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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Campus Creatives: Donavan Seschillie


    Donavan Seschillie, a Navajo filmmaker from Flagstaff, got through his junior year studying creative writing at the UA before he decided to take a leave of absence devoted to his filmmaking. And it has paid off.  His recent short film, “”The Rocket Boy,”” was selected to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January. He will also be at this weekend’s Southwest Indian Art Fair on campus for a screening and Q&A through the Native Eyes Film Showcase.  

    Wildlife got the chance to ask Seschillie a few questions, talking to him by phone while he was stranded at a “”little highway pit stop”” appropriately named Navajo.

    When did you start making films?

    I started making films when I was 13, 14 years old. I started off with an 8 mm camcorder, and I started editing my films like on VCRs (laughs). And I learned how to edit, and the angle to take my shots, and wrote little stories to go along with it. My old childhood friend from the third grade, his name was Jake Hoyungowa — he’s Hopi — and from then on he’s been with me for going on eight years now.

    Are you involved in any other type of art?

    My earlier art I guess is photography; I photographed a lot of things when I was small — 7, 8 years old. I used to get disposable cameras and do experiments with those. I used to break them apart and mess with the film, which is a bad idea, probably mess up the film that way. You know, I learned.

    What was your inspiration for “”Rocket Boy””?

    It came from what another friend of mine was doing, her name was Deidra Peaches, she made a short film for the contest at the National Museum of the American Indian, and it was Thanksgiving, I believe. And her own concept was she was thankful for imagination. And so she made a short film about kids and what they want to do in life. One of them was like a bank robber (laughs). And a couple of them are cops, and another boy is kind of like a rocket scientist. So I was watching it and it was really crudely made — I wasn’t there at the time to help her film it — I was attending U of A at the time. Anyways, I watched it and liked it. And that little rocket boy/scientist thing kind of drew an inspiration, like another story I can draw from that. So I told her about it and asked if I could piggyback off that little short with that little boy and she said it was OK. So I wrote a screenplay that was about a boy who built a rocket to space to find his own father. I didn’t really explain what happened to the father so that it kind of has a universal message. Because on the reservation that’s pretty common, you know, a father would leave a mother and a son alone. So that’s what happened to me during my earlier years, my father wasn’t around, so I kind of drew from that emotion stacked up, I guess.

    How long of a project was it?

    Pre-production about a year — just to write it out, planning, and about three months to film it, and another year to edit. So two and a half years, I guess.

    How did it get selected to be screened at Sundance?

    Well, we first screened it at a smaller film festival in Santa Fe. It was part of like the short film showcase or something like that. And people started noticing it, you know? We’re young — I’m 22 years old — so to them it’s really young. I feel old already. But they were expecting like a 30-year-old to make it or something. And they were asking questions like how we made it and I told stories like how we had some filming problems and some creativity that went along with it. They were pretty amazed by it. And then I sent it off to Sundance, sent it with an online account. And one of the short film coordinators, he’s Native American, was able to I guess pull some strings and get it screened there without any fee. You usually have to pay a screening fee, like 40 bucks or 50 bucks. I told him that I don’t have any cash, you know, I’m just a poor res boy from Flagstaff or something like that (laughs). He was all right with it, and he watched it, and he liked it, and he told me he was going to showcase it. And I thought “”Oh, pretty cool.””

    What was your reaction when you found out “”Rocket Boy”” would be screened at Sundance?

    It was sort of, like, I was excited but I was concentrated on another project. Because I was filming a documentary at the time so I couldn’t really put my full mind into Sundance and be like “”Oh my god, I’m in Sundance!”” It was more like “”I gotta finish this documentary before I go”” (laughs).

    I read that you don’t overtly address your heritage in your films — in what ways does your background (ethnic or otherwise) influence your work?

    I grew up in a native environment — I grew up with my grandparents. They were semi-traditional about what’s going on in the household. So what they taught me was they share everything and there’s no “”I”” in this type of thing, it’s always “”we.”” That’s what I brought to my filmmaking. Like my name’s a director, you know, I don’t feel like I need all that credit because I wasn’t the only one who actually filmed it, you know? I had a lot of help, and I try to offer that and say that people helped me, you know, it wasn’t all just me.

    What’s next for you?

    I’m working on the documentary. It’s a social issue, the environment down by the reservation. I guess recently they sold their water rights — like they actually own a partial amount of water from the Colorado River that flows through the Navajo mainland. And recently they sold that off to the highest bidder, pretty much. Which is a bad thing. Half the reservation people don’t have running water or electricity, and I have no idea what that means to people who actually have to haul water to their households. So I’ve got to make that documentary, trying to expose it at least.

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