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Sterlin Harjo

Sterlin Harjo (born c. 1980)[1] is a Native American filmmaker. He has directed two feature films and a feature documentary, all of them set in his home state of Oklahoma and concerned primarily with Native American people and content.


Harjo, a member of the Seminole nation[1] who also has Muscogee heritage, was raised in Holdenville, Oklahoma.[1] He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he studied art and film.[2][3]

In 2004 he received a fellowship from the Sundance Institute.[4] His short film, Goodnight, Irene,[5] premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival [2] and received a special jury award at the Aspen Shortsfest.[2] In 2006, he received a fellowship from the newly formed United States Artists foundation.[6][7]

Harjo's first feature film, Four Sheets to the Wind, tells the story of a young Seminole man who travels from his small home town to Tulsa to visit his sister after the death of their father.[8][9] The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the grand jury prize. Harjo was named best director at the 2007 American Indian Film Festival.[10] The film's co-star Tamara Podemski won a Sundance special jury prize for her performance in the picture,[11] and she was later nominated for best supporting actress at the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards.[9]

Harjo's second feature, Barking Water, premiered at the 2008 Sundance festival.[10] It portrays a road trip by a dying man and his former lover across Oklahoma to see his daughter and granddaughter in Wewoka, the capital of the Seminole Nation.[12][13] Barking Water was named best drama film at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival.[14]

Harjo's first feature documentary, This May Be the Last Time, is based on the story of Harjo's grandfather, who disappeared in 1962 in the Seminole County town of Sasakwa. It explores the subject of Creek Nation hymns and their connection to Scottish folk, gospel and rock music.[15][16][17] The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival[18] and its distribution rights were subsequently acquired by AMC/Sundance Channel Global for the Sundance Channel.[19]

Harjo has also directed a number of short-form projects. His 2009 short film Cepanvkuce Tutcenen (Three Little Boys) was part of the Embargo Collective project commissioned by the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.[20] He has directed a series of shorts for This Land Press in Tulsa, where Harjo is the staff video director.[21] He was a member of the 2010 Sundance shorts competition jury.[22]

Harjo is also a founding member of a five-member Native American comedy group, The 1491s.[23]

As of 2014, Harjo was working on a new feature film, Mekko, set in Tulsa.[24] He is also one of the directors of the Cherokee Nation's monthly television news magazine, Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People.[25]


In addition to awards for specific films as noted above, Harjo's career awards have included the 2011 Tilghman Award from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle[2] and the Tulsa Library Trust's 2013 American Indian Writers Award.[26]


  1. ^ a b c Sam Lewin, "Seminole Filmmaker Prepares to Hit the Silver Screen", Native Times News, reprinted in Canku Ota, May 24, 2004 (article gives his age as 24 in 2004).
  2. ^ a b c d "Sterlin Harjo honored by Oklahoma Film Critics: The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle will present its 2011 Tilghman Award to state filmmaker Sterlin Harjo." The Oklahoman, November 4, 2011.
  3. ^ Joanna Hearne and Zach Schlachter, "An Interview with Sterlin Harjo and Blackhorse Lowe", Native Americans on Film: Conversations, Teaching, and Theory (University Press of Kentucky, 2013), ISBN 978-0813140346, pp. 169ff. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  4. ^ Dana Harris, "Sundance picks five for Annenberg coin", Variety, May 27, 2004  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  5. ^ Peter Hanson, Review of Goodnight, Irene, Film Threat, January 23, 2005.
  6. ^ Patrick Cole, "Seminole Filmmaker, Guitarist Awarded $50,000 Grants" (Update1),, December 4, 2006.
  7. ^ Sterlin Harjo, United States Artists (accessed 2014-09-22).
  8. ^ John Anderson, "This Time, the Indians Tell Their Own Story", The New York Times, August 27, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Andrew Horton, Joanna E. Rapf, eds., A Companion to Film Comedy (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), ISBN 978-1118327845, pp. 386ff. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  10. ^ a b Sterlin Harjo, National Museum of the American Indian, March 2011 (updated April 2014).
  11. ^ Jeff Vice, "Sundance fest winners explore 'our global society'", Deseret News, January 28, 2007.
  12. ^ Stephen Holden, "A Road Trip to the End of the Road", The New York Times, May 11, 2010.
  13. ^ Ted Fry, "Final trip together sometimes clumsy, often touching." Seattle Times, April 16, 2010  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
  14. ^ Angelica Lawson, "American Indian Feature Filmmakers and Popular Culture", in Elizabeth Delaney Hoffman. ed., American Indians and Popular Culture, (ABC-CLIO, 2012), ISBN 978-0313379918, pp. 98-99. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  15. ^ Guy Lodge, Film Review: ‘This May Be the Last Time’, Variety, January 21, 2014.
  16. ^ Lauren Wissot, "Sterlin Harjo on This May Be the Last Time", Filmmaker, January 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Sterlin Harjo and Dr. Hugh Foley – “This May Be the Last Time", The Tavis Smiley Show (audio) (accessed 2014-09-19).
  18. ^ Brandy McDonnell, "American Indian music documentary "This May Be the Last Time" to premiere at Sundance Film Festival", The Oklahoman, December 30, 2013.
  19. ^ John Hopewell, "Sundance: AMC/Sundance Channel Global Swoops on Six Sundance Titles", Variety, January 23, 2014.
  20. ^ Embargo Collective, imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 17, 2009.
  21. ^ "Meet Sterlin Harjo", This Land Press, January 21, 2012.
  22. ^ "Sundance 2010 unveils juries, plus a peek at short-film lineup", Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2010.
  23. ^ Karen Shade, "The 1491s", Oklahoma Magazine, April 21, 2014.
  24. ^ "Tulsan Sterlin Harjo starts on new film 'Mekko'", Tulsa World, April 9, 2014.
  25. ^ "Osiyo", Oklahoma Magazine, March 26, 2015.
  26. ^ "Library to Honor Oklahoma Screenwriter and Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo", October 4, 2012.

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