Soo Film Festival 2022

Block 8-Imagining the Indian

Feature program, 95 min, Not rated

Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting
Imagining the Indian

About This Program

This program presents the feature documentary, Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting.

Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting

Audience Choice Award - Best Documentary Feature (tie)

Directors: Aviva Kempner, Ben West

Documentary Feature, US, 2022, 95 min, Color, Native American, Activism, Social Justice

This documentary examines the movement that is ending the use of Native American names, logos, and mascots in the world of sports and beyond.

The film details the current uprising against the misappropriation of Native culture in a national reckoning about racial injustice that has succeeded in the removal of Confederate imagery, toppling statues of Christopher Columbus and forcing corporate sponsors of Washington's NFL team to demand it change its most-offensive name.

It examines the origin and proliferation of the words, images, and gestures that many Native people and their allies find offensive. It explores the impact that stereotyping and marginalization of Native history have had on Native people. It chronicles the long social movement to eliminate mascoting.

As many schools, teams, and institutions choose to make the change and others meet with continued resistance, The Ciesla Foundation invites you to engage with the film and consider the important subjects it addresses.

The film includes an original score from Mohawk composer Dawn Avery.

Great Lakes Connection   

Great Lakes Connection: Dr. Aaron Payment (Chippewa) is a featured interviewee in the film. Dr. Payment, the former Chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians for more than 14 years, was named Director of Government Relations at the National Indian Health Board in June 2022.

Cast & Crew:

Directors: Aviva Kempner, Ben West
Writers: Aviva Kempner, Ben West, Kevin Blackistone, Yancey Burns, Sam Bardley
Producers: Kevin Blackistone, Sam Bardley, Aviva Kempner, Ben West, Yancey Burn

Key Cast:

  • Author and Activist Suzan Shown Harjo
  • U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
  • U.S. Congressman Jamie Raskin
  • Founding Director of the National Museum of the American Indian W. Richard West, Jr.
  • Under Secretary for Museums and Culture at the Smithsonian Kevin Gover
  • U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
  • Journalist Christine Brennan
  • Professor of Psychology Dr. Stephanie Fryberg
  • Professor of History Dr. Philip Deloria
  • 3-Time Super Bowl Champion Charles Mann
  • 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills
  • 2-Time All Big Ten Basketball Player Bronson Koenig
  • Former Yocha Dehe Tribal Chairman Marshall McKay
Other Credits 

Lead Executive Producer: Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
Editor: Barbara Ballow
Director of Photography: Michael Moser
Music Supervisor: Zach Sinick
Composer: Dawn Avery
Executive Producer: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
Co-Executive Producers: Jessica Sarowitz, Steve Sarowitz

Directors Ben West and Aviva Kempner
Director Biographies

Aviva Kempner (Co-Director) (Jewish American), a Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker, creates successful and critically acclaimed documentaries about under-known Jewish heroes and social justice. Her films include: The Spy Behind Home Plate; Rosenwald; Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg; Partisans of Vilna; and the Emmy-nominated and Peabody-awarded The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Kempner also co-wrote and is co-producing the dramatic script Casuse with fellow Imagining the Indian director and producer Ben West. The film is about the Navajo activist Larry Casuse, who Kempner knew while a VISTA volunteer in New Mexico in the early 1970s.

While attending the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., Kempner interned at the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of Interior's Indian Affairs. Upon graduation, she worked at the National Tribal Chairman's Association and the National Conference of American Indians. Kempner is an activist and advocate for statehood for Washington, D.C. as a board member of DC Vote.

Ben West (Co-Director) (Cheyenne) is a freelance writer/producer, filmmaker and a consultant with the Ciesla Foundation. He spent many years in television production at Carsey-Werner Mandabach LLC, and has worked on feature films for companies like Telenova Productions, Mandalay Pictures, and outlets such as the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. He is currently developing content for television and film.

In addition to his endeavors in entertainment, he is Cheyenne and an advocate for Native American rights. West was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and is a graduate of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California.


California's American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival (Temecula, CA), April 3, 2022, World Premiere

Boston International Film Festival (Boston, Massachusetts), April 18, 2022, Best Documentary

FilmFest DC (Washington, DC), April 29, 2022, Official Selection

Poster: Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting

More Info:




Saturday, Sept. 17, 4pm

Soo Theatre

Buy Tickets

Get Tickets at FilmFreeway

© 2014-2022 Soo Film Festival, Inc. All rights reserved.