Vision Maker Media
'The Bears on Pine Ridge' is a proud recipient of Vision Maker Media's 2021 Annual Public Broadcasting Media Fund. Each year, Vision Maker Media funds media projects intended for PBS broadcasting that represent the cultures, experiences and perspectives of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Films are reviewed by a panel of public media programmers and Native American filmmakers, and board approved based on Native involvement, topics of relevance that can garner a wide audience, guideline eligibility, and meeting technical standards of PBS broadcast quality. 2021 topics communicate social justice, climate and environment, health and wellness, democracy and arts.
Fourteen television projects were selected for 2021 funding and are executive produced by Vision Maker Media for PBS television broadcasting. The filmmakers represent 23 different Native nations.
Sonny Skyhawk is a Native American (Sicangu Lakota) producer, having made a career in Hollywood for 40 years. Sonny is a member of the prestigious Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, most recognized for his acting roles during the western era. Since then, Sonny has been a strong advocate for equality in Hollywood for Native talent. Sonny grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, which not only neighbors Pine Ridge but shares the same struggles in regards to poverty, unemployment, substance abuse addictions and suicide rates.
Executive Producer's Statement
As a Native American (Sicangu Lakota), it's an honor to represent a project that is showcasing the voice of our Native youth. The resiliency that our young Native children are showing by moving beyond their struggles to help the community is an inspirational story that everyone should get behind. This is a remarkable group of young individuals who are speaking up and bringing hope, honoring life. It is also our responsibility as adults and human beings of any race, to care and to find solutions for suicide amongst our children. What a travesty it is for a young person to have to resort to suicide in order to want to put the pain away. Why would someone not care about this issue? I’ve been using my platform in Hollywood to discuss our Native people's issues for decades and I feel strongly about this film’s mission to bring a wider awareness and a story of resiliency and hope, against insurmountable odds.
Producer / Director
THE BEARS ON PINE RIDGE short film is Noel Bass’ first professional film project. Before transitioning to documentary filmmaking, Noel lived in Los Angeles as a professional photographer for 15 years. Noel began making trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2011 as a volunteer where he began to learn more about the crisis. In 2017, Noel left Los Angeles permanently in order to travel full time in a small RV, living remotely, staying on location for this documentary project. During the filming of THE BEARS ON PINE RIDGE, Noel lived primarily in an RV, parked in back yards or open lands, occasionally staying in Tiny’s daughter’s home on the reservation. Filming for The Bears on Pine Ridge officially began in 2015.
This documentary is something very important to me. Many of the people in this film are now "family" and the community is like a second home to me. I began this journey a decade ago, and feel like it has shaped who I am personally, and given me a much more honest perspective of what it means to be American. Through this project, we are hoping to help spread awareness about the ongoing youth mental health crisis, an extremely underrepresented issue happening to Indigenous communities nationwide. Because of the years of coverage, the resulting documentary provides a very intimate and honest portrait, an on-the-ground perspective into the efforts and struggles with local residents who have put an incredibly difficult task on their backs. The Pine Ridge Reservation is a community that has persevered through unbelievable challenges, because of selfless leaders like the ones you will meet in this documentary. I hope to help bring-to-light the hope and spirit of these heroic individuals, telling the story from their POV. I hope this film delivers the urgency of the situation, while also showcasing the amazing strength, positivity, and resilience within the community that has inspired me for many years. I hope this film may also inspire you to educate yourself about the modern day issues and historical injustices brought to Native people in America. This film may challenge you and take you into the heavy reality that these subjects live with during a dark period in their lives, but I hope that it ultimately inspires you, and that you find admiration for the subjects who are trying to make a better world for the youth.
Director Noel Bass interview with Film Forward
PR and Impact Strategy Team