Take a break from the crazy Thanksgiving season and join us on our relaxed episode about celebrating Native American/First Nations artists through their films, short films, and books. We highlight Indigenous artists such as Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Mike Marin, Stephen Graham Jones, and more.
Check out our interview with Mike Marin director of “The Smudging” below.
Interview with Mike Marin -Director of The Smudging
Hello Mike, thank you so much for taking time to chat with Beyond the Screams. I’m Holly, my co-hosts are Patrick and Stephanie. Your bio on filmfreeway.com says you have been a fan of horror since a young age, much like my co-hosts and myself. What was it that first piqued your interest in horror?
I was first introduced to scary movies at an early age with the Universal Horror classics – Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature, etc. Also the atomic giant bug sci-fi films of the 1950’s. Then, when I was 5 or 6, my older brother and I watched the original Night of the Living Dead and that opened up a whole new world of horror to me. My first cinematic horror experience was Halloween in 1978. After that, I saw pretty much everything I wasn’t supposed to according to the ratings system. I couldn’t get enough. Still can’t.
I was adopted and have since found out I have roots in Puebla, Mexico and the Pueblo region of New Mexico. Do you have a strong cultural connection to that area or was it something you learned further into your adulthood?
From birth, I was named and chosen to be part of the medicine circle in my Laguna Pueblo bloodline. From an early age, I’ve been learning about our medicines and healing prayers and taking part in ceremonies in and around my community. Now at 49, I am still learning. Always will be. Going to my homeland is always an experience because I get to see my elders and learn something new. Once I get out the car and touch that ground, all angst and doubt and fear just dissipate. It’s a full on recharge of the heart and soul and my pueblo is where my strength comes from.
Being raised in California, what made you decide to come to Chicago to study at Columbia?
I needed to get outta my parent’s basement, fo’real. I needed to grow up away from home. I didn’t get into Columbia until I had been out in Chicago for 7 years. I hated school and had zero desire to go back. But my wife, who is a hardcore academic and college professor, encouraged me to go back and I did, And I am all the better for it. At first I wanted to be a Pixar animator but that was too much work. So, screenwriting was the next best thing. I am a storyteller at heart. So, I got my degree and was ready to get behind the camera to tell these stories.
What was your inspiration for ‘The Smudging’?
Soooo many scary stories and experiences while being part of the Native community in both Oakland and Chicago. I compiled these experiences and in a quiet booth in a Chili’s in Evanston, IL, I wrote the first few pages of The Smudging script on a stack of napkins. Yes, the things that I heard and saw while I was the youth program director at the former American Indian Center of Chicago, plus the stories from other staff and community members, inspired me to write the film and shoot it in a faux documentary/narrative style. The story was literally based on actual events.
I watched the slowed footage of the entity that was captured in the old cultural center. Did anyone experience any odd feelings during that moment?
Everyone did. We even had a friend stop by the set with his dog and the dog cowered under a display case in the lobby and wouldn’t come out. Poor thing wet itself, too. My AD and I heard a female voice say, “Hey.”, we all heard a baby crying in the building at 2am, we all saw our photographer get her hair pulled, on the last night of shooting, I got my shirt pulled and felt a hand move across my face. But when I saw that footage while editing, I couldn’t turn the lights on fast enough. Pretty cool though that the footage is actually in the film itself.
Native American voices and experiences are not widely shown in media. What advice would you give to someone of Native American descent trying to get going in the industry?
If I could share one piece of advice I was fortunate enough to get when I chatted with the legendary John Carpenter, it is this, “Just have fun, man. And keep your projects your own.” That’s it. There really is no guaranteed way into the industry other than work and prayer. Luck? Not an option. It’s a pretty nepotistic industry for non-Natives and we go into it with so many strikes against us. We Natives have to lift each other up and support each other’s ideas and successes but in the competitive world of entertainment, that’s very seldom done with our own people. I mean in entertainment it’s often a “me” mentality, yeah? Unless you get something in return for your efforts. That’s what Natives have to get beyond. The right people are often overlooked for the “best” people, you feel me? I mean you can act as good as Tommy Wasseau but as long as you look like Jason Mamoa, you’re all good. So many obstacles for us in the industry. So many hurdles to navigate. But if you got thick skin wrapped around good ideas, you might have a fighting chance, even when facing your own.
Where can people find your work and what projects are you currently working on?
My first film The Smudging is on Amazon Prime Video. My documentary “Cinema Red: Natives & Horror” and “Unboxed: The Art of Action Figure Photography” are currently playing the film festival circuit. Cinema Red and Unboxed have each won prizes – Best Director and Best Documentary Short. Currently, I am working on “Cinema Red: Full Native Horror” and another scary short called “Thank You For Watching”. Both due out next year.
Thank you so very much for chatting. Best of luck to your endeavors in the future. Hope to talk to you soon!
Thank you for having me. Take care and stay safe and healthy. And keep your lights close.