From Sterlin Harjo’s “Reservation Dogs” on FX to Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls,” created by Sierra Teller Ornelas, Ed Helms, and Michael Schur, 2021 has offered audiences more Indigenous narratives in mainstream media created and written by Indigenous people than ever before. However, in order to continue to support Indigenous-made content, the search should extend beyond these two major networks, and a great place to find new voices and stories is at film festivals. Rhiana Yazzie‘s debut feature, “A Winter Love,” is an indie film making the rounds through festivals across the globe this year. “A Winter Love” is a story of a woman finding herself and exploring life with a new love along the way. Yazzie wrote, directed, and stars.
“A Winter Love” offers us a look into the life of Blue (Yazzie), a 35-year-old Navajo musician whose creative pursuits are not going the way she expected. Nor is her romantic life. The film is set in Minneapolis, but Blue is from a desert town in the Southwest; her distance from her own Navajo community is an important factor in her character’s journey. The story follows her as she navigates the cold winters of Minnesota and tries to cultivate bonds through her music and her work with the youth in the area.
Blue soon meets Eddie (Brian Watson), a 25-year-old Lakota man attempting to redefine his path as a recent law school dropout. An inter-tribal romance begins, but the film is also interested in a search for connection that isn’t often explored on-screen: self-love. “A Winter Love” captures the cross-cultural interactions between Blue and Eddie, but also between Blue and the community she builds in Minnesota. Blue is an outsider in this environment; in that position it can be easy to dwell on any found differences, but as she learns more about herself, she also discovers where she fits and flourishes as a creative.
Yazzie grew up in the Navajo Nation of Albuquerque and Farmington, New Mexico, then moved to Minnesota after graduate school, an experience that is echoed in “Blue.” This production was entirely self-financed and filmed across several winters in Minnesota, so its creation aligned with climate and social change happening within the area. In an interview with New Zealand filmmaker Hiona Henare, Yazzie explained how the winters have rapidly changed each year, which adds another level of difficulty to the film’s continuity and portrayal of the snowy season. This challenge brought more awareness to Yazzie and her crew about how climate change can manifest itself; in a way, “A Winter Love” unintentionally maps the changing winters in Minnesota through the last few years.
Yazzie also revealed how living and working on the film in Minnesota during the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, impacted her perspective on storytelling. She discussed the parallels between Black and Indigenous histories of violence, displacement, and neglect, specifically in the U.S., as well as how solidarity across communities is necessary for any type of change.
Yazzie began writing the script for “A Winter Love” in 2015 and completed the production in 2020, but she started working in the arts as a playwright years before she ventured into filmmaking. For Yazzie, the transition into film was a way to explore how differently the mediums translate emotions from the actor to the audience. On camera, there’s more opportunity to capture the nonverbal intricacies of human emotion that can sometimes be missed on stage. “The camera is a microscope for emotion,” she said earlier this year in an interview for the Wairoa Māori Film Festival.
She also explained how she visualized this project from its 2015 inception. Yazzie wanted to focus on the unspoken moments between characters via close-up shots that highlight the film’s emotional journey, whether it be in the romantic scenes or through Blue’s individual journey on-screen. One of Yazzie’s main goals centers around capturing the details within Blue’s private moments in order to showcase the experiences of a Native woman who is rarely, if ever, shown in media: a mid-30s artist who is building a life for herself far from her home. Yazzie wants the Native women in the audience to feel seen and heard by the film as a whole, but more specifically by the intricacies that make Blue who she is.
“A Winter Love” had its world premiere this year at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival.
November 5, 2021 – American Indian Film Festival – Virtual
Check out Yazzie’s website for updates on future screenings and projects.
Under the Radar offers a chance for us to highlight works by and/or about women that haven’t received big releases or significant coverage in the press, but are wholly worthy of attention.