Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl Talks About ‘Mankiller’ Documentary and Premiere

James Schnepf/Courtesy Wilma Mankiller Foundation/Wilma Mankiller biography book cover.

'Mankiller' documentary on the life of Wilma Mankiller world premieres at the Los Angeles Film Festival in Culver City.

Valerie Red-Horse Mohl (Cherokee) is the Director and Producer of the world-premiering Mankiller documentary based on the life and legacy of Wilma Mankiller. As the owner and founder of Red-Horse Native Productions, Inc., Red-Horse Mohl previously co-produced two Native films (True Whispers: The Story of The Navajo Code Talkers and Choctaw Code Talkers) with The Walking Dead’s executive producer Gale Anne Hurd of Valhalla Entertainment.

This Monday, June 19, Mankiller will be making its red carpet premiere of the Los Angeles Film Festival at the Culver City ArcLight Cinemaswith Gale Anne Hurd, Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and family members of Wilma Mankiller in attendance. The Mankiller documentary will also screen in select film festivals and will be broadcast nationally on PBS. Mankiller is the third Native film produced by Red-Horse Mohl and Hurd.

In a conversation with ICMN, Valerie Red-Horse Mohl talked about her excitement for the premiere of Mankiller as well as the creation process, the strength of women in film and words of wisdom for up and coming filmmakers.

How are you feeling about the premiere of your Mankiller documentary at the LA Film Fest?

I am very excited, but I am also a bit nervous. Gale Anne Hurd and I will be there and we flew in members of Wilma Mankiller’s family including Wilma’s husband Charlie Soap and her daughter Gina Olaya.

You’ve done some great films over the years.

I have come a long way. My first feature was a film called Naturally Native with Irene Bedard, we worked so hard on that and today it still screens at schools. It premiered in 1998 Sundance along with Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals.

Courtesy Photo Curt Mohl/On location in San Francisco, the ‘Mankiller’ crew including Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, Tarin Anderson and Robert Swanson, interview Roxann Dunbar Ortiz.

Considering the success of Wonder Woman this looks like a good time for movies about women warriors.

It feels like things are aligning. We were turned down initially to many film festivals, and we were frustrated, but Gale said, ‘The right one will be the one that we get into.’ We got into Los Angeles. They are rolling out the red carpet and we are getting a lot of attention. I think it is going to honor Wilma Mankiller’s legacy more than anything else.

How did you and Gale Anne Hurd, who is also the executive producer of The Walking Dead**, first get started on this project?**

Courtesy Gale Anne Hurd (left) Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage. Wilma Mankiller (right) AP Images/CEO and Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd (on left) at Valhalla Entertainment is premiering her third Native American documentary MANKILLER. The film, directed by Valerie Red-Horse (Cherokee), examines the life of the first woman Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller (on right.) Hurd is known for her wildly successfully projects ‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Aliens.’

Gail and I had made two previous films together on the Navajo and Oklahoma code talkers. We knew that we had a great working relationship. I really did not want to do Mankiller without her. People working on the film Cherokee Word for Water called me to assist in fundraising. I was working on several other films but I was intrigued.

This was shortly after Wilma died in 2011. Gale Anne Hurd and I initially thought of it as a biography but once we began to research her life, we realized it was so much more than a biography, it was a wake-up call to our country. Wilma Mankiller was a uniter that brought people together. As an elected leader, Wilma Mankiller believed you should be a servant leader and that you are there for your constituents, not yourself.

What would you say was your own main reason for making the Mankiller documentary?

I think Wilma Mankiller’s voice. We never met but had a lot in common. Both of our fathers were brought to California as part of the Indian relocation program. We also had a full Cherokee father and a caucasian mother. I felt a kinship with her. I felt like I had to do this and just couldn’t stop. I felt like I had to honor her legacy.

Courtesy Wilma Mankiller Foundation/Wilma Mankiller reads to young students.

Were there any moments in the filming process that stood out to you?

Filming in San Francisco was exciting. The historian there Chris Carlson told me things I never knew. Describing the civil rights and women’s rights movements, the takeover of Alcatraz, Janis Joplin on the street corner, it made me want to time travel. I really enjoyed that segment of filming there.

Wilma Mankiller used what she learned in San Francisco and brought it back to the Cherokee Nation that was stuck in a male-dominated federal government. She also brought in gaming which was a huge controversy, but it you look now it is a $1.3 billion dollar industry for the Cherokee people.

One thing also stuck out to me. Her Chief of Staff Mark Downing mentioned that as she was launching gaming, she had many opponents that would approach her in person. She would never say, ‘this is personal time.’ She stopped and she would listen to everyone’s opinion. She loved people, and not all politicians do. And not just Cherokee people, but all people.

With a female director, executive producer and Wilma Mankiller herself, would you say you are making a statement of strong female empowerment with the Mankiller documentary?

Yes and I think this is all fabulous. It doesn’t get any better than working with Gale Anne Hurd who is such a smart, intelligent, and savvy person. I have never worked with someone who is so competent. Every criticism she has had, she has never been wrong. I do not feel I would be able to direct and creatively put a film together without her in terms of making it the best it could be.

As a woman director, I find it interesting to say that Gale has never referred to herself as a woman producer or female producer, she is just a darn good professional. She kicks the pants off of men and her films have made $4 billion.

When you have two women directing the creative focus and direction of the film, we bring sensitivity as women but we also have a great combination of teamwork. I feel that we have tried to honor Wilma in letting this be her voice and not be about us.

Courtesy Photo Evan Taylor/The ‘Mankiller’ crew wraps shooting in Oklahoma at the Cherokee Nation Tribal Headquarters in Talequah. Crew includes (Top Row, L to R) Robert Swanson, Phil Kobylanski, Andy Theiss, Corey Soap. (Bottom Row, L to R) Tarin Anderson, Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and Stacy Mahoney.

Do you have any words for young filmmakers?

I encourage anyone who has the desire to make movies and tell stories to please follow your urges because we need more great storytelling. If you are native, I encourage you even more because I feel that we are invisible in the media and we need more of our stories told. We are storytelling people.

For young people today, technology is amazing. My daughter has made 20 films on her iPhone. You used to have to mortgage your house to make a film with 35mm. I would encourage them to use the medium that is available whether it is an iPhone or a tablet because you can tell stories now in interesting ways.

I would also say be encouraged by mentorships. Gale is a mentor to me and I would not be where I am without her.

If you really want to get into filmmaking and you have that desire, you have to be good, and you have to learn your craft, but get out there and follow your dreams.

Be like Nike and ‘Just do it.’

The Mankiller documentary will be premiering at the LA Film Festival on Monday, June 19, 6:15PM, at the ArcLight Cinemas in Culver City.

A Q&A with the filmmakers and Wilma Mankiller’s family will take place immediately following the screening.

For more information about the LA Film Festival visit https://www.filmindependent.org/la-film-festival/about/

For more information about the Mankiller documentary visit http://www.mankillerdoc.com

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