Jeffrey Palmer, assistant professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, has released two new short films that continue his mission to capture untold stories.
“Sounds of Life” follows the story of a Native American teenage girl; “Disqualified Warriors” highlights the impact of the Native warrior tradition on Palmer’s father, Gus Palmer Jr. Both works were commissioned over the summer by PBS and The Healthy US Collaborative.
The release comes after the success of Palmer’s first full-length film, “N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear,” which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and aired Nov. 18 on PBS’ American Masters series.
These new short documentaries provided the filmmaker with a distinct set of challenges and opportunities.
“Both short stories are from the perspectives of everyday people,” Palmer said. “N. Scott Momaday is a celebrity in the Native community and a celebrity within the celebrity community. Telling [‘Words From a Bear’] in feature form or long form was easier than the short form of these two examples and, furthermore, no one knows who these subjects are. They do now, and that is the aim.”
It was important for Palmer that “Sounds of Life” be told from the perspective of a young girl.
“I think we seldom hear stories from women of color in America. KhaLoni had a wonderful story of perseverance and leadership in this community at such a young age,” he said. “I hope that through the style of documentary that I made, we provided her with the agency to tell this story through her lens.”
“Sounds of Life” had a considerable budget and full film crew, which included cinematographer Shana Hagan and producer Becky Korman, Palmer said. The team traveled to Minnesota to document KhaLoni’s journey.
“We all flew into Minneapolis, to the Phillips neighborhood, which is called the American Indian Cultural Corridor,” Palmer said. “This is the poorest neighborhood but had so much life and culture.”
Palmer realized his father happened to be the perfect subject for “Disqualified Warriors,” which focuses on the celebrated Native American tradition of service in the armed forces.
“It is a rite of passage for many Native men and women in the armed forces today,” Palmer said, “but there is a certain level of expectation that comes along with this honor, and there is pressure felt by those who decide not to serve or those who have been disqualified due to an illness or other reasons. I wanted to tell a story that illuminated these pressures.”
The production of “Disqualified Warriors” was more intimate than that of “Sounds of Life.”
“It was a small shoot, with me and my wife, Youngsun, who is also an amazing cinematographer,” he said. “We kept the locations small and tight, literally to my father’s house in Norman, Oklahoma.”
Although the films differed in their production processes, Palmer cites them both as “living examples of Native people in contemporary society.”
Amaris Janel Henderson is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.