Yona filmmaker Neil Tinkham has been recognized as one of the “best and most promising Native creatives in the film and television industry” for his screenplay, “The Taotaomona.”
Named as one of eight finalists on The Indigenouis List, Tinkham joins the prestigious second cohort in being mentored by four prolific and powerful Native show runners and producers.
The Indigenous List was born out of The Black List, which has been elevating dynamite unproduced screenplays since 2005, often leading to studio interest and eventual production.
According to its website, the films that make up the list are determined by votes from the film and television industry executives. Oscar-winning films, including “Juno” and “The King’s Speech,” were one-time Black List honorees.
The Indigenous List began in 2020 in partnership with IllumiNative and The Sundance Film Festival with an eye toward celebrating Native stories and filmmakers in particular.
According to Tinkham, some of the filmmakers from the previous list have successfully secured representation and funding for their projects.
Tinkham’s screenplay, “The Taotaomona,” is a full-length feature film born out of his short film, “How to Catch a Taotaomona,” screened at the Guam International Film Festival in 2020.
As the film’s log line describes, “A child of divorce goes on a hunt to capture a mythical creature that lives in the jungle, serendipitously bringing his family closer in the process.”
Tinkham says the screenplay has been years in the making, well before he moved to Los Angeles in 2018 and began honing it in writing workshops, where some of his colleagues were familiar with Guam – and others were very much not.
“I think it was really important to get both perspectives to make this as universal as possible. And then just rewrite, rewrite and then finally get it to a point where I could start putting it out and see what sort of response I would get, ”Tinkham said.
Though this is the second year The Indigenous List has put out a call for submissions, it’s the first year Tinkham applied.
He says he was deterred by a identification question that offered Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian as the three categories for filmmakers to select. As a CHamoru artist, Tinkham fit none of the above.
“I was like, ‘OK, maybe I’m not supposed to.’ And so I didn’t and then the list came out. I felt disappointed in myself for not giving a shot. And so this time around, I was like, ‘All right, you know, I’m gonna do it. Even though I don’t fit into one of those categories. ‘
Technically, as CHamoru, we are native, right? And we are US citizens, right? So we are technically Native American. And so I was just like, ‘You know, what? Screw it. I’m just gonna just put it in there and see what they say. ‘ Because we should be getting this opportunity as well, ”Tinkham said.
Now, Tinkham is gearing up for meetings with four Indigenous creatives who are leaders with development deals at major studios, including Bird Runningwater at Amazon Studios, Micheal Greyes at Blumhouse, Sierra Teller Ornelas at Universal TV, and Sterlin Harjo at FX.
Regardless of any potential action from the studios, he plans to use these meetings as learning opportunities as he starts to navigate the complicated world of putting together a producing package and seeking investors.
“I know that there’s going to be challenges with getting a film like this produced. Writing screenplays set on Guam, as much as that’s my experience and what I want to bring to the world, there’s going to be always challenges with getting funding for something like that.
“Whether it’s just on Guam or convincing people that are not familiar at all or very little with the island to invest,” Tinkham said.
Through the challenges, Tinkham sees the inclusion of the script on The Indigenous List as a significant sign that people outside of Guam can see the value in the story and get behind it.
“I appreciate that people are open minded enough to see beyond any of the limitations that this story taking place on Guam may pose, but just see that it’s a universal story.
“And those things that may seem like a drawback can make this even better than your typical family adventure story, because of the unique location, because of the unique mythology and characters and things like that,” Tinkham said.
Having been announced in mid-May, the thrill of making the list is still fresh. Tinkham says it felt validating to be recognized after years of hard work and plenty of rejection, and that he is already seeing the impact it has made.
“It’s been out for about a week now. I’m getting notifications that producers are downloading it through The Black List, and a couple of management agencies, they represent writers, reached out wanting to read the screenplay.
“Potentially, down the line, things work out being able to get representation that way. So it’s really great for exposure. … It opens doors. It’s hard to say right now what’s going to happen, and nothing’s a guarantee, “Tinkham said.
He also sees this moment as a promising one not just for him as an individual artist, but for the future of CHamoru and Guamanian stories.
“It was encouraging to see that stories from Guam are worth telling and that people do want to listen, because that’s something that we’ve been trying to do on the island for a long time now,” Tinkham said.
“Sometimes you’re not sure if we should bother trying to tell the stories, but this – along with Myra Aquino and Rain Valdez – all three of these stories are set on Guam. … They’re good stories that people want to see told. ”