Sandy Osawa, a Makah tribal member, broke media barriers for Native Americans by producing and writing a major television series in the mid 1970’s. Her work continues to stand apart by combining old values with new stories while challenging the more popular images of Native Americans. Sandy Osawa moves the conversation deeper so that all audiences have, not only an expanded definition of what an “Indian” story is all about, but also a greater understanding of their country and of themselves. “My stories aim to move away from the abstract concepts of the past toward a more humanistic one of the present and future,” says Sandy Osawa. Seventeen documentaries have been broadcast on both PBS and commercial television stations and over sixty non-broadcast works have been created for non-profit organizations.
In the mid 1970’s, Sandy Osawa, marked a defining point in media history by creating the first10-part national television series to be entirely produced, acted, and written by Native Americans, Prior to this effort, films on Indians were produced and directed by non-Indians. The Native American Series was broadcast over the top markets on NBC and led to her first major award as an “outstanding producer” from KNBC TV in Los Angeles. The series is the first time that the station’s programs were turned over to the producer’s ownership due to Sandy Osawa’s own investment in time and production materials. The series was purchased by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use in its schools throughout the country.
Sandy Osawa produced and wrote the documentary, In The Heart of Big Mountain, broadcast on The Learning Channel in 1989. It was nominated for an ACE Award as part of The Spirit of Place series. The Ethno-Visions Film and Video Festival based in Los Angeles called it a “more aesthetic approach to the more widely known work on this same subject.”
Sandy Osawa is the first Native American filmmaker to produce and write a one-hour documentary for network television, called The Eighth Fire, airing on NBC in 1992. Lighting the 7th Fire (1994) aired nationally on PBS, on a series called P.O.V. and it is the first Indian produced program for that major series. The film also captured top documentary honors at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.
Pepper’s Pow Wow, a Sandy Osawa produced documentary, screened at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and aired on PBS from 1995-1998. Sandy Osawa was honored as the “Native American Filmmaker of the Year” at the 1996 Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival in Taos, New Mexico and her film entitled On & Off the Res’ w/ Charlie Hill also premiered in Taos and was a top five finalist for best documentary. The Charlie Hill film was broadcast on PBS from 2000-2003. Sandy Osawa produced and wrote, Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina, broadcast on PBS from 2007-2010. This film swept Fargo’s 2009 International Film Festival for “Best documentary” and “Best of Show” categories.
A documentary now being completed is entitled Usual and Accustomed Places. It’s the story of unknown heroes who fought for nineteenth century treaty rights over the past twentieth century. The story will profile Indian fishermen in the Northwest from 1900 to 1980. This film will also extend over the required 70 minutes for theatrical showings and will be unusual in that it will encompass such a vast time span united by a strong centuries-long-theme.
Sandy Osawa has produced more than 60 videos for non-broadcast use and some of the highlights are films created for The Evergreen College Longhouse program, the Mille Lacs Tribe, the Muckleshoot Tribe and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
Princess Angeline explores the history of the Duwamish Tribe and their fight for recognition. The story was completed and updated in 2011 and is used by the tribe in their new Longhouse to help explain the local tribe to Seattle-ites and tourists alike. The film was immediately purchased by local organizations including the Washington State Library, Seattle Public Library, King County Library and the University of Washington.
Weaving Patterns of Wellness was completed for the South Puget Sound Tribes and describes health patterns to avoid colon cancer. Completed in 2012.
Indian Forestry: A culture of Commitment contains highlights of over a century of Indian forestry. It was completed in 2014.
Exhibits and Venues summary
Her video work has been featured at national and international festivals including the Amiens Film Festival in France, the Munich International Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Vienna Film Festival, the Taos Film Festival, and the Margaret Mead Film Festival. Sandy’s work has also been featured at the Museum of Modern Art’s Video Viewpoints in New York.
A growing number of colleges use her work in the classroom including UC Berkeley, Wesleyan University, UC Riverside, the University of Arizona, the University of Utah, The Evergreen State College, the University of Oregon, the University of Indiana, Harvard and many others. Her entire collection of 27 films has been purchased by the University of North Carolina.
Sandy Osawa has given several workshops on filmmaking in Lawton, Oklahoma and the Northwest Film Forum in Portland, Oregon. She is called upon to both screen and talk about her work on college campuses from the University of British Columbia to New York University with many national lectures in California, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Massachusetts.
Sandy Osawa was an Honoree at the University of Washington’s Native Voices Film Festival, May 1, 2013, Kane Hall.
Sandy Osawa was the keynote speaker at UW Tacoma’s Native American Symposium in November of 2012.
Sandy Osawa will give a keynote address at Arizona State University in October of 2014 and three of her films will be shown at UCLA’s Native American Film Festival at the end of 2014.
Sandy holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and has a half-year of graduate school in filmmaking at UCLA and a half-year in the graduate English Department at the University of Washington. She and her husband Yasu were two of 16 minority students who were first admitted to UCLA’s Graduate Film School in the 70’s. She also completed one quarter of graduate school in the English Department at the University of Oregon in the fall of 2002, a study interrupted by a grant to produce the Maria Tallchief story.
Sandy was the first English instructor for Native American Studies in UCLA’s High Potential Program. She has taught script writing and Native American Studies at The Evergreen State College and video production at Seattle Community College Cultural foundation.
Sandy’s point of view is grounded and shaped by her tribal culture and background and her participation during her college years in the Workshop on Indian Affairs taught by Bob Thomas (Cherokee). Such experiences formulated her political and cultural views and led to her determination to become someone who helps to interpret and give voice to tribal stories. She headed her tribe’s War on Poverty program as the first Community Action Director and she launched the first Indian Head Start Program in the State. She began innovative efforts to retain Makah songs and language in the mid l960’s by developing summer classes for l-l2 grade levels. This effort was not being done yet on any large national scale and was to be part of a nation-wide effort that developed later. She also created the program to bring Makah elders into the local school, where Indian culture had been noticeably absent for decades. She began “movie night” on the reservation and became alarmed by the lack of good movies that were relevant to Indian people. Shortly after, she enrolled in UCLA’s graduate film program.
Special Writing Projects
Sandy Osawa became one of the few Indian members of the Writers Guild of America with her first dramatic script called, Upstream at Medicine Creek, sold to KCET’s Visionproject. The project disbanded before the feature could be produced. Land of the Morning Star was another original script treatment written by Sandy Osawa and funded by CPB. Attending Sherman Oaks Experimental College in comedy writing led to her long time interest in comedy and a major documentary on Indian humor. Sandy Osawa pitched several pilot projects on Indian humor to major networks.
She was the editor and primary writer for a monthly magazine produced by the LA Indian Center for three years. Sandy Osawa also worked as a special essay assignment writer for the Seattle PI for its Minority Voices column for one year. She also served as one of two researchers on a book published by AFSC entitled, “Treaties on Trial.” Sandy Osawa was the pilot treatment writer and series concept writer for a series called Images of Indians, a series produced by KCTS in Seattle. KCTS had heard about the earlier Native American series produced for KNBC and asked for assistance.
Other writing experiences include an award-winning brochure for the Makah Museum, produced by Upstream Productions. She also wrote numerous other brochures for such organizations as the National Council of American Indians (NCAI) and the Tribal Employment Rights Organization, (TERO). In addition, she has remained the sole writer on all her 17 broadcast films, as well as her non-broadcast work.
Boards and Affiliations:
Sandy Osawa is a past Board Member, Media Arts 911, Seattle, WA. And a
current member of the Writers Guild of America. She was also s panelist for the Ford Foundation; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Paul Robeson Funding Exchange. She was a past member and Washington State Co-Coordinator, National Indian Youth Council.
Grants and Awards:
The Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the American Film Institute, Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), Washington State Arts Commission, J. Roderick McArthur, the Muckleshoot Tribe, the George Soros Foundation, the King County Arts Commission, 4 Culture, the Independent Television Service (ITVS)
Sandy Osawa was a recipient of the United Nations Fellowship to New York University’s Center for Culture, Media and History in 1996.
Sandy Osawa was the Recipient of the “Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award” for community service from Lewis and Clark College, 2009.
Recipient of one of five Ecotrust Awards for Indigenous Leadership, 2010.
Reviews and Publications Highlights
Sandy Osawa’s poems are published in Dancing on the Rim of the World, an anthology of Northwest Indian poets, The University of Arizona Press, 2000. An essay is published in First Fish: First People, Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim, by The University of Washington Press in 1999.
Sandy Osawa was one of the featured filmmakers in a book entitled Native Americans On Film, edited by Elise Marubbio and Eric Buffalohead, 2013, The University Press of Kentucky.
Writing of On & Off the Res’ w/ Charlie Hill, noted author Vine Deloria said, “I’ll have to say it was one of the best videos on an Indian subject I’ve ever seen. Not because I’m in it, but for the way it flowed with its story so smoothly—no stops for slogans and stereotypes—just a straight ahead story told well.” 7/28/2000
From the Hollywood Reporter on Pepper’s Pow Wow, “If you can’t watch this special on jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper, tape it for later. It’s not just a program – it’s an achievement. And it’s not just that the story is powerful – it’s the subtle and careful way this one-hour documentary unfolds its riches that makes it a particular treat. …Kudos to producer Sandra Osawa for staying with this wonderful project for 10 years.” 11/21/1997
The School of American Ballet’s Director of Public Relations saw the Maria Tallchief DVD and commented – “I was so pleased to have the opportunity to view it. I had read Maria’s biography and have watched much archival video of her dancing, but your film so vividly brought to life her early years and the fascinating history of the Osage tribe as well as capturing beautifully the wonder of her dancing. My eyes certainly were opened in a way they hadn’t been before to the richness of Maria’s heritage….” 3/5/2014
Film Exhibit Highlights
Curios 1970 UCLA Student Film Festival
Native Am. Series 10 programs 1975-76 NBC stations
In The Heart Of Big Mountain 1988 Learning Channel
1991 American Film Institute
1992 Munich Film Festival-Germany
Native Vision Programs 1981-83 KSTW Tacoma Station
Hamatsa Dance 1984 Pacific Science Center, American Film Institute
The Bentwood Box 1987 Pacific Science Center (Willie Seaweed Exhibit)
2009 University of British Columbia, Victoria
2010 University of Willamette, Oregon
The Eighth Fire 1993 NBC stations
Lighting the 7th Fire 1994-97 PBS stations
1994 Sundance Film Festival
1995 Amiens International Film Festival
1998 il Silenzioso Richiamo della Terra-Palermo, Spain
Pepper’s Pow Wow 1995 Museum of American Indian (Standing ovation)
1995 Amiens International Film Festival
1995-98 PBS stations
1996 NW Film Center-Portland, OR
1995 Sundance Film Festival
1996 Taos Talking Pictures, New Mexico
1997 Museum of Modern Art
1998 Aboriginal Film Festival-Vancouver, BC
1999 Aboriginal Voices Festival-Toronto, Canada
2000 University of Idaho
2012 Hibulb Cultural Center Tulalip
On & Off the Res’ w/ Charlie Hill 1996 Sundance Film Festival
1997 Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival
1998 Museum of American Indian-NY
2000 Sundance, Am. Indian Film Festival, San Francisco
2000-03 PBS stations
2014 Native American Film Festival, UCLA
Maria Tallchief 2006 Seattle Art Museum
2007 Portland Art Museum
2007-10 PBS stations
2008 Wesleyan University-Connecticut
2008 American Indian Film Festival-San Francisco
2009 Gene Siskel Film Center-Chicago
2010 Willamette University
2013 Gonzaga University
2014 Indianer Inuit: Das Nordamerika Festival-Germany
2014 Arizona State University: Keynote
2015 April 17, NW Film Forum, Seattle
Princess Angeline 32min. version 2008 Seattle Art Museum-Pacific Coast Salish Art Exhibit
2008 Daybreak Star Cultural Center
2008 Ethnic Cultural Center Theater
2009 Duwamish Longhouse
Princess Angeline 53min. version 2011 Shoreline Museum
2012 Hibulb Cultural Center Tulalip
2013 Peninsula Community College
2014 Meaningful Films W.Seattle & Beakin Hills, Seattke
2015 NW Film Forum, Seattle
The Black Hills Are Not For Sale 2014 Muse’e qui Branly-Paris, France
Usual & Accustomed Places
Work-in-progress 2014 Shoreline Community Library
27 programs for library 2013 University of North Carolina
15 programs for broadcast 2012-16 KFNX (First Nations Station) Southern California