Ute Mountain teens ‘Escape’ through filmmaking

Kamea Clark (left) plays one of the main actors in the movie, Rachel. Rebecca Gardner (Center) works with Ute Mountain Tribal Court system is one of the main organizers of the event. Maraya Killsmall (Right) plays one of the bullies in the film, she also helps with the production and was leader for the youth on set.
Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council attended the Durango Premier at Gas Light Theater in support of their fellow Ute Mountain Ute youth. (Left to right)
Courtesy Waylon Plentyholes | Weenuche Smoke Signals
Courtesy Waylon Plentyholes | Weenuche Smoke Signals

“Escape” is a short film written, directed, and produced by teenagers from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe that focuses on the themes of poverty, substance abuse, and depression.

The 23-minute film was shot in the span of nine days around Towaoc, Colo. and recruited seventeen young filmmakers. Aided by award-winning producer, Alex Munoz, the teens were able to experience a new way of storytelling while expressing the tales of their homeland.

The film’s story spotlights on two teenagers who are at against the odds with the world – 14 year old Rachel, played by Makea Clark, and 17 year old Adam, played by Wendell Mills Jr. Rachel lives a troublesome life as she is continually harassed by her classmates, while Adam struggles coming out with his sexual orientation to his alcoholic father. The film is influenced on the strengths of perseverance, pride, and self-acceptance, which the young filmmakers have stated is something they experience themselves.

“We developed a lot of friendships making this,” lead actress, Makea Clark said. “We were able to open up our eyes on the situations we all struggle with. We had to team up with everyone on long shoot days, but we got through with it.”

Wendell Mills Jr. commented on the supervision of Alex Munoz, who taught the young filmmakers the basic elements of production while keeping true to their vision and voice.

“It was fun doing this film,” Mills said. “We couldn’t have done it without Alex and his crew from [Los Angeles].

Munoz and his crew are associated with Films by Youth Inside, a nonprofit organization that empowers young people to improve their lives and become self-reliant through the art of cinema.  Program participants learn the basics of screenwriting and filmmaking from industry professionals and utilize those skills to create engaging short films expressive of their own lives.

“They all worked very hard bringing this together, and now it’s wonderful they are able to share their own [cinematic] story,” said Munoz.

Ute Mountain Ute Councilwoman, DeAnne House, congratulated the teenagers on their successes.

“As leaders, it is our duty to think about our membership,” House said. “These kids put a lot of effort into this film to express a lot of deep feelings. The movie showed us their courage, honesty, and trust to make something like this possible.”

“This movie is important to the teenagers because they have a message to give,” Ute Mountain Ute Chairman, Manuel Heart said. “These kids wrote it, directed it, and acted in it themselves. Hopefully we end up bringing a full movie together that involves not just the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, but also the Northern Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Tribe. I am proud of each and every one of these kids.”

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