Tsanavi Spoonhunter, a graduate of UNR's journalism school and UC Berkely, is the director of the documentary film 'Crow Country.'

On the surface, Bryon Evans, Tsanavi Spoonhunter, and Myrton Running Wolf are three very different filmmakers. They are each at different phases of their careers. They have different interests. Different backgrounds. Different motivations. However, the three have a lot more in common than one might think, aside from the fact that they are award winning filmmakers with a connection to Reno. Running Wolf and Spoonhunter are Native American and have formal, journalism-focused educations. Evans and Running Wolf have both recently won awards in the thriller/horror genre. Evans and Spoonhunter are new to the film festival scene.

Commercial producer Bryon Evans’ added ‘horror director’ to his resume

When Bryon Evans submitted his horror/comedy short “Inflatio” to Reno’s Cordillera International Film Festival, he didn’t know what to expect. And while he had worked in the film industry for more than a decade, “Inflatio” was his first time producing and directing a short of his own. He decided to keep it local for the first submission, submitting it to Reno’s Cordillera International Film Festival. 

After making hundreds of commercials (and the video for “Heartbeat to Heartbeat”), Bryon Evans is now the director of an award-winning short horror flick and is working on three more short films.

“Honestly, I had no idea if this film would get into festivals. I had no idea if it would do well,” Evans said. “I felt it was good. I felt like it had a hook, and it had a purpose, but I just had never done it before, so I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

“Inflatio” was programmed on Cordillera’s opening night and premiered at the Galaxy Theatre to a packed room. And, without giving away too much, when the film’s final hook played on the big screen, and the crowd erupted, Evans knew he had to start submitting the short to other festivals. Unfortunately, “Inflatio” didn’t win the Best Nevada Film category at Cordillera. Still, the experience and the other filmmakers he met were enough to convince him to submit the short to other festivals. 

“After Cordillera, I think I submitted to a total of 60 festivals, most of them were genre-specific,” Evans said. 

From there, things took off. To date, the 9 minute and 44 second short has won Best Horror/Comedy Short Film at the 2019 Nightmares Film Festival and Best Director – Short Film at Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest. And it has had roughly 16 official selections and four nominations.

A scene from “Inflatio” the film that earned Bryon Evans his first festival award

Evans is a self-described self-taught creative. He grew up in Southern California, where he fostered a love for drawing, comic books, and music. But it was a move to Reno in 2007 for a “long shot producer gig” at Charter Communication, where he gained his producer/directors chops. Over five years, Evans produced 300 30-second commercials. 

Since leaving Charter Cable in 2012, Evans’ freelance career exposed him to multiple corporate and creative genres and allowed him to travel to 15 countries. Most recently, post-“Inflatio,” Evans is working on three more shorts (one drama and two horror) and a feature-length film about growing up in Southern California.

“Inflatio” is not yet available to the general public for viewing, as it is still in consideration for a few film festival awards. Learn more about Bryon Evans’ work on his website.

Tsanavi Spoonhunter told the story of food insecurity on a Montana reservation

“Crow Country: Our Right to Food Sovereignty” tells the story of food insecurity and hunger on the Crow Reservation in southern Montana through the eyes of a journalist, an elder, and a hunter. Using these three compelling and compassionate characters, filmmaker Tsanavi Spoonhunter depicts how federal and tribal governments are failing the Crow Tribe. The film focuses on two major events – large layoffs in 2017 where the Crow Agency laid off 1,000 of its 1,300 employees due to government cutbacks, and when the only grocery store on the reservation burnt down in 2019, creating a food desert.

Tsanavi Spoonhunter on location in Montana.

Spoonhunter — a descendant of Northern Paiute, Lakota and Northern Arapaho Nations —produced and directed the documentary as her thesis project at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she graduated with a master’s degree in spring 2020. 

The 21-minute film has since won for Best Documentary Short at the 2020 American Indian Film Festival, Best Made-In-Montana Film at the Montana International Film Festival (MINT), and Best Student Documentary Short at Indie Short Fest in Los Angeles. And she’s still going, with submissions out at multiple ingenious-based festivals across the United States. She was nominated, but did not win, at the Red Nation International Film Festival just last month.

Luella Brien, editor and manager of the Big Horn County News in Montana, appears in Tsanavi Spoonhunter’s latest documentary.

Spoonhunter’s interest in journalism began when she noticed a lack of Native American people represented in film, “not just on screen, but filmmakers as well,” she said.

But her interest in documentary film making began before Berkeley. Spoonhunter is a proud 2017 graduate of The Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno and she credits Kari Barber’s film course with planting the seed that got her interested in documentary.

What’s next for Spoonhunter? She is doing some research and development for another documentary film project, while pursuing freelance journalism on the side. 

“Crow Country: Our Right to Food Sovereignty” is available for viewing on the Red Nation International Film Festival website and will soon be available on the film’s website.

Myrton Running Wolf’s thriller started with after-hours sessions in Hollywood

The script for “Black Warrior” wrapped almost 10 years ago in 2012. Filmmaker and University of Nevada, Reno professor Myrton Running Wolf had just finished working at ABC Disney, where he worked in production management for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, and Private Practice. While at ABC, Running Wolf met monthly with a group of Native American filmmakers in Hollywood. At those monthly meetings, five filmmakers (including Running Wolf) began working on a feature-length script about two female serial killers on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, about 40 miles northeast of Reno.

That screenplay was for a feature-length “Black Warrior.”

Myrton Running Wolf is a UNR professor who wants to see honest stories told about reservation life that don’t rely on stereotypes.

The screenplay went on to win the Moondance International Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. It was a finalist in Tribeca All Access, the Beverly Hills Film Festival, and the Canada International Film Festival.

But soon, the buzz from these screenwriter accolades began wearing off, and Running Wolf had difficulty getting traction to actually make the film. 

“It took a long time, and part of the reason why we did it as a short film is that we tried for a really, really long time to get it produced,” Running Wolf said. “And for all kinds of horrible reasons that have to do with the culture of media production, there is a desire to want to dominate or silence Native American voices, and it’s not even so much malicious as it’s just the way it is.”

“Black Warrior” started with five Native American scriptwriters who met in Hollywood.

And after reaching out to film industry folks like David Fincher and Jordan Peele to no avail, the team behind “Black Warrior” decided to produce and film the first 15-or-20 minutes of the script (or about 15 pages) on their own. The team started filming in summer 2019 and wrapped in fall 2019. 

The short film “Black Warrior” hasn’t won any awards (yet). Still, it was an official selection at the American Indian Film Festival and was nominated at LA Skins Fest. And it’s starting to get solicitations to submit at other festivals, Running Wolf said.

However, Running Wolf — who teaches about race and media at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism — believes “Black Warrior” hasn’t won any awards yet because he says the story just ends. “It ends in a good place, on a cliff hanger,” he said but has gotten feedback that the audience wants more. 

And such begins the conversation about a sequel. They do, after all, have award-winning script left.

Yet Running Wolf explained that while they have the cast and crew’s support and enthusiasm for a second short film, they lack cooperation from tribal people due to its theme and genre. 

The theme and genre of “Black Warrior” grew out of Running Wolf’s desire to tell the story of real modern-day problems on Native American Indian reservation. Not the “leather and feather” or “beads and blankets stuff.”

“Black Warrior” is not yet available to the general public for viewing, as it is still in consideration for a few film festival awards. Learn more about Myrton Running Wolf’s work on his website.

This article was funded by a City of Reno CARES Act grant and produced by Double Scoop and the Sierra Nevada Ally. Together, these news outlets are working to increase the amount of quality local arts and culture journalism.