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August 31, 2023

Reclaiming Narratives: The Visionaries Behind Reel Indian Pictures

In the rich tapestry of Native storytelling, Kelly Byars and Ramona Emerson, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Dine Founders of Reel Indian Pictures, emerge as unsung heroes. Anchored in Albuquerque, New Mexico, these two entrepreneurs have taken on the herculean task of not only crafting authentic tales about Native communities but also empowering the next generation of storytellers.

It all began with a simple realization. “We started our business because we wanted to tell stories about Native communities and reclaim our voices,” they share, echoing a sentiment felt by many marginalized communities. “It was time for us to see our true authentic selves on the screen.”

Reel Indian Pictures is not just a film production company; it’s a beacon for authenticity and representation. With a rich history spanning nearly thirty years, they’ve dabbled in documentaries, provided essential film and video services, and ventured into educational outreach, fostering the next generation of filmmakers. Despite their vast contributions, they remain a tight-knit team of two, overseeing every project from conception to completion. 

However, their pride doesn’t rest solely on their productions. Instead, they find fulfillment in mentoring. “We are the most proud of the impact that we have made on young filmmakers,” they express. Yet, every entrepreneurial journey is dotted with challenges. The duo speaks candidly about their struggles with funding, the efforts required to sustain in a competitive industry, and the aspiration to financially support their interns. “It has sometimes been hard just to make ends meet,” they admit.

Their decision to join the Pow Wow Pitch stems from a desire to innovate and secure a brighter future for the budding filmmakers under their wing. The contest, in their eyes, offers a chance to rethink their approach and expand their support network.

Inspiration often has roots in personal experiences, and for Kelly and Ramona, it’s no different. Kelly recalls the indomitable spirit of her grandmother, an educator who ventured back to college at sixty. “She always gave back to her community even when she didn’t have a lot to give,” Kelly reflects. This commitment to community and relentless spirit reverberates in their work ethos.

With a dream to hand over the baton to the younger generation, the duo is seeking avenues to create employment opportunities. “We would love to pass the torch to them and to give them the tools to work into the future,” they assert.

Among the invaluable lessons they’ve learned is the significance of seeking support. They state, “Sometimes its hard to realize that you really need help and there is someone there to help you.” Their top advice to emerging entrepreneurs is an astute one: “Invest in someone to help with finances and to help you think about financial sustainability.”

Register to watch Kelly and Ramona pitch at the Creative Semi-Final Online Watch Party on September 13, 2023, at 6 PM ET and vote for Reel Indian Pictures to win the 2023 People’s Choice Prize (#79) before September 17, 2023.