If you caught season one of the new FX show Reservation Dogs from creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi (and you most definitely should have done that), you’ve no doubt became enamored with actor Gary Farmer as Uncle Brownie. An old-school weed enthusiast, barroom brawler and tornado battler, Farmer’s character has stolen scenes throughout the show’s inaugural season, but as any film aficionado should be able to tell you, it’s hardly his first role. Farmer has appeared in films like Dead Man, Ghost Dog and Blood Quantum—and he’s also a longtime supporter and collaborator with the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. We caught up with Farmer as he’s traveling to ask him about the success of the new show, film and TV in general and the indie film fest, which kicks off this week.
Reservation Dogs has become a full-blown phenomenon. How has it been working on that show, and does it feel huge from the inside?
Oh, yeah. I think so. It’s exciting, especially for that particular show, being representative of Native American creative effort. It’s an amazing thing that Sterlin and Taika have allowed themselves to create, and I’m thankful for the great characterization and the writing. We can do improv in pretty well every scene, except for the more dramatic ones...there’s a lot of improv, especially in the car with the kids during our first episode. I had a cousin Brownie. I grew up in a Native community that was more of a social club because we were urban Indians, so to speak, and there was a Brownie among us whose kids were the most athletic—sports heroes. He was a real dedicated father, though, nothing like the Brownie in the series.
I’m reading so many stories lately about how Indigenous filmmaking’s time has come, but it feels like it’s always been around. Do you have any thoughts on that?
This is my 46th year of performance. I started in the theater working with non-Native playwrights, and now, I’m still working in the theater from time to time and just about to celebrate a colleague of mine who is a playwright—Tomson Highway. We started out at the same time, and we’re celebrating his 70th [birthday] at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. That’s how long we’ve been at it. I think when I started, there was only Chief Dan George and Will Sampson, so that gives you an indication of how long I’ve been around.
But it’s a true delight to see the young people step in and manage something that very few of us managed back then. I did a lot of play development in my time, and I still collaborate and develop new work, but [Native filmmaking has] never been on mainstream television—and really, it still isn’t, but they’re launching our material and brand new ways to get material to people. They’re using good material to launch new stuff and new [streaming shows]. I’m doing the same thing with Resident Alien. There’s Native stylings throughout that show, and we’re on the SyFy network, so it’s kind of interesting to see where that’s going. And that’s a great creative team.
You’ve worked with the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival for years. As someone who is pretty ensconced in the cinema world, what is it about the Santa Fe fest that excites you so much?
I’ve been there since inception. It was really my idea. [Cofounder] Jacques [Paisner] didn’t get into the Santa Fe Film Fest with a film I helped him with, this crazy little film, and I said ‘Just show it,’ and so he showed it at the Jean Cocteau—and he made all his money back in three days. From there, we said ‘We should just have a festival.’ And those guys—[Cofounder] Liesette [Paisner Bailey] came later—and Jacques and I have kind of stayed together on it. I’m just an adviser, but I help him as much as possible, and it’s really been a team effort, a family effort. I’m real proud of it, to see how far we’ve come in 13 years; to have that kind of dedication...it’s really shaping up. It’s good that we can maybe even step into world cinema, too, because Telluride has backed off on that a bit, and we’re bringing it to Santa Fe; as well as our strong Native American showing this year.
We’re all proud of this effort. We hope we can live up to the articles that have called us a ‘small Sundance.’ Because we have a vision, including Spanish language film since we have a Spanish-speaking audience here. It’s going to take more development and work so we can get movies to some of the smaller communities, you know, somewhere like Truchas, for instance, or other isolated spots that need some culture. I think it’s truly exciting. I mean, I’m coming home for it and it’s good for the artist community we have. The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival is so diverse, and to have the best cinema in the world for five days, well, I think it’s wonderful for artists to get exposed to this kind of cinema, no matter what discipline they’re working in.