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UWTV Celebrates Independent Film

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Cinephiles, turn on your TVs. The University of Washington’s own cable station, UWTV, now has two programs devoted to film. Backstory highlights Northwest filmmakers; Voices of the First Peoples focuses on Native American filmmakers. Both programs are hosted by A&S faculty with a passion for film.


Backstory, now in its second season, presents an eclectic mix of films. One documentary focuses on a grief support group that has warmed Israeli-Palestinian relations; another follows athletes in women’s roller derby. There’s a cerebral futuristic
sci-fi film, and a selection of animated shorts created by UW students in an experimental computer animation course.

Andrew Tsao

Andrew Tsao, host of Backstory.

“We try to select films with ties to the UW,” says Backstory host Andrew Tsao, associate professor of drama. “A lot of the filmmakers are alumni. If not that, then they’re local. That’s been our criterion— seeking out what’s happening either on campus or with alumni or local filmmakers.”

In one episode, acclaimed writer/director Lynn Shelton, a UW School of Drama alumna, shares her first feature film, We Go Way Back, released in 2006. In another, Mountlake Terrace High School students present their mockumentary about
a high school prom, which was accepted into the Seattle International Film Festival. Tsao introduces each film and interviews the filmmakers about their work. 

“Andrew was just a natural choice as host,” says Priscilla ‘Charlie’ Hinckley, executive producer for both Backstory and Voices of the First Peoples. “He has years of experience in the industry and is a wonderful interviewer. He really carries the show.”

Tsao enjoys the hosting role despite the time required. “It’s a pleasure,” he says. “I’m a passionate believer in the Seattle film community, so I’m happy to do it.” 

Charlotte Coté and Daniel Hart, hosts of Voices of the First Peoples, are equally passionate about the work presented on their program. Coté is an associate professor of American Indian studies; Hart is a professor of American Indian studies and co-director of Native Voices, a UW graduate program in documentary filmmaking that emphasizes Native American content.

The two professors were approached by UWTV after the station received permission to air films distributed by Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT). The professors screened the films, selected their top choices, and added other favorites to the mix, including short films by Native Voices students.

Voices of the First Peoples

“We focused on films that were Native produced and directed,” says Hart. “We also looked for films with a Northwest focus. There’s so much here that gets overlooked.”

Coté, who hails from Canada, points out that indigenous peoples have their own television station in Canada, with films by indigenous filmmakers shown regularly. The U.S. lags far behind in its support for indigenous media, but Coté and Hart see the UWTV program as a step in the right direction.

Voices of the First Peoples

Voices of the First Peoples hosts Charlotte Coté and Daniel Hart.

The films featured in Voices of the First Peoples range in length from 15-minute shorts to full-length features. Most episodes present two or more films that share a thematic link. Topics include identity, survival, racism and exploitation, children, history, community, and activism. The hosts introduce each film and provide post-viewing commentary.

“The idea of discourse was integrated into the very concept of the series, with time dedicated to reflecting on what we were seeing,” says Hart. Adds Coté, “Some of the films have strong themes. We didn’t want them to be seen in the wrong way. It was helpful to introduce them in a way that we felt was appropriate, putting them in context.”

Hart is particularly pleased to present films by Native Voices students. The films have screened at film festivals and are frequently purchased by educational institutions, but they are largely unknown in the Northwest. “It’s great that UWTV thought to do this,” he says. “It starts to give Native Voices some recognition.”

That pleases executive producer Hinckley as well. “Any time we can showcase a department or program on campus that people don’t know much about, that’s something we like to do,” she says. “Both of these UWTV programs highlight the talent of our students and alumni, and the diversity of the Northwest. We’re glad we can share their work with a broader audience.”

Backstory airs on UWTV every Saturday at 9 pm through April 7, with episodes repeated Sundays at 2 pm and the following Saturday at 12 am.

Voices of the First Peoples airs on UWTV every Sunday at 7 pm, repeating Mondays at 3 am, Tuesdays at 9 pm, and Saturdays at 1:30 pm.

Interested in seeing more films by Native American filmmakers? Native Voices is planning a tenth anniversary film festival on the UW campus, May 1-3, at which graduates of the program will screen new award-winning films. For more information, check the Native Voices website closer to the festival date.