypes around the globe.
In marking its milestone 40 years, the American Indian Film Festival naturally reflects on the themes, forces and faces who inspired new generations, broke through barriers and set the bar for cinematic achievement, against the dramatic backdrop of civil and American Indian rights, a cultural revolution, and cutting-edge films. Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Buffalo Bill) , and Coastal Salish actor Chief Dan George (The Outlaw Josey Wales; Little Big Man) broke into mainstream feature films, forging their future as icons, and inspiring a young Sioux visionary to establish a forum and showcase from an indigenous perspective. From relocated urban Indians, to rural reservations storytellers, new filmmakers from all corners of Indian country stepped up and spoke up, made movies, and shared them with the American Indian Film Festival.
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