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State lawmaker seeks $150k in funds for grants for Native filmmakers

Sen. Shannon Pinto hopes to continue legacy of her grandfather

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Sen. Shannon Pinto
  • Senate Bill 209 calls for the New Mexico Film Office to receive $150,000 for the Sen. John Pinto Memorial Fund that was initiated in 2019.
  • The program is administered through the New Mexico Film Office.
  • In July 2020, 20 Native New Mexican filmmakers received a grant of $5,000 each to help fund their work.

FARMINGTON — The granddaughter of a late, legendary state lawmaker is looking to continue his legacy of supporting Native culture by seeking an increase in funding for a program that supplies grants to filmmakers.

State Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, has introduced Senate Bill 209, which calls for the New Mexico Film Office to receive $150,000 to fund the Sen. John Pinto Memorial Fund that was initiated in 2019. The appropriation would be an increase of $50,000 over the original amount in the 2019 measure.

John Pinto served in the state Senate from 1977 until his death in 2019. He was also a Navajo code talker, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

The program bearing his name supplies grants of up to $5,000 for projects by Native filmmakers living and working in New Mexico, according to the state film office website. The funds can be used for preproduction, production or postproduction work, and the artist applying for the funds must be a registered member of one of New Mexico's tribes or pueblos.

Pinto, who was appointed to her late grandfather's vacant District 3 seat in 2019 before being elected to a full term of her own in November 2020, said she is seeking the increase in the fund this year because she believes the COVID-19 pandemic likely has made it more difficult for filmmakers to do their work.

John Pinto

She said she considered the first year of the program named in her grandfather's honor a success, and she hopes to see it continue.

"It's a very powerful medium and an economic growth opportunity," she said.

Grants were awarded to 20 Native filmmakers in July 2020, more than half of whom are Navajo, according to a press release from the film office that announced the winners. Their projects covered such topics as missing women, ancient healing, modern-day culture clashes and entrepreneurship.

"Supporting diversity in the film industry is vital to expanding diversity on a larger scale, as film is a cornerstone of our culture and history," Amber Dodson, director of the state film office, stated in the press release. "We are immensely thankful to the late Senator John Pinto and his granddaughter Senator Shannon Pinto, and truly thrilled to support diverse storytelling and filmmaking in New Mexico."

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Pinto said she is optimistic about the chances of the bill being approved by the Legislature, noting the request has been included in the budget submitted by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. She said people across the state increasingly are coming to see the economic potential of the film industry, and she believes the fund is a wise investment in New Mexico's young people, one that will help them get a start in a very competitive industry.

"If they can do that at home and sustain a living from it, that would be great," she said.

She said the social distancing required by the pandemic likely has made a longstanding change to the way people access entertainment. She hopes the fund results in more Native film projects that can be viewed by Native people in their homes, especially as broadband access is improved on reservations and pueblos, resulting in an increase in streaming options.

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Acknowledging the relatively modest amount of funding allocated for the program, Pinto said she hopes to continue to increase that total as the years go by, in addition to securing permanent funding for it at some point.

"I hope so — if I can be convincing enough for them to make it recurring," she said. "I'm going to inquire if I can do that."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.