MISSOULA — The first film shot entirely in the Blackfoot language on the Blackfeet Reservation with Native actors was shown on a screen for the first time Saturday at the Roxy Theater. Because the first showing was sold out, a second showing was added Saturday night. It is not only a film that tells a piece of Native Country history in its purest form, but it is also a film that has provided opportunities for many Native people. Because of the "Sooyii" film, Hollywood might reconsider what they previously thought was impossible.
Krisztian Kery, the director of "Sooyii," is originally from Hungary and has worked in the film industry for 30 years as a stunt artist with horses.
Kery was born in Hungary and grew up during a period when the country was occupied by the communist party for 30 years. As a result of the communist party's control over history books, Kery only learned a portion of the European history.
After the Russian occupation ended in 1989, Kery was told that everything he had been taught in the history books was a lie. Kery can relate to what has happened to the Native Americans and their history in America, which was altered or simply not taught.
At a young age Kery had an interest in American history and Natives. His curiosity grew as he watched early western films. "I wondered why Native Americans were always the bad guys in these films, and what the bad guy-good guy dynamic was all about," Kery said. Kery’s interest only grew as he got older.
When Kery moved to the U.S. he worked in western films where he actually had the opportunity to meet some men from Blackfeet Reservation.
When Native American horse riders are needed for a film, they are almost always hired from the Blackfeet Reservation because of their skills as horsemen, explained Kery. "And it appears that they really are the best horsemen.”
Kery spent a lot of time researching Native American history throughout his career, especially when he was working on Civil War films. After a conversation with Danny Edmo, who is well-known in the film industry and will be the stunt coordinator for season two of Reservation Dogs, Edmo encouraged Kery to delve deeper into the Blackfeet Tribes' history.
"Horses were always the main ingredient," said Kery. He delved into the days when horses changed the lives of Native country and found his focus.
Kery met with historians on the Blackfeet Reservation and received their approval for his idea regarding the introduction of the horses to Native people. Surprisingly, the smallpox virus was discussed during the meeting, which introduced Kery's second key part for his film.
"We discovered that the introduction to the horses and contact with the smallpox virus occurred within a relatively similar time frame," he said. Kery was granted permission to connect the two dots by the Blackfeet Tribal Council.
"We had tremendous support from the tribe," Kery said, adding that it took about three years to put everything together. As COVID arrived, Kery reflected on how ironic it was that he was attempting to make a smallpox virus film in the midst of a pandemic.
"Many people believe I made the film because of COVID," he said. However, Kery wrote the film two years before the COVID outbreak. Even though COVID hit, it didn’t stop the film from being made.
Stormee Kipp, a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member also affiliated with the Blackfeet tribe, plays the lead character in "Sooyii." Kipp didn't have much experience, but as soon as Kery met him, he knew he was the right person for the job. Much of the talent and resources came from the Blackfeet Reservation.
"I didn't want to make a film that wasn't true," Kery explained. Kery did not want to force or create the characters for the film; rather, he wanted to use Native people whose hearts were connected to the story. Kery did something unusual in Hollywood by focusing on creating opportunities for Native talent and utilizing the resources available to him in Montana.
One of the most important aspects of the film is the language. "I learned what the language means to Native people and how it was taken away," Kery said.
Jesse DesRosier, a Blackfeet/Pikuni language preservationist, assisted Kery with the Blackfeet/Pikuni language in the film. Kery told DesRosier he wanted to make the film entirely in the Blackfeet/Pikuni language, which was considered crazy because not only were there actors who had never acted before, but they also had to be taught the language. "We were fortunate to have Jessie come in," Kery said.
The actors had to learn the language as well as match their emotions to the words, which can be more difficult than it sounds.
"I believe it is important for people to be proud of it when they watch it," Kery said. "Even the younger characters there were so enthusiastic about learning it and picked it up so quickly."
Aside from "Sooyii," there is no full-length Blackfeet/Pikuni language film. "What matters is that people are proud of it," Kery said.
Kery hopes to direct more films in the future, as "Sooyii" is his first. Kery hopes to continue taking advantage of what Montana has to offer and to provide opportunities for many people by hiring them for their talent.
Many people in the "Sooyii" film had no experience, "I am trying to promote that people hire people from the reservation, and don't be afraid to approach them," Kery said.
"Montana has a lot to offer," Kery said. "People are talented; we just have to put in the effort to find them."
Kery's goal is to make a difference; if he can open doors for Native talent, Montana, and more through Sooyii. He will continue to make films and use what Montana has to offer.
The word “Sooyii”
Suddenly, tribes had a new understanding of an animal that had changed their lives; Kerry used the term "creatures" because horses were unfamiliar. Kery obtained clarification and permission to use the word "Sooyii" a shortened version for an unknown creature, which symbolized the introduction of the horse in Native Country.