Hitting the ground running after film school at NYU, Ian Skorodin (Chocktaw Nation of Oklahoma) hasn't stopped since.
Straight out of the gate of Tisch School of the Arts, Skorodin wrote, produced and directed 1998's Tushka, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Based on actual events in the early 70s, the feature film tells the story of a Native American activist who leads a rally at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, burning an American flag in the process. Two days later, his house is firebombed and his parents, wife and two children are killed.
It went on to win the Reel Frontier Award for best narrative feature at the Arizona International Film Festival.
Skorodin, who had grown up outside Chicago as one of two sons of a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a physician, moved to LA in 1999.
One of his other projects is the web series Jew in Choctaw Country, about a Chicago doctor who after a run-in with the law, seeks information about his parents, a Choctaw mother and a Jewish father.
Skorodin also directed several documentaries, including The Homestead, a first-hand account of Choctaw survivors of the Trail of Tears in the 1830s and Ramona Band of Cahuilla: A History, an animated documentary about the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians centered in Anza, California, in which tribal elders and officials discuss the tribe's history, culture and politics.
Yet his most important work in recent years has been developing LA Skins Fest, which he founded in 2007, into one of the most important and well-known Native American film festivals in the country.
Its 14th edition, held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, concluded just over a week ago after four days of panel discussions, Q&As with filmmakers, pitching sessions, script readings and screenings of Native-themed content. It concluded with the 9th Annual Media Awards ceremony, hosted by actors Q'orianka Kilcher and Kalani Queypo, honoring excellence in filmmaking across categories for writing, directing and performing.
"As a filmmaker, I had a feature film at Sundance and traveled with it to Germany, France and New York. I saw how really great film festivals are run and what they can provide, and it's helped me as an administrator," says Skorodin, who also runs Los Angeles-based video production company Barcid Productions and its non-profit Barcid Foundation.
The festival has grown to the point that in recent years, LA Skins Fest has been based at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theater and has screened more than 70 films over the week-long confab.
For Skorodin, one of the most important parts is nurturing Native American youth from a number of reservations, having them work with professionals to develop their filmmaking skills and then bringing them to Los Angeles for the festival.
"We have a robust youth program, traveling to about five or six reservations and helping them make films and then they screen at the festival," he says. "About 20 youth get to interact, go on studio tours and to the gala. We started in 2009, with junior high and high school kids. They make a film during the summer and attend in November."
Corporate sponsors including NBCUniversal and Paramount help, but Skorodin says funding has long been a challenge.
"Canada gives money to Indigenous arts organizations and film festivals," he says. "We don't get money from the government. Everything is hard-nosed, grass roots fundraising. We really need that representation on the corporate level. We have to make sure to stand up for ourselves and be there and present and leading that charge, pushing forward and making sure our voice is being heard. That's our responsibility."
Based on the number of submissions the film festival receives, a few years ago Skorodin created writers and directors workshops for aspiring filmmakers, many of them culled from the applicants. In order to provide them with guidance and feedback, he brings in established writers, directors, actors and creative executives from studios and networks.
Working with those huge corporations regularly, Skorodin says he's seen progress on the diversity and inclusion front.
"Now there's more opportunities with D&I," he says. "Every corporation has such a department now, and they are supposed to reach out and provide support that will train and develop writers, actors and directors. That part's been positive, and you've seen a lot more delivery. We want to encourage even more behind the camera positions."