Nov 21, 2021
When my tribe launched the Cherokee Nation Film Office in 2019, we became the third film commission in Oklahoma. The film business was gaining steam in our state, and we wanted in. We had a five-year strategic plan and were ready to slowly make inroads into the industry. Well, the industry had other plans for us. The word “slowly” is not in the film business vocabulary.
The day after we launched our film office, we found ourselves at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where we were invited to industry gatherings and top-tier meetings with film studio executives eager to hear what the Cherokee Nation had to offer. Hollywood was hungry for diversity, and it’s obvious that it had been starved.
The mission of the Cherokee Nation Film Office is to increase the presence of Native Americans in every level of the film and television industries, while creating opportunities for economic development and jobs in the Cherokee Nation. We had a lot of work to do. Even with more than 15 years of television experience, my question became, “Where are the Cliff Notes to this industry?” We needed to move quickly.
Tava Maloy Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, took us under her wing and did not hesitate to guide me. The demand for our services forced our film office to grow up rapidly. I am proud to report that our film office accomplished its five-year plan in just two years, and today we still look to Tava and her team for guidance, but more importantly, for partnership. When our state and tribal film offices work together to recruit and film projects here, it’s a united front that film executives can’t ignore, and one that is unique to Oklahoma.
With a firm grasp on the industry and where it needs to go, I have come to recognize that there is something else that sets Oklahoma apart. Women are leading the way in film and television here. In addition to Tava, there are many other female leaders who are doing the “moving and shaking” that end up making headlines in this very newspaper.
Abby Kurin, director of Tulsa FMAC, has recruited a record number of projects to our side of the state, while Cassidy Lunnen, of Tulsa’s Red Clay Studios, has safely made three films here during the pandemic. Rachel Cannon, co-founder of Prairie Surf Media, is a tireless advocate for the industry in Oklahoma City, along with Amy Janes and Melodie Garneau, whose Oklahoma Film and Television Academy is educating the new film crew we need to sustain a healthy, and of equal importance, diverse workforce.
I am proud to have worked alongside many of these talented women on the Oklahoma Motion Picture Alliance, which helped to increase our state’s film incentive. Because of their work, and that of many other men and women, the future is bright. This industry creates good jobs and great opportunities for our people, and we look forward to bringing many more women into the fold. I’ll gladly share my copy of the Cliff Notes.
Jennifer Loren is director of the Cherokee Nation Film Office & Original Content and a member of VEST, a private network of influential women focused on expediting the pipeline of more women in positions of power.