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A St. Stephens Indian School film made with the help of students has been winning awards as it screened at film festivals across the U.S. this fall.

“Arapaho Truths,” which was produced with Boston-based Moonstar Productions, uses student artwork to help tell four traditional Arapaho stories.

The film was recently named the winner of the Best Inspirational Film Award at the Culture and Diversity Film Festival in Hollywood, according to a news release. That award came after the film earned the Culture Heritage Film Award at the San Diego International Kids’ Film Festival earlier in September.

Elders in the film tell traditional stories like the Arapaho creation story, “Star Girl” and “How the Bear Lost His Tail,” while student artwork helps illustrate the stories. Elders, mentors, school officials and students also provide insights about Native American storytelling in between the stories.

Although the awards are satisfying, the motivation for making the movie was to help preserve traditional Arapaho stories for future generations, said St. Stephens elementary and middle school principal James Stewart. He added he’s not even sure if all of the students who helped out are aware of the accolades.

“We thought we’d like to have our students present some of their stories,” Stewart continued. “Our kids are naturally good with art; we thought to use different mediums to tell traditional stories.”

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The film isn’t the first time the school has worked with Moonstar Productions on an award-winning film. The two collaborated to produce a documentary of students making a traditional Arapaho buffalo hide tipi with the help of tribal elders. The documentary, “Listening For A New Day: the making of an Arapaho buffalo hide tipi,” premiered in 2015.

To create “Arapaho Truths,” elders first selected the stories to be told. An elder was filmed telling the story, which was then shown to St. Stephens students to be discussed, according to the film’s website.

The students depicted their vision of the stories through art forms like drawing or sculpture. Others operated the camera or held microphones throughout the 10-week process.

Student actors were chosen to act out some of the stories. The students even designed and built a puppet theater with shadow puppets designed and controlled by them, the film’s website stated.

“Arapaho Truths” had been selected to be included in five film festivals, including the two it won awards at. Following the awards, it was chosen to be screened at two Native American film festivals: The 44th Annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco later this month and The Red Nation International Film Festival in Los Angeles in November.

Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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