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Cara Romero: Following the Light on PBS

Nov 16, 2023

Cara Romero: Following the Light

Cara Romero: Following the Light, produced by Santa Fe-based video production company Mountain Mover Media in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), is now available on PBS. The half-hour documentary takes an intimate look at the work of contemporary fine art photographer and Chemehuevi citizen Cara Romero. Her fine art photography captures Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural memory, collective history, and lived experiences from a Native American female perspective. Cara Romero: Following the Light shows behind-the-scenes footage of Romero’s shoots, explores the California and Chemehuevi history that informs her work, and includes interviews with Cara and those closest to her. In the film, Romero says, “I really want my photographs for my community to have this feeling of celebration of who we are, of survivance, of the things that were kept safe for our generation.”

Cara Romero: Following the Light recently premiered on November 1 on PBS in Southern California, broadcasted on Eastern New Mexico’s KENW on November 4, and is scheduled for broadcasts across the United States during November, including in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Chicago, Washington DC, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Boise, Indianapolis, and more. Cara Romero: Following the Light is also available nationwide for streaming on the PBS Video App for the next three years.

Cara Romero: Following the Light joins the PBS roster on the heels of nearly 40 film fest and special screenings since October 22. Some of the awards the film has received include “Best Short Documentary” at the Red Nation International Film Festival, “Best Short Documentary” at the Catalina Film Festival, “Best New Mexico Film” at the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience, and “Amy Hood Visionary Award” at the Roxbury International Film Festival.

“I was originally asked to make a five-to-eight-minute video on Cara, but immediately saw the potential to make a half-hour long program and thought PBS was the best platform to aim for,” shares director, producer, filmmaker, and editor Kaela Waldstein of Mountain Mover Media. “Thinking about how the goal of these videos is to elevate Indigenous artists, their voices, and their stories, getting this film seen by as many people as possible seemed like the best measure of success. I’m grateful to IAIA for giving me so much creative freedom to let this project unfold how it wanted to unfold. They also supported the idea of doing a film festival run, which allowed for this project to reach its full potential. Because, guess what happened? When a producer at PBS SoCal—one of the country’s largest regional PBS stations and a connector to the national network of stations—saw the film in the schedule of the Newport Beach Film Festival, they contacted me and asked if I was interested in distribution.”

“Photography is about light. The ability to see light, and following the light. We exist in the mythological, but we exist in the hardcore present, and she gets all of that in just one photograph.”

IAIA Alum Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation) ’68 on Romero’s photography

Cara Romero, who is also a graduate of the University of Houston and Oklahoma State University, graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2003 with an Associate of Arts in fine art photography. Links to the IAIA community abound in the final film and its creation. IAIA Museum Studies Faculty Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika Nation) served as one of the executive producers on the film, along with Dr. Lara Evans (Cherokee Nation). IAIA community members included among the interviewees are Cara’s husband and IAIA Alum Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo) ’86, IAIA Adjunct Professor Leah Mata Fragua (Northern Chumash), IAIA Alum Robert Gress (Apsáalooke) ’88, IAIA Alum Cannupa Hanska Luger (Manda, Hidatsa, and Arikara) ’11, and IAIA Alum Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation) ’68. “Photography is about light. The ability to see light, and following the light,” Harjo says in the film. “We exist in the mythological, but we exist in the hardcore present, and she gets all of that in just one photograph.” More individuals with ties to IAIA appear in the behind-the-scenes captures of Romero’s process. IAIA Alum Golga Oscar (Yup’ik) ’20 is photographed for Romero’s Golga photograph, and the film culminates in Romero’s creation of the Making History photograph, commissioned by IAIA for the 50th anniversary of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and the 60th anniversary of IAIA.

Initially, the film’s intended audience was IAIA students. Romero, whose life and work flow with an evident love for family and community, offers specific encouragement to other women pursuing art: “An important part about being a female artist is learning to take care of yourself, invest in yourself. Society dictates you’re supposed to be a certain way, and you’re to take care of your children, and we tend to be very selfless. You have to carve out time to make your art, be strong and assertive about investing in your art. It’s not frivolous at all; it’s like a radical act of self-care.”

Watch the preview and the full film on PBS.

For a complete list of screenings and broadcasts, awards, synopsis, and a link to the trailer, visit the film website: