Acclaimed filmmaker Daniel Golding came home to his Quechan homeland and never regretted it.
Golding, 56, grew up in his tribal homeland and in Los Angeles, where he graduated from high school. He went on to learn filmmaking at San Francisco State University, where he graduated cum laude in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in film production and a minor in American Indian studies.
Instead of heading to Hollywood or another industry hotspot, though, Golding returned home to the southern Colorado River Valley outside Yuma.
“I came back home to immerse myself in Quechan culture,” he said. “This is my grad school.”
Golding’s newest project, the second season of the PBS series “Native America,” began airing in October. The series showcases contemporary Indigenous people such as rocket scientists, fashion designers, sports figures and language protectors. Golding served as a season producer and directed two episodes.
The series is Golding’s latest achievement in a more than 25-year-long career viewing and sharing Indian Country through the lens of a camera.
His first film, “When the Fire Dims,” which starred the late Pomo elder Dave Smith, received a best short subject award at the American Indian Film Festival in 1998 and at the Marin Film Festival in 1999. The film also premiered at Sundance and several other festivals.
Golding founded his own film company, Hokan Media, in 1997 to produce the films he wanted to make, films that “respect and protect who we are as Native people,” he said. The company’s name honors Hokan, the mother tongue of a Native language family in the western North American continent that includes his community and dozens of other tribes in California, Nevada and Baja California.
Golding’s independent productions have enabled him to stay close to home and support his wife and three kids, who range in age from 12 to 17. He’s also a traditional singer and is in a master-apprentice language program with his uncle Preston Arrow-weed, one of the estimated 60 fluent Quechan speakers.
Over the past 20 years, Golding has continued to document the stories of Native communities throughout the West. Some of his documentary credits include “Songs of the Colorado,” which showcases the musical heritage of the Quechan people. He also co-produced “Tribal Justice,” which details the efforts of two female tribal judges to institute restorative justice.
In 2021, Golding produced and directed the nationally-broadcasted “Chasing Voices: The Story of John Peabody Harrington.” The hour-long film tells the definitive story of early 20th-century ethnographer John Peabody Harrington, who amassed over 1 million pages of notes and many recordings of Native peoples, particularly in California.
He also made “Decade of Dominance — The Warriors,” a feature-length documentary about the San Pasqual High School football team, the only high school football team from a Native reservation to win a state championship in 11-man football. The team from the tiny 120-student school on Quechan’s tribal lands won five state championships in a 10-year period between 1971 and 1981. The film won two awards, was nominated for a third, and appeared in nine film festivals.
Golding teaches filmmaking to local youth through the Hokan Media Digital Filmmaking Academy. His son Nathaniel, 17, has already made a film, “Awaken,” detailing the challenges facing youth in the Quechan Nation that was shown at several film festivals. Golding also supports his family with public service and educational videos and documentaries for tribes in California and Arizona.
And Golding supports his family’s and tribe’s efforts to preserve cultural assets such as Indian Pass, and helped establish KUAV 105.1, a local low-power radio station that features Quechan-produced content including traditional songs.
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National recognition and a national production job
Golding’s largest project to date was as series producer and director of the second season of the PBS series “Native America.” Gary Glassman, president of Providence Pictures, which made the series, said he brought Golding on as part of an all-Native producing and directing team, but then realized he could do so much more. Glassman said he was committed to having Native producers and directors on board because they brought authenticity to the four-part series.
Golding discovered something profoundly personal while filming the episode “Language is Life.” Daniel and Nathaniel Golding and Passamaquoddy language holder and protector Dwayne Tomah, director of the Sipayik Museum, visited the Library of Congress’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center to hear recordings of Tomah’s language.
But staffers at the center had a surprise for Golding and Nathaniel, who was working with the film crew: recordings of his great-grandfather singing a Quechan deer song.
“I’m glad to see he’s getting national recognition,” said Joely Proudfit, the board chair of Vision Maker Media, a public media organization that funds and supports Indigenous filmmakers and productions. “He tells stories of home.”
Proudfit, a Luiseño/Payómkawichum descendent, said she has known Golding since she began her own academic career as a young professor.
“Dan validates our culture,” she said. “I really appreciated ‘Chasing Voices’ because California peoples were heavily featured.” Vision Maker Media has supported at least three of Golding’s productions, she said.
Proudfit said Golding is part of a new wave of Native filmmakers and media professionals working “above the line,” as producers, directors, writers and showrunners. “When we make our own stories, we challenge and break down harmful stereotypes, create more nuanced portrayals of our peoples and diversity the media landscape.”
Debra Krol reports on Indigenous communities at the confluence of climate, culture and commerce in Arizona and the Intermountain West. Reach Krol at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @debkrol.
Coverage of Indigenous issues at the intersection of climate, culture and commerce is supported by the Catena Foundation.
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