Quechan filmmaker says he's grateful for blessings 5-26-07

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) - The Quechan Tribe doesn't need far-off Hollywood. The Quechan have their own favorite filmmaker, and he's a true native in every way.

Tribe member Daniel Golding isn't just having fun making movies and documentaries that have been shown at prestigious film festivals, including Sundance. The loyal tribal son is also heeding an important call and following what he sees as a calling, a mission: a duty toward his people.

“I certainly feel like I have a responsibility to be doing this work. Our society on the reservation is changing so fast. There are all these things coming in as distractions to our cultural way of life. How are we going to remember our culture when all these elders pass away unless we start documenting some of these stories?”

Going to Hollywood isn't an option, either.

“I wasn't sure I wanted to get more involved with the Hollywood side of it. I thought I would enjoy working more at the community level, the grassroots level, and help produce some stories that really need to be told.”

Plus how else could Golding make documentaries about sacred places, ancient songs and amazing everyday folk fighting to preserve a way of life.

“If we're going to change the representation of native people in films, it's not like you go to Hollywood to make it happen. You just get thrown into that big machine and they're going to do what they want. If you really want to change something, you have to do it at the community level - the grassroots level.”

Golding grew up on the Quechan Reservation until he was 12 years old. That's when the family moved to Los Angeles.

Golding attended San Francisco State University and enrolled in its film school.

“I found that film was what really allowed me to express myself artistically the way I want. It allows me to tell stories that are relevant to my and other native people's situations.”

So far Golding has created one fictional movie and numerous documentaries. That fictional piece was his first and by far his most successful.

“When the Fire Dims” tells the story of a young American Indian man in L.A. who loses himself in alcoholism. Golding, who wrote the script and shot the film, distributed his work around universities coast to coast through a filmmakers' co-op. In addition to all the big festivals, the fictional film won honors at the American Indian Film Festival and the Marin County Film Festival.

But the Sundance Film Festival was the major feat.

“It was kind of a big thing because I was still only a film student and here they were showing my work.”

Golding initially dreamed about making more fictional titles, but his career took a different turn.

“Once I started making the documentaries, I found out there wasn't much of a difference. You're still telling a story ... you're just dealing with real people and real situations,” he said. “Besides documentaries are really the bread and butter (of filmmaking). It's so much easier to get grants for them.”

Then Golding moved back home in 2002, and his cultural preservation began. One of his most important documentaries since then has been “Journey From Spirit Mountain.” The film takes traditional Quechan Lightning Songs that tell the tribe's origin story and traces the actual route from a mountain near Reno to the present homeland in Imperial County, Calif.

His current project highlights the tradition of native “chicken scratch” music, which is similar to Mexican norteno music. The film follows one musical family living on a reservation near Tucson.

But Golding is perhaps most proud of a film recently commissioned by the tribe's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program. The project was born when several recovering addicts in the program expressed their dream to make a film based on their experiences to help grab the attention of young people.

Golding met with the program clients a handful of times, “hammered out a script,” the scenes were shot around the reservation and “Rez Life” was born.

Back at home, Golding has shared his talents with some of the tribe's youngest members by giving workshops on filmmaking. Over 10 days, he'll help them write their scripts, shoot their scenes and edit everything to perfection.

“You know, it's not like I'm getting rich doing this stuff, but I'm able to support my family and do something I really enjoy,” Golding said, thumping gently on his heart. “That's where the real reward is, right in there.”