Gale Anne Hurd stumbled upon the work of Bozeman artist Ben Pease while perusing an art gallery in Town Center. Pease created the poster for Hurd’s documentary, “Mankiller,” which recounts the life of the Cherokee Nation’s first female leader. The film will be screeened Saturday, June 9. Individual tickets can be found here: With a production career spanning three decades, Hurd has a number of successes under her belt from writing “Terminator” scripts to producing films like “The Ghost and the Darkness,” “Hulk” and more.Wilma Mankiller is sworn into office as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1987. (L to R) Wilma Pearl Mankiller, Charlie Soap (Wilma’s husband) and then-Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation Philip Viles. Wilma Mankiller and colleagues hold ceremonial shovels at the groundbreaking of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell, Okla.


A chance to view documentary by part-time local Gale Anne Hurd
“We are in an age where politics is a dirty word, and we don’t have a lot of great role models in terms of successful leadership. Wilma (Mankiller) brought people together, working in a bipartisan fashion to transform the Cherokee Nation. We need more great leaders like her. We can all learn by following her example.” —Film producer Gale Anne Hurd

Hollywood producer Gale Anne Hurd had some time to kill in Big Sky while she waited for her ride to the airport to arrive. Strolling around Town Center, she wandered into Creighton Block Gallery, where she discovered an artist whose work fit right in with her current project at the time—a documentary about Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985.

     The artist was Ben Pease, a Native American who resides in Bozeman. Hurd, who has worked on two other documentaries focused on Native American issues, was drawn to Pease’s creations, purchasing some for herself.

     “I was completely blown away. I bought some work, and it always stayed with me,” said Hurd, who owns a home in the Yellowstone Club. “I liked that he was local, and that his work is powerful with political undertones. Ben is an artist people really need to know about.”

     Soon after, Hurd reached out to Pease about creating the promotional poster for “Mankiller.” The artist, who was in the Middle East at the time, accepted. And in an interesting twist, he told Hurd some of his family actually knew Chief Mankiller.

     Many will recognize Hurd for her work producing the TV show “The Walking Dead,” or movies such as “The Terminator”, “Aliens”, and “Armageddon”. But Hurd also has been involved with a number of documentaries. She collaborated with Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl to create “Mankiller”, a film that took years to create.

     Gathering footage of Mankiller’s life proved challenging, as she passed away in 2010 before the movie-making began. The production team spent years gathering clips from broadcast networks, home videos and other sources. “Mankiller” debuted a year ago at the Los Angeles Film Festival and has since been screened at more than 20 festivals around the world.

     Beyond leading the Cherokee Nation, in which the tribe reasserted its self-governance, the film highlights stories in Mankiller’s life of activism, including her time on Alcatraz Island in 1969 where she joined hundreds of other Native Americans occupying the iconic outpost in the San Francisco Bay. The demonstrators stayed for months, creating a rallying point for indigenous people around the world. Hurd said Mankiller’s involvement at Alcatraz was where she discovered her commitment to activism.

     The interactions at Alcatraz also ignited Mankiller’s desire to return to her ancestral Cherokee land in Oklahoma, a place she and her family left behind for San Francisco as part of the Indian Relocation Act. The 1956 program encouraged Native Americans to leave reservations for cities where they could gain vocational skills and assimilate into mainstream society. 

     Another story recounts Mankiller’s time as a member of the Black Panthers in the group’s early days. 

     “People don’t often know that during the Black Panthers origins in the Bay Area they were a community outreach organization, not the politicized people we think of now,” said Hurd. “They were feeding the poor, and they were not just African Americans but Native Americans and poor disenfranchised whites as well.”

     It was in these early days with the Panthers where Mankiller furthered her interest in community activism, in making sure people were healthy and fed, and the idea that people can take care of themselves without government handouts. 

     “She was liberal, but worked well with conservative Republicans,” Hurd said of Mankiller’s unique ability to bridge political gaps. “She had a vision for economic self-sufficiency in the Cherokee Nation.”

     The more Hurd learned about Mankiller, the more she knew the activist’s story was one that needed to be told, even more so in today’s political climate.

     “We are in an age where politics is a dirty word, and we don’t have a lot of great role models in terms of successful leadership,” Hurd said of the importance of telling Mankiller’s story. “Wilma brought people together, working in a bipartisan fashion to transform the Cherokee Nation. We need more great leaders like her. We can all learn by following her example.”

     “Mankiller” will be at the Bozeman Film Festival on Saturday, June 9 at the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture. Hurd, Mohl and Pease will be in attendance, sticking around afterward for a Q&A session. Opening at 8:15 p.m. at the Crawford Theater individual tickets can be found here:

     Can’t make the screening but still want to see “Mankiller”? It’s available on DVD starting Aug. 31, 2018.



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