Slamdance Co-Founder Brings Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation to University Theater

October 18 2017

By Molly Powers

The Department of Film and Media Arts is partnering with Slamdance co-founder, Peter Baxter, to bring a free screening of Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation to the Post Theatre at the U this October. Spirit Game, co-directed by Peter Spirer and Peter Baxter, is a feature length documentary, revolving around the sport of lacrosse and the culture that created it. Lacrosse originated with the Native American Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, who consider the game to be the lifeblood of their nation. The film follows the Iroquois National Team as they compete on an international stage at the 2014 field championship in Denver and in the 2015 World Lacrosse Indoor Championships, hosted for the first time on the Iroquois’ native land. Spirit Game is told from the perspective of Native Americans and discusses the spiritual nature of the game as well as the intense physicality that exists in Lacrosse, or “The Creator’s Game.” 

Oren Lyons, Executive Producer and Faithkeeper of the Native American Haudenosaunee, discusses the game’s significance to the Iroquois. “It’s part of our spiritual process… Each Haudenosaunee community has its own unique struggles, but what bonds us absolutely is lacrosse,” says Lyons. “When talking about our deep connection to this sport it’s important that we convey that message with love and reverence.”

While Spirit Game includes plenty of exciting, suspenseful game footage and effectively captures the intensity of the sport, it also delves deeply into the intergenerational challenges of racism and sovereignty that face the Iroquois and indigenous peoples today. Much of the film illuminates the Iroquois’ struggle for recognition as a sovereign nation, by the Federation of International Lacrosse and beyond. 

The film’s co-director is Peter Baxter, who is also the President and co-founder of Slamdance, the Park City based film festival run completely by filmmakers. Slamdance has earned a solid reputation for premiering films by first time writers and directors working within the creative confines of limited budgets. Festival discoveries have included directors Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), the Russo Brothers (Avengers), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses), Lynn Shelton (Outside In), and Lena Dunham (Girls). The Film & Media Arts Department has enjoyed a close relationship with Slamdance over the years. Faculty members like the Also Sisters, Sterling Van Wagenen, and Department Chair Kevin Hansen have been active participants and collaborators in the festival.  

When asked about his initial interest in creating Spirit Game, Baxter mentions the incredible skill shown by Iroquois lacrosse players. “I wanted to find out how a country with a population of 125,000 could compete for a world championship. We quickly saw the way the Iroquois play lacrosse is out of this world. So, who wouldn't want to follow that!” Baxter says as the story unfolded, the subject of identity stood out clearly. “The theme of identity remains strongest to me. It represents the resilience of the Iroquois people and their determination to support indigenous people as a whole.” Baxter will join the October 25th screening and special guests for a Q&A discussion afterward.

Spirit Game arrives on campus at a time when interest in lacrosse is on the rise. The University of Utah Men’s Lacrosse Team is upgrading from club sport to NCAA status in 2018, an unprecedented transition in the history of sports at the University of Utah. The team’s first home game will be held in early February 2018.

Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation will screen at Post Theatre on Campus on October 25th at 7pm. This is a free event, open to the public.