Las Vegas film festivals spotlight stories about minorities

Christophe De Vargas

Filmmaker Landon Dyksterhouse answers questions during a question-and-answer session following the screening of his film “Warrior Spirit” at the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival at the Galaxy Theater on Friday August 6, 2021. The film tells the story of the fighter Native American UFC Nicco from Las Vegas. Montano and his fight against extreme weight loss for his sport.

Nicco Montaño went from being a UFC champion to losing her contract with the Mixed Martial Arts League because she couldn’t maintain her fighting weight.

Instead of remembering her success – she was the first Native American champion in promotion history – many fight fans know Montaño because of how she lacked weight to cancel a highly anticipated game in 2018. with Valentina Shevchenko.

Director Landon Dyksterhouse’s documentary “Warrior Spirit” sheds new light on Montaño’s battle to lose weight in the months leading up to the fight with Shevchenko.

It premiered on August 6 at the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival, which is one of several cinematic events in Las Vegas that features people of color and their stories on screen.

The documentary begins with a key ingredient in many sports stories: inspiration. Montaño is the first Native American Navajo and UFC champion, winning the Ultimate Fighter in the TV show’s 26th season in 2017. Her victory rippled through the Navajo Nation, as an underdog with the support of a community on his shoulders, but not so viscerally through the UFC fan base.

Her attempt at losing weight involved typical methods like watching what she ate and intense workouts. But the second half of the documentary turns into something more calamitous, showing Montaño in the final hours of his weight loss wrapped in a sauna suit to keep sweating. Viewers will see her face etched in pain so brutal that she landed it in the hospital hours later.

Because the fight was called off, Montaño said in the film that she received no compensation for attending the fight week, which was packed with press and other promotional events. She was also stripped of her UFC title and belt, which Dyksterhouse and Montaño in the documentary claim is akin to how Native Americans were treated in the United States – promises, promises, before they are not taken away.

“How does it continue to happen, this type of treatment, and why is Nicco treated differently as a champion when she first lost weight?” said Dyksterhouse. “I think Nicco’s story is particularly important, though, because there are a lot of different layers to her story, being a woman, being the first Native American champion, being supported and put on a pedestal by the UFC… and then at the end of the story, she was undressed.

The documentary will continue to screen at other film festivals, including twice this weekend at the Phoenix Film Festival, Dyksterhouse said.

Other Las Vegas filmmakers also paved the way for non-white stories to be more prominent in the film. Melissa Del Rosario, a 2021 UNLV graduate and Filipino Hispanic film producer, has said in her films that she aims to both put actors of color center stage and work with a cast and a diverse team.

Del Rosario produced the 2020 film “Take Out Girl,” which follows a Chinese-American delivery girl who sells drugs and puts them in take-out bags in an attempt to save her family’s struggling restaurant. “Take Out Girl” screened at 40 festivals and won 20 awards, including Best Director, Actress and Film at the 2020 Las Vegas Black Film Festival.

“I am lucky to say that a lot of people in my team or a lot of regulars with whom I work and… a lot of collaborators are people of color, but I would not say that it is the majority”, a- she declared.

Actors of color have generally represented a smaller portion of the main characters in films in the United States, according to Statista. In 2020, 39.7% of key players were minorities, an increase of 12.1 percentage points from 2019 – the biggest leap in the study.

Simultaneously, over the past few years, Hollywood has witnessed several conversations regarding the types of films honored at its awards shows like the Oscars or the Oscars. In 2015, a campaign called #OscarsSoWhite criticized the lack of diversity represented at that year’s Oscars, which nominated 20 white actors in its top four acting categories.

The wide-ranging movement has brought about changes, and starting in 2022, filmmakers who aspire to the Best Picture category have to meet certain requirements to qualify. Some say the standards aren’t strict and ultimately don’t change much for previous Best Picture nominees and winners.

Del Rosario said the script for the next movie she’s working on, “Revengence,” is almost complete. Prior to that, she worked on four shorts – “Onion Soup,” “Last of Us” and “BTeam” – this summer with other Las Vegas-based filmmakers. She said the Las Vegas film community is rooted in the collaboration. “The Las Vegas film community is so great,” she said. “It’s really cool to see everyone growing up and collaborating.”

Beyond film festivals, films focusing on voices of color are also screened in places like the Mob Museum. The documentary “Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem” was screened on August 2 and followed by a question-and-answer session with Alexandra Natapoff, author of the book “Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal “which inspired the documentary; Yvette Williams, founder and chair of the Clark County Black Caucus; Leisa Moseley, Nevada state director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center; Belinda Harris, Justice of the Peace in 2020 for North Las Vegas Justice Court Department 3; and Eve Hanan, co-director of the UNLV Boyd Law School’s Crime Clinic.

“Racially Charged” delves into the history of the crime system and ingrained racism, which dates back hundreds of years. The bulk of convictions in the United States consist of misdemeanors, and blacks experience an unequal burden compared to whites. According to a Loyola Law School study, defendants charged with misdemeanors who were white and had no criminal record were 46% more likely to have their charges cleared compared to black defendants.

These charges, even after serving a sentence, have lasting consequences. Formerly incarcerated people will earn about half of the year as socio-economically similar workers without a criminal record. On top of that, a black worker without a criminal record will still earn less income than a white worker with one, according to the Clark County Black Caucus.

In the post-selection question-and-answer session, Moseley said she was apprehended for a ticket for an expired recording and therefore spent a day in jail. Listening to those who have had experiences similar to her will increase the pressure for changes to what should or should not be considered a crime, she said.

“Without the voices of those affected, this movement would not be as strong,” Moseley said. “I have experienced the very thing that I sit on this stage and in the legislative chambers and everywhere I talk about it, I have experienced it. I have first-hand experience, and that’s why I’m talking about it.

Upcoming films celebrating other stories like this are Mexican Film Day on August 14 by the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center. At 5 pm, the center will offer a free screening of “Lupe Bajo El Sol” by Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes, which tells the story of an immigrant farm worker named Lupe who pursues his wish to return to Mexico before dying.

Irma Varela, cultural program supervisor, said moviegoers will appreciate Reyes’ passionate approach to her subject. Other non-cinematic events at the center include a Day of the Dead celebration in November as well as music performances through September.

“(These showcases) create the space and the experience for different voices to express themselves,” she said. “Especially with the pandemic and everything, we have to learn to listen to each other and be more tolerant because we need each other. We need each other to continue and progress to make this city strong. “


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Janice K. Shaw

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