Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Alaska Native Actor Savanah Wiltfong's Name Missing in Movie Publicity

Dear Lemon Lima (Lima like the bean, not the capital of Peru) first came to the Anchorage International Film Festival in 2007 as a lushly beautiful short film focused on teenagers who were real and interesting.  The color was vivid. The exchanges between the kids was  often the way kids talk to each other when they have serious things to say and there are no adults listening. And mostly the movie was anti-slick.  Hercules' parents seemed a bit arch, but I took it that we were seeing the world through the kids' eyes, so maybe that's how they looked to him.  It was maybe ten minutes and I guessed it was the first glimpse at what promised to be an interesting feature. 

[I've found - at - what appears to be the short we saw in 2007 and some of the main characters, including Vanessa, are played by different actors. I was close, it's 11 minutes. The color on here isn't as rich]

And it came back to the Festival in 2009 as a feature length film.  And it got an audience award in the feature class that year. 

Suzi Yoonessi, the director, emailed me the other day to say the movie would be released VOD (she thought I was hipper than I am and it took me a while to figure out that means video on demand) on Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, and Verizon Fios in Alaska on March 4th. It will be released in LA that date too in theaters. Then March 11 in New York. If it does ok in those places, the rest of the world might be able to see it in theaters too.

But as I went to look for more information I found info on the movie, but the Alaska star's name wasn't included.  Savanah Wiltforng - an Alaska Native teen - plays the lead role of and assimilated Yup'ik who gets the Native scholarship to a boarding school in Fairbanks and because she has the scholarship people expect her to be expert in all things Native which she then has to become.

Here's an example from IMDB - where's Savanah's name?  It's not there.

Screen Capture from IMDB - so this is an image, the links won't work except IMDB

Here's the official poster:

Can you find Savanah Wiltfong's name on the poster?  Even though she's the star, you can't find her name among the four names on top.   It is on the poster.  It even says "Starring Savanah Wiltfong."  But you'll have to double click it to be able to read the purple on black small print. (hint, right side)

When I asked by email what happened to the star in the publicity, Suzi Yoonessi, the writer and director (can you find her on the poster?) wrote back, in part:
Savanah is included in the materials that our PR people send out, but it seems the popular teen sites are really focused on Meaghan Jette Martin or Vanessa Marano, since they have larger fan bases. This isn't a bad thing, since kids will make it out to see an indie film because of Meaghan's popularity in more mainstream material.
Maybe my readers are cooler than I am (or teenier) and recognize those other two names.  I get it though.  The point is to hook people to what they know.  I get it.  Let's see if it works. 

The director spoke after the short version in 2007 and surprised me by saying the story takes place at a boarding school in Fairbanks, but because it was so expensive to do it in Fairbanks, she was doing most of it in Washington State.  I posted about that and asked Fairbanks folks to contact her if they could help with housing and other services, but it didn't happen.

It came back to the Anchorage International Film Festival in 2009 as a feature length film.  I liked everything about it, EXCEPT that it purported to be in Fairbanks.  If Fairbanks residents want to see what there town will look like after 50 more years of global climate change, then check out the movie.  You'll be hanging around in your shorts and t-shirts on the grass mid-winter.  But Anchorage audiences voted it, as I said, an Audience Choice Award for what that's worth.

Suzi made this film as an independent.  That means she made every penny stretch as far as it could go - which didn't reach all the way to Fairbanks except for a few location shots as I understand it.  The State Film Board hadn't reopened yet.  Now that there are tax advantages for film makers on location in Alaska, let's hope this is the last 'green December in Fairbanks' movie until the weather has really changed that much. 

On the good side were great acting, interesting characters, and a good story about an assimilated Alaska Native girl discovering her Native roots.   It does use the underdogs in competition theme, but has a sweet - I'm tempted to say quirkiness, but it's only quirky for a movie.  These are real kids who just aren't the cheerleader types that most common in Hollywood type movies.   

And it starred a young woman from Eagle River - Savannah Wiltfong. 

So, Alaskans, check it out.  My first reaction to the Dear Lemon Lima website was it was waay to girlie for me, but it is original and it captures an aspect of the film. 

Here's the trailer.

(Think this is too promotional? Trust me. Like always, no one has paid me to write this. I just think pushing a film by an indendent director - and Indian-American woman if I'm correct - dealing with Alaska Native assimilation and then discovery of her Native culture, starring an Alaskan, with a (unfortunately fake) Fairbanks setting is the right thing to do. I'm just letting people know it's there.)


  1. If you hadn't of told me that this was an Alaskan setting with a 'native' heroine, I wouldn't have known it. Maybe by watching the whole movie it would dawn on me.

    It looks cute, for a tween movie - but taken into context, by her saying her hair was the color of dirt and that she's trying to be more Caucasian to fit in, hurts.

    She doesn't look native, doesn't even look mixed (no offense Savanna) and unless they actually consulted Native Youth Olympics to coach authentic competitions - I smell a huge cultural PR disaster here.

    Bethel, AK

  2. I did look this up on IMDBPro and she is listed there.

  3. Michelle, Thanks for your commenting. The long first video was the 2007 submission and the lead actors are different in the 2009 version (in the trailer below.)

    Vanessa's grown up with her white mom and the dad hasn't been in the picture, so she's essentially grown up white and not identifying herself as native. Then she discovers her Native roots because others identify her as Native because of the scholarship. So I think the issues you raise are part of the process of discovering and learning to embrace one's identity. I imagine this would play out very differently in Fairbanks than in Bethel.

    Also one of the Blanchetts from Pamyua coached them on the dancing. But as a non-Native I've probably missed a lot that may set people off. But for me the warm, green Fairbanks was so completely bizarre that I couldn't take it seriously. I suspect Suzi is right though, that for most non-Alaskans it won't be an issue.

    Anon - I don't have access to the Pro version, but it's good to hear she's listed. How could she not be?! But you'd think the star would be on the version we can all see too. Now that you mention it, I'm realizing how much more there used to be available on plain IMDB than there is now. Thanks.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.