By Kanika Samra, External Relations
Luke Hunt’s award-winning short film, “Sheep”, starts off as a road trip film. A young man, Luke himself, is seen driving somewhere. He receives a call on his cellphone and provides updates on his arrival. Pretty standard stuff if you’ve driven to meet family. But that’s where the similarities end. From then on, the film presents a unique, pastoral snippet of life on the Navajo Nation with a dose of subtle humor and a nod to the wisdom of elders. Without giving too much away, it is safe to say “sheep” are involved.
Luke is from the Spring 2022 class and walked along with other Pima graduates in May 2022 at the first in-person graduation ceremony in two years. He is half Navajo and half Kainai of the First Nations from Canada. Though since the age of four, he has lived on the Navajo Nation north of Tucson, near Flagstaff. His family still lives there.
Luke showed promise early on and received the Gates Millennium Scholarship which allowed him the opportunity to enroll at the University of Arizona’s Architecture program. But soon he found his interest and grades waning. A string of majors followed, from aeronautical engineering to botany. There was an epiphany of sorts because botany helped him connect the dots between the scientific process and traditional Navajo medicine. But feeling despondent and making little progress academically, Luke took time off. He picked up the thread again at Pima in 2019.
By this time, he was surer of what he wanted to pursue. Ever since his childhood, Luke says, he’s been the de facto camera person of the family. Always behind the camera, capturing images and videos of his loved ones. That and his interest in sharing Native American stories propelled him to explore film programs. He chose Pima over UA because he’d heard great things about the hands-on experience students receive so they are ready to enter the industry from day one. Luke considers Robert Loomis, faculty in the Film Arts and Animation program, a mentor and credits his constant enthusiasm and encouragement for helping him see his project through and finally graduate.
For Loomis, stories like Luke’s are the raison d’être for being an educator. His ambitions for the program’s graduates are that they compete with and surpass output from well-known film schools in New York and Los Angeles. Unaffordability of equipment has long been a barrier for entry into film. But, with digital, that threshold has lowered. Emphasis now is much more on content. Once Pima students are recognized for their creativity and skill, he hopes people will start paying attention to the program.
Loomis’s idealism has rubbed off on Luke. He set up a production company recently with the aim to foreground not just Native American stories but from other underrepresented groups. The Motion Picture Association (2021 THEME Report) pegged the value of the U.S. entertainment market at $36.8 billion. Both Loomis and Luke pointed out that diversity remains a problem within the industry. And that is where they see opportunity – to tell compelling stories while expanding the tent and brining more people in.
Since graduating Luke has worked on several productions in the Tucson area where his extensive knowledge and skill with equipment were noticed. That is a credit to his instructors and the hands-on learning Pima provides.
“Sheep” won the Best Indigenous Voices – Narrative award at MINT 2021 (Montana International Film Festival). It has also been screened at the LA Skins Fest, in Alaska, Australia and Tucson. Luke is optimistic about the future. For him the creative medium provides, “unlimited powers to inspire hope.”