A-dae Romero-Briones: “We have to recognize that we are all living, breathing stories”

In partnership with Huston-Tillotson University and Driscoll’s, Food Tank kicked off the “Nourishing America” tour at SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas, with a screening of “Gather,” a new film documenting the journey among Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg sat down with A-dae Romero-Briones (Cochiti/Kiowa) of the First Nations Development Institute and the film’s James Beard Award-winning Director Sanja Rawal to discuss producing the film in partnership.

“There are some amazing and beautiful things happening in Indian country, the time is right in terms of the socio-economic landscape for there to be this revitalization of entire systems,” says Rawal, but he emphasizes that this Indigenous wisdom has always existed.

“We’re always getting approached by people asking us, can you explain the Indigenous food movement? And it agitates me,” says Romero-Briones. “Because a movement assumes there’s a beginning and an end. We have always been here we will be here after, when all these conversations end.”

Through creating Gather, Romero-Briones wanted to show viewers that this is more than just one moment in time for the Indigenous community. “We’re timeless,” she says.

As a non-Native director, Rawal’s work focuses on giving underrepresented communities a seat at the table. Few Indigenous filmmakers have access to the equipment needed to produce these types of films, says Romero-Briones. Rawal’s connections within the industry were able to elevate Gather’s story through beautiful camerawork portraying the lush landscapes of Indigenous land.

“You can’t excite people with a GoPro, even though sometimes those are the best materials to tell the story,” says Rawal.

Filmmakers need to have experience in philanthropy and an established network to tell these types of stories, says Rawal, and this means that “the right people to tell the stories usually aren’t the ones telling the stories.”

According to Romero-Briones, this points to a larger issue within the documentary film industry.

“The problem is that certain people and companies are accumulating control through the wealth and deciding who gets that funding to tell their story,” says Romero-Briones. “Young, brown women have this barrier to entry…it’s creating this never-ending cycle of valuing certain stories from certain a demographic over others.”

But Romero-Briones thinks that the solution isn’t to focus on funding more movies like Gather, it’s to help more communities to tell their stories without needing to rely on philanthropic funding. This starts with valuing storytelling itself.

“At some point, we’ve become disattached from our stories, just like we’ve become disattached from our foods,” says Romero-Briones. “We’ve become these nutrient-counting, calorie-counting machines…we have to recognize that we are all living, breathing stories.”

“How many carbon units are these communities sequestering? I don’t know,” says Romero-Briones. “But you have to listen to their story. Society has to do the work.”

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