When asked, most filmmakers will agree that maintaining creative control of a production is one of the most highly prized opportunities in any project. However, directors must often sacrifice that sovereignty when seeking financial backing. Investors frequently assume the role of producers, and leave the visionary with little power over their own original creation. Carlisle Antonio has successfully evaded that pitfall by producing every project he’s directed in his illustrious career.
Carlisle is an innovative artist as well as an adept businessman, and as the CEO of the Red Man Films production company he has proven his aptitude for both time and time again. The son of a “Navy man,” Carlisle was raised in Europe but spent much of his life in far-flung locales around the globe. That worldly experience, combined with his strong ties to his Native American heritage, sparked Antonio’s imagination and passion for storytelling and helped inspire some of his most acclaimed productions.
“I have a diverse background; my roots reside within an indigenous form of storytelling, and I feel this lends itself to a different style of creativity,” Carlisle said of his diverse influences, which include “European cinema to indigenous American, Latin and Brazilian art forms.”
He is particularly renowned for his work producing and directing a wide array of documentaries, which range from awe-inspiring and majestic to gripping and emotional in subject. Carlisle wrote, directed and produced the 2008 feature documentary “Coloring the Media” in partnership with the BBC. The documentary details the film industry’s long, shameful history of using dehumanizing stereotypes when portraying Native Americans.
“Coloring the Media” won a Millennium Award and was a hit success with viewers during its worldwide festival tour. It featured Sundance Film Festival founder, actor and Academy Award-winning director Robert Redford (“Ordinary People,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), as well as the late John Trudell, a legendary artist, poet and prominent Native American activist. The film was bold and concise in its message, and as with many of Antonio’s productions, had a lasting impact on audiences and critics.
Carlisle’s work often centers on Native American culture and heritage, as well as on the lands that indigenous peoples called home for millennia. While working with the Alaskan National Park Service, he produced, filmed and directed three films aimed at promoting tourism by showcasing the raw beauty of the vast expanse of forest, mountain and glacier-covered Alaskan landscape. The films, “Walking the Wild,” “Bear Country” and “Under the Borealis,” offer viewers an informative peek into the gorgeous Alaskan parks. With stunning cinematography, the films teach potential visitors about native plants and wildlife, as well as ways to ensure safe visits to the remote and isolated wilderness.
As a filmmaker, Carlisle knows the value of his medium as a way to inform audiences and advocate for change. He is currently using this platform to give a voice to Native American victims of suicide with his upcoming film “Walking the Line.” Despite having the highest suicide rate of any group in the Western Hemisphere, Native American tribes are often unwilling to discuss the epidemic. Carlisle is determined to expose this tragic cycle, and plans to begin shooting “Walking the Line” later this year.
“I feel that by giving a voice to the dead, they may just be able to help the living, and perhaps help the grieving families and loved ones left behind,” Carlisle said, describing his passion for the project. “It could also help another young person living on the edge, or someone contemplating suicide as the only alternative. Film in any medium has the power to change and affect people’s lives.”
Filmmakers are perhaps the most powerful agents of social reform. By putting a spotlight on issues that are too often underreported, they can enlighten audiences and inspire action. As the CEO of his own production company, Carlisle has the rare and enviable creative advantage of being the writer, director and producer of his own projects. That level of control is critical when the subject matter deals with issues as monumentally important as those in Carlisle’s work. Anyone who has seen one of his productions can attest to the fact that Carlisle’s gift for filmmaking can open eyes, move hearts and change the world; and as he embarks on several upcoming projects, it’s a guarantee that he will he continue to do just that.