Over the course of his 20 + year career as a writer, director and producer Carlisle Antonio has worked extensively with the BBC, the American Indian Film Institute, Turner Network Television (TNT), Icon Films and channel 5 in London to bring powerful stories to audiences around the world.
A rare breed in the pool of international filmmakers working in the industry today, Carlisle is someone who learned how to successfully balance his creative vision with the business side of bringing a project to fruition as a producer early on in his career.
In 2004 he earned the Millennium Award in the UK for his work as the writer, producer and director of the powerful documentary segment “Coloring the Media,” which aired on the BBC and exposed the world to the way Native American’s have been inaccurately and under represented in the media. Deeply passionate about the message, he went back to the drawing board after releasing the initial segment and turned “Coloring the Media” into an in depth feature documentary that would go on to premiere in the U.S. at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco in 2008.
Through this project, as well as a long list of others including “In the Park,” “Gangster Wives” and “Capoeira,” he has proven that he is one filmmaker who not only understands the power of film and television as a medium for spreading information, but someone who uses it to positively impact audiences.
Aside from working on his own film productions, he has made incredible contributions to the entertainment industry as the festival director and producer of the 500 Nations Film Festival, which he created in London in 1998, as well as the 500 Nations Arts & Literature Festival in Swansea, Wales in 1996. While both of these festivals garnered an impressive list of celebrity supporters including the likes of Madonna and Richard Branson, what is even more important is the fact that, through his unparalleled creativity and business savvy, Carlisle was able to shine the spotlight on a population of people that are often ignored.
Carlisle is currently working on the upcoming documentary “Walking the Line,” which focuses on the suicide endemic that continues to sweep Native American communities, with Native Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 having the highest rate of suicide out of any other ethnicity of their age group.
To find out more about the Carlisle Antonio and his upcoming film “Walking the Line,” as well as how he got to where he is today make sure to check out our interview below.
You can also find out more about his work through his production company, Red Man Film’s, website: www.redman-films.com
Where are you from?
CA: My family originated in Montana and South Dakota. I was raised in Europe but also lived in different parts of the world. My Dad was a navy man and so I lived and traveled in exotic and far away places such as India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia amongst others.
When and how did you begin working as a producer?
CA: I always wanted to create my own projects from as far back as I can remember. When I was a little boy, I used to create my own plays and enact them with my friends. Of course I was the hero in the story who always walked away into the sunset.
Years later after having spent time in university, my passion for drama started to resurface and during my university years studying for an English degree, I also took up theatre and drama as a subject. Being of a diverse culture, I found that my interests, experiences and insight into life were very different from my contemporaries. So frustrated with the lack of material, I found myself writing my own mini stage plays and went on to write a children’s book, entitled “A Boy called Zen” years later. I also published a book on poetry available on iTunes, titled “Walking the Red Road.”
After my university years, like most others I set out to ‘find myself’ and traveled to places that I always wanted to go. After numerous adventures, some of which included working for HRH Prince Charles on one of his projects, “Bristol 1000,” which I ran. I then established The American Indian Trust, an international not for profit organization that developed international programs aimed at creating employment opportunities for Native Americans from the US and Canada. For over 15 years, I created festivals, education, music and theatre programs that eventually led me to television, film and theater. I also worked as an actor across all these mediums with a lead role in an infamous play written by one Wales’s legendary playwrights, Gareth Miles. I even had a role in an Oscar winning movie “Shakespeare In Love” and got to work alongside Gwyneth Paltrow. Although my scenes never made the final cut of the movie, they do exist in the deleted scenes on the DVD.
So, this was a natural progression for me and then by pure accident I stumbled upon a project that was commissioned by the British Government, aimed at assisting people classed as having ‘ethnic diversity.’ This became known as the Millennium Commission and after having successfully pitched a project, I was one of the very few selected to be in receipt of the Millennium Commission Award, that entitled me to further training and development. This training and development was led by the BBC and so I completed a professional qualification in Directing and Producing for Television. That qualification and experience led me to the world of producing and directing.
What do you think makes good cinema?
CA: Cinema is always changing. However, nothing will beat a good story. For me it’s trying to find a balance between entertainment, truth and fiction.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?
CA: All the projects I have worked with so far are television related, either news segments or short dramas that were part of the television networks such as “In the Park,” which I directed, produced and wrote. The program aired on the BBC and it centered on a migrant love story that followed people from Eastern Europe finding love in London.
Then I directed, produced and wrote the feature documentary “Coloring the Media,” which aired on the BBC with John Trudell, Robert Redford and a host of others. A challenging project as it took a lot of research and development, “Coloring the Media” won the Millennium Award and was shown at festivals around the world. The film that was eventually released and was made specifically for US audiences.
I was a producer on the program “Gangsters Wives,” which aired on channel 5 and was a story about the notorious gangsters living in London’s east end, that led to a series of films on cable television. This project was challenging in itself because I originated the concept and the story and ended up taking it to a production company Icon Films that helped produce it with network television. The main challenge for me was having to change the storyline so that it appealed to mass audiences. Of course this also taught me how the broadcast industry works and was an invaluable learning curve to my existing skillset.
In 1998 I was the festival producer and director of The 500 Nations Film Festival in London. This was the very first of its kind in London, England. It celebrated the contributions that Native Americans have made in the movies. This festival was supported by Ted Turner, Madonna, The Gettys, Richard Branson (Virgin Group) and even had the last Prince of Russia attend the Golden Feather Award Ceremony in London. Ted Turner was awarded the Golden Feather Award for his support in developing a slate of Native American films for his cable networks, Turner Networks.
I produced, directed, auditioned and choreographed the entire 500 Nations Arts & Literature Festival in Swansea, Wales in 1996. During the time of Buffalo Bill’s circus, Native American legends such as ‘Sitting Bull’ had traveled to Wales and other parts of the UK. Native America had therefore established a historical significance with the people of Europe. Even the legendary Pocahontas is buried in Kent, England. The 500 Nations Festival was attended by thousands of people over a two-week period with all shows sold out as soon as our press and media campaign was launched.
I am currently developing an international film school in Cancun, Mexico. The idea behind this school is to nurture young talent and to teach them the skills of storytelling alongside all of the other skills that they will need to be able to bring their stories into film and gain possible theatrical distribution. It’s a new and exciting development, as it would help to launch an international form of storytelling that would also bring together other filmmakers from around Latin, Central America, USA and Canada.
I am the producer and director of “Walking the Wild,” “Under the Borealis,” and “Bear Country,” a series of films for the National Park Service, Alaska. I lived in the Wrangell St-Elias Mountains in a place called Bremner, without electricity or running water and loved the challenges of aerial filming, glacier and back country filmmaking. The films are currently in post production but to tell you a little bit about them, “Walking the Wild” is about some of the natural wildlife in Alaska.
Whether you’ve come to hike, ski, kayak, or climb, you will see wildlife. There are grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, caribou, moose, gray wolves, river otters, sea lions, porpoises, and orca whales, as well as bald and golden eagles. Ranger Courtney Eberhardy provides us with an in-depth guide to trekking through the vastness and spectacular landscapes of Wrangell St. Elias.
The park has 48 species of mammals and nearly a 1000 species of plants, scattered across the forests and mountains and is the largest designated wilderness area on earth and also the largest national park in North America. Remember the information in this film may just save your life.
“Under the Borealis” concerns glacier hiking in Alaska, which has many hazards. Ranger Elizabeth Schafer, glacier expert, goes through the various do’s and don’ts when hiking on some of the most spectacular glaciers in Alaska.
Alaska is home to both brown bears and grizzly bears, and “Bear Country” informs people about these wild animals. As more and more people visit Alaska the likelihood of bear attacks have increased significantly. The National Park Service in Alaska asked me to help them make a film that is both informative and helpful to those who will be in contact with bears whilst traveling the great Alaskan wilderness. Due to this vastness the chances of getting help and assistance is vastly reduced.
With the help of bear expert and law enforcement Ranger Stephens Harper, this film aims to educate and create awareness of backcountry etiquette and how to avoid bear encounters. This film may just save your life.
What are some of the challenges that you face when producing projects that you’ve also directed? How do you handle both roles simultaneously?
CA: The major challenge as an independent producer is to generate enough interest in a project in order to raise the financing necessary to complete the project. This takes a significant amount of time and the challenge is to stay committed to the process and to have complete faith in your own vision and purpose.
The other aspect of producing is having to compartmentalize ‘art’ from ‘business,’ and directing the project then becomes the ‘reality of the vision.’ Having done this for so long, I understand that this is an important part of the process for me, as I understand the business aspects as well as the creative aspects.
What is it about producing and directing documentary films that you are passionate about?
CA: Documentary film is really about the voices of ordinary folks living extraordinary lives. Most are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges and problems that they endure. So putting a story together that allows for those stories to be told by the people experiencing their unfolding lives is like no other form of storytelling. The reality is within their experiences, fear, and pain and salvation, and their ability to find ways to cope or manage the circumstances they find themselves in.
For example, I am currently working on a feature documentary, entitled “Walking the Line,” which is a story about suicide in Indian Country. Indian Country has the highest rate of suicides than any other race in the entire western hemisphere. I feel that by giving a voice to the dead, they may just be able to help the living and perhaps help the grieving families and loved ones left behind, as someone should tell their story. It could also help another young person living on the edge or someone contemplating suicide as the only alternative. Film in any medium has the power to change and affect people’s lives in one way or the other. It’s therefore a universal language that transcends race, culture, prejudice, religion and gender.
What has been your most challenging project and why?
CA: All of my projects are challenging in one way or the other. As a writer/producer/director, it’s always a daunting task to match the financing to the needs of the project. This takes time to process. The challenge is to stay proactive, find creative solutions to the myriad of challenges that become part of the process of setting up new and innovative projects.
What separates your overall style from other directors?
CA: I feel having a diverse background with my roots residing within an indigenous form of storytelling lends itself to a different style of creativity. Mix that together with an international background and creative appreciation for diverse cultural representation in the arts from European cinema to indigenous America, and Latin and Brazilian art forms, my style is evolutionary and constantly redeveloping. I think that someone like the Oscar winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu closely matches the style of film and storytelling that I belong to. Therefore I find stories and content that mainstream media tends to overlook.
What are your strongest qualities when it comes to working as a producer?
CA: I think it’s about resilience, determination, focus, and perseverance with a creative and commercial understanding of the media industry.
You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one project over another?
CA: Sometimes it’s financial, most often it’s about what really interests me. I usually generate my own content. For example, I was a technical consultant for a production company based in Cancun, Mexico, Colectivo Audio Visual, which won a major award for a series of films in the Spanish language. Although my Spanish is negligible, I ended up advising the young directors and also became the sound engineer for the film, “El día de tu muerte”
Can you list some of the people you’ve worked with that our readers might know?
CA: Benjamin Bratt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford & The Sundance Institute, Ted Turner, and HRH Prince Charles to name a few.
What production companies have you worked with in the past?
CA: BBC and Icon Films in the UK, and Collectivo in Cancun, Mexico.
What projects do you have coming up?
CA: I’m currently the producer/director/writer on the feature film “Shadow Wolf,” which is in development and predicted to begin shooting in November 2016. It is a powerful action packed movie set in the US and the great Australian outback. I have teamed up with an extremely skilled and talented production company in Australia, Turn Dog Quick Films. This film will set a new precedent in international filmmaking and help to build bridges between the US and the Australian film industry.
In addition to this, I will be producing and directing a historic project that will film and document the contemporary lives of many of the federally recognized tribes in US and Canada over a period of 3 years. I will be working with the Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois and United Tribes of South Carolina or ECSIUT people on this new and exciting project. We currently have two possible titles for this project,”21st Century Indians” or “Indians in the 21st Century.” Following on from Edward Curtis and his legendary and historic photography of Indian Nations across the US, “Indians in the 21st Century” will document the stories, lives and cultures of the First Nations of America living their lives in today’s world. From reservations to urban Indians this series will examine what it means to be ‘Indian’ in a contemporary world.
I also have a feature documentary “Walking the Line,” which is a compelling, story about an epidemic of suicides in Indian Country.
What are your plans for the future?
CA: My plans are to continue to develop the film school as well as continue developing the slate of films and projects that I’ve mentioned. Of course, with my passion for documentaries, things change as other social issues and stories reveal themself, so with the vast amount of content available, I plan on making films and telling stories till I am a very old man.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
CA: I have written a few screenplays that are registered with WGA, and I think they are the bees knees. I think I would be satisfied from a personal and professional point of view if I can make these into feature films. However, to see an international Native American film industry with native professionals at the helm would be the icing on the cake.