BIPOC Filmmaker Symposium Explores Importance of Identity, Place

The Momentary will host the inaugural day-long event Nov. 6.

Black boy carrying khat plants
Directed by Mexican-Ethiopian producer Jessica Beshir, "Faya Dayi" will be screened during a symposium in Bentonville Nov. 6. Courtesy photo.

An increasing number of organizations are crafting statements acknowledging the Indigenous land they inhabit, but many tribal nation citizens find them lacking. Indigenous filmmaker Colleen Thurston often has “a visceral reaction” to these statements which sometimes include the mispronunciations of tribal nations and are deficient in knowledge of the land or the story of its people. 

In response to these land acknowledgements, Thurston has curated a film symposium for The Momentary in Bentonville that focuses on the importance of identity and place in storytelling. In addition to short and feature-length films created by BIPOC filmmakers, Film Symposium | Living in Place, Living in Story also includes food, music and a panel discussion. 

“Place, storytelling, cultural identity, language, place names, those are all wrapped up into who we are as cultures and communities,” Thurston says. “So I wanted to showcase films that speak to that concept and that take these land acknowledgements one step further.”

Thurston is an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker from Tulsa, Okla. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation and a seventh generation Oklahoman, Thurston has produced work for the Smithsonian Channel, Vox and illumniNATIVE, as well as museums, public television stations, and federal and tribal organizations. She’s currently working on her first feature documentary Drowned Land, which explores water rights and the history of resource exploitation in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

While Thurston typically leans toward showcasing Indigenous stories, she has seen some strong nonfiction as well as more experimental and avant-garde films in recent years that lean into a perspective of how a place tells the story.

“That’s a perspective that I’m so used to seeing in Indigenous storytelling, but I wanted to expand that out into other communities and other populations,” she says.

Participating filmmakers include José Cardoso, Ciara Lacy, Obed Lamy, Khaula Malik, Edward Manuga and Adam Piron. Their films share stories about places from around the world including the Solomon Islands, Ethiopia and Washington County, Ark. Following a screening of short films, Thurston will moderate a panel discussion on decolonial place-based storytelling. 

“Decolonial means deconstructing these colonial narratives that are often steeped in white supremacy and considering who gets to tell the story, who has power in these narrative forms,” she says.

In addition to the filmmakers, the panel will also feature singer/songwriter Kalyn Fay and Chef Kyra Carby. Both Indigenous artists will provide entertainment and food during a reception Saturday night, but Thurston wanted them to be able to participate in the panel and discuss how they use storytelling in their artforms.

“Often in these spaces we ask people to provide food or entertainment, but they’re kind of silenced in a way by not being included in the whole discussion,” Thurston says.

The symposium will wrap up with a screening of Faya Dayi, a documentary feature by Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir. As a teenager, Beshir was forced to leave her hometown of Harar, Ethiopia. She returns to make a film about the city, its rural Oromo community of farmers and the harvesting of the country’s most sought-after export — the euphoria-inducing khat plant. 

Tickets are $15 for the public, $12 for members and include one drink token and complimentary bites during the symposium reception. Guests can drop in anytime throughout the event which is scheduled for 1 to 9 p.m. Nov. 6 at The Momentary in Bentonville.

Per CDC guidelines, all visitors 2 and older are required to wear a face covering indoors and for outdoor programs. Masks will be available upon entry for those who do not have one. Registration is available at

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.