When documentary filmmaker Karen Cantor came to Santa Fe as an artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute in 2010, it marked a turning point in her life and career. Inspired by the tremendous amount of creativity around her, Cantor decided to put together “Invitation to the Muse,” her third documentary and one that addresses the creative process. She interviewed artists about what they were doing and why they were doing it.
Cantor spent months in Santa Fe, connecting with members of the arts community and making many friends. She moved to town in 2012.
“Native American issues kept coming up the longer I was in Santa Fe,’ Cantor says. “I decided to focus my attention on making a documentary film about Native American foods, health and empowerment.”
“Return,” Cantor’s 28-minute film about six contemporary Native American women and their efforts to reclaim health and spirit through traditional ways, receives its premiere screening on July 13 at The Lodge in Santa Fe.
It features sculptor Rozanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), nutritionist Kibbe Conti (Oglala Sioux), community development educator Jennifer Gauthier (Menominee), nutritionist Desiree Bergeron Jackson (Tlingit), exercise specialist Andrea John (Seneca Nation) and nutritionist Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot) and their efforts to reclaim ancient foodways, which is defined as the cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food.
(Rose Simpson, Marian Naranjo, and Roxanne Swentzell spontaneously dancing after gathering salt. Photo credit: Karen Cantor)
“These women are so driven, so clear about what they want and how they want to help,” says Cantor. “Each woman is passionate about wanting to make a difference. I focus the film on their understanding of what food means and their positive actions in the world.”
A former New Yorker who majored in anthropology in college and went back to school 20 years after earning her bachelor’s degree to graduate with an MBA from Wake Forest University, Cantor has had a wealth of work experiences including serving as a marketing director and consultant for high-tech firms.
Photography has been part of her life for many years. “As a professional photographer in North Carolina, I focused on everything from industrial shoots to family portraits and creating photographs as art,” she says. “I began making slide shows as part of this work and soon realized how much I was drawn to producing audio-visuals.”
“Return” is Cantor’s fourth film to date and the second one produced in New Mexico. Her first work, “The Danish Solution,” which was co-produced and co-directed with Camilla Kjaerulff, is a documentary that dispels myths surrounding the rescue of Danish Jews in World War II.
Cantor’s second documentary, “Last Rights: Facing End-of-Life Choices,” was produced in association with Mississippi Public Broadcasting and focuses on family members of four terminally-ill people who made different choices at the end of their lives.
“What is important to me is to contribute to the debate of relevant issues and encourage compassion, tolerance, and civic engagement -whether these be issues of life and death or those of everyday life,” Cantor says.
“What I knew 18 years ago when I began making documentaries has been confirmed and expanded,” she adds. “Many a stone wall lays in wait for every filmmaker. My mantra is go over, under, or through-but avoid being daunted.”
In addition to the July 13 screening, “Return” also will be screened during Santa Fe Indian Market’s Native Cinema Showcase, which takes place from August 14 through 19. For more information on “Return,” visit returndocumentary.com