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Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) is the director of the award-winning film Barking Water. The film is about Frankie (played by Richard Ray Whitman) and Irene (played by Casey Camp-Horinek), “an older couple who’s relationship has been on-and-off again for the past 40 years or so,” explains Harjo, and she comes back to him one last time to take him home to see his family after she is made aware of his terminal illness, after he becomes hospitalized. A road film, Barking Water follows the couple as they drive through Oklahoma visiting family and friends, all the while looking back on their tumultuous relationship together.
“I wanted to be an artist since I was a kid, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” says Harjo. Following his passion, he studied painting at the University of Oklahoma, but ended up, “falling in love with film.” For Harjo, the change of artistic styles came naturally, “It was an easy transition; It’s still visual art.”
As a filmmaker, Harjo has received much praise from the film and media arts community. In 2006, he was selected as the first Native American recipient of a prestigious United States Artists Fellowship. In 2004, while working on his first feature length film, Four Sheets to the Wind, Harjo was selected as one of the Sundance Institute’s Annenberg Film Fellows, a program that provides up-and-coming filmmakers with extensive financial and creative assistance.
Aside from his two feature length films, Harjo has completed three short films—all of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. All of his film work to date has been fictional, though he has future plans for documentary style non-fiction films. “I love writing and creating a world, and that’s why I’ve stuck with fiction,” explains Harjo, “but I’m also interested in documentary work, and I imagine in the next few years I’ll have some documentaries made.”
Written by Ben Kreimer.
Interview conducted and editing done by Ben Kreimer.