National Park Experience: Putting America’s best idea on the silver screen

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The women behind National Park Experience are on the cusp of releasing their second film. Their perspective on succeeding in the male-dominated film world? “It’s not about being women filmmakers. It’s about being filmmakers.”

Amy Marquis and Dana Romanov climb together between shoots. Photo courtesy of Jesse Sholinsky.

Amy Marquis and Dana Romanov climb together between shoots. Photo courtesy of Jesse Sholinsky.

Amy Marquis and Dana Romanoff form a duo as dynamic as their work.

The videographer pair produces documentary films for their ongoing project National Park Experience (NPX), which aims to invite underrepresented groups into America’s National Parks by telling the stories of those whose lives the parks have changed.

Their most recent film, Canyon Song, is the second in the series. The film features two Navajo sisters, Tonisha and Tonielle Draper, who live in the Canyon de Chelly National Monument and participate in pageants where the winner is not the most beautiful but the most well-versed in Navajo language and culture.

“These girls represent the resurgence of their culture and pride in their people,” said Marquis.

Marquis and Romanoff said the selection of two girls as their protagonists was intentional. For one thing, the Navajo culture is matrilineal, with land passing from woman to woman. Marquis and Romanoff were also conscious of the fact that the narrating voice of their first film Love in the Tetons was primarily male, and they wanted to ensure a balance between perspectives and representation in their work.

Romanoff’s favorite part of her work is living vicariously through her subjects’ diversity of experiences.

“It’s getting to experience the minds of the people whose stories we tell,” she said. “Getting out of our comfort zone to enter someone else’s and seeing their way of life, and helping those voices be heard.”

In this way, filmmaking can be an emotional experience. Marquis said she and Romanoff tend to form powerful personal ties with their subjects. The resulting film represents a huge personal investment.

“It’s a part of us when we put that work out there – it’s not easy,” Romanoff said. “It’s a line of work where we’re not just punching in or punching out. We define ourselves by what we do.”

CANYON SONG - Teaser from National Park Experience on Vimeo.

Doing any creative work requires courage. Succeeding in a world that’s still largely male-dominated requires even more.

Several years ago, friends of Marquis put together a “Women in Film” coffee at the Mountain Film Festival, and Marquis remembers her first reaction as indignant.

“We’re filmmakers. Who cares if we’re women?” she remembers thinking. But after the meeting she realized that differences persisted. Men tend to be more assertive when asking for pay raises – an important skill for any woman in search of project funding. And male assertiveness is often better received than female assertiveness, Marquis said.

“It’s a bit of an uphill battle still, just because it has been for so long,” Marquis said. But at the end of the day it’s not about being a woman filmmaker – it’s about being a filmmaker.

���Our response to [the gender disparity] is just to go out and be kickass filmmakers and make great, powerful stories,” Marquis said. “And with any recognition our work might receive, we hope to bring up other strong, brave women who are doing great work in this industry.”

Canyon Song will debut on PBS April 25. You can watch the teaser trailer on NPX’s website: http://npexperience.com/canyon-song/

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