ORLANDO (FNN NEWS) – Orlando Film Festival kicked off at Cobb Theaters in Downtown Orlando Wednesday night. The red carpet came alive with excited filmmakers and actors ready to showcase their projects to the Orlando community and, in some cases, to the world at large, including Nathan Frankowski, director of this year’s opening feature Te Ata.
About Te Ata
Frankowski’s biopic feature chronicles the true story of Chickasaw actress and storyteller Mary Frances Thompson, whose love of stories and the Chickasaw Nation fueled her to share the Chickasaw culture with new audiences in the early 1900s, a time when the United States was still growing as a nation and clashed with Native American peoples in the process.
Viewers are immediately swept into the saga from the film’s opening scene with a voice-over folk tale told by Mary Thompson’s father, T.B. Thompson (played by Gil Birmingham). Ironically, though his storytelling places the seed of inspiration in her, it slowly becomes a source of friction between them as she ages.
What makes the film engrossing is the sprawling backdrop upon which Thompson’s journey takes place. While young Te Ata (which means “The Morning”) flourishes with each solo performance and eventually sets her sights on Broadway, the Chickasaw Nation is fighting to secure the funding due them from the U.S. government in the face of ethnocentrism and religious bigotry–to the point that the government passed a law forbidding the sale of traditional Native American textiles and creations, which caused further financial struggle for the Chickasaw Nation. Viewers even experience the Thompsons’ fish-out-of-water feeling as the Chickasaw people’s territory, Tishomingo, shrinks significantly to become part of the newborn state of Oklahoma.
The political tensions are counterbalanced with Te Ata’s experience. Te Ata does her first performances among family, but chooses to leave home for the first time in her life to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (known today as University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma), despite her father’s wishes for her to find a job at home. Viewers immediately empathize with Te Ata’s awkward experience upon her arrival at the predominantly Caucasian-attended College, but cheer her on when that one connection is made, because all it ever takes is one.
Te Ata’s jumping off point occurs when she meets drama teacher Frances Dinsmore Davis, who encourages her to join her class and to share the Chickasaw stories for her senior presentation instead of the usual Shakespeare recitation. From there, Te Ata’s career blossoms from one serendipitous connection to another, taking her performances across the country. She eventually makes it to New York City, hustling to find her place on Broadway, and finds love in the process while performing privately for Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband was then Governor of New York. The heroine’s journey continues with well-placed highs and lows, keeping the viewer visually and emotionally engaged.
Te Ata is touchingly channeled through lead actress Q’orianka Kilcher who, like Te Ata, has stage experience, and brought it to bear in the role. Kilcher’s magnetic singing, with the help of the film’s sweeping score and indigenous songs, imprints the true Te Ata’s passion for her people onto the viewer’s heart.
Frankowski, who worked closely with the Chickasaw Nation in creating the film, honors Te Ata’s memory and legacy in a cohesive, sweeping tale that will edify audiences everywhere.
Florida National News Editor Mellissa Thomas is an author and journalist, as well as a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with degrees in Entertainment Business and Film. She also helps business owners, CEOs, executives, and speakers double their income and clinch the credibility they deserve by walking them step by step through the process of developing, completing, marketing, and publishing their first book.