Wilma Mankiller is not a name that’s known by many people. The new documentary, Mankiller, directed by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, and produced by The Walking Dead’s Gale Anne Hurd, aims to change all that. During its screening at this year’s Austin Film Festival, we go the chance to talk to both Mohl and Hurd about the rewarding challenge of bringing Mankiller’s story to audiences worldwide.
Originally funded by fans via Kickstarter, Hurd described the process as “a lot more challenging than I ever imagined. Obviously the result was positive, since we over-funded our goal, but six years in we’re still fulfilling all our pledges.”
“Most of the donors came from The Walking Dead fanbase,” added Mohl, who said that the cast and crew of AMC’s top-rated show donating prizes gave a huge push of support from its dedicated fanbase. “Someone asked what do zombies and a Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation have in common, and the answer is ‘a good story.'”
“I’ve always told stories about interesting women,” said Hurd. “Ordinary women who maybe doubted their ability to overcome extraordinary odds — but those have been fictional characters. In this case, Wilma was so engaging and inspiring because she was a woman who achieved so much, and she’s not the product of someone’s imagination. She actually lived a life that I found so inspiring and thought it was so important to share with audiences not only in the U.S. but around the world.”
A member of the Cherokee Nation herself, Mohl said that when Wilma Mankiller died in 2010, her family was making an independent film about a small portion of her life. “PBS had heard about that, and said that now that she’d passed on, it would be good if you and [Hurd] would consider doing a non-fiction story. They did fund the seed money and the first half, but after that it really was a labor of love.”
Having directed documentaries like True Whispers and Choctaw Code Talkers, which both had a military focus, Mohl said Mankiller presented a special kind of challenge. Instead of going to the national archives to find relevant footage, they had to sort through 700 individual pieces — from photographs to home movies — to put together material to make a finished product.
“It was really a diverse group of archival footage that we had to sort through, license [and] figure out how it fit from a medium standpoint. It was really challenging, and I now know how to budget for the future,” laughed Mohl.
Mankiller is currently making its rounds on the film festival circuit. To see if it’s playing near you, you can check out the website here. The film will also air on PBS in March as part of Women’s History Month. Check your local listings for details.