Kyle Bell's films are an expression of the indigenous experience in America

Kyle Bell, who was mentored by Spike Lee as part of Rolex's Mentors and the Protégés programme, is a self-taught video maker from Tulsa, Oklahoma

Kyle Bell with camera
(Image credit: Courtesy Rolex)

Kyle Bell was 28 when he first picked up a camera. Raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he is still based, Bell is part of the Thlopthlocco Creek community and a self taught filmmaker working in documentary and narrative film. He describes his career so far as having a snowball effect, from starting out by photographing and filming friends’ weddings, to trying his hand at shooting documentaries, and then entering them at film festivals: ‘it was just a lot of figuring out stuff on my own.’

Kyle Bell: from self-taught video maker to Spike Lee's Protégé

Kyle Bell Filmmaker with Spike Lee

(Image credit: Courtesy Rolex)

Bell was part of the most recent edition of the Rolex Mentors and Protégés programme, working closely with film director Spike Lee. When he received the invitation to participate in the Rolex Mentors and Protégés initiative, he had just started working on 'Spirits', his first narrative short. The film gathers some of the themes Bell has developed in his documentary work: a young indigenous man is preparing to leave home to play college football, and the 9-minute film follows his struggle in separating from his community, his grandmother in particular. 

'When I was approached by Rolex for this project, I automatically knew I wanted to work with a Native American filmmaker,' says Lee. 'It's about representation, to give people the opportunity to tell their own narrative.'

‘Knowing that I will always have support from someone like Spike Lee and Rolex with my filmmaking, the possibilities are endless,' says Bell.

Kyle Bell Filmmaker

(Image credit: Courtesy Rolex)

Among Bell's most poignant works is the documentary 'Defend the Sacred', for which he won the Golden Space Needle Audience Award at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival. The 17-minute documentary (available to watch below) chronicles the protests at Standing Rock, led by the Sioux Tribe against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the indigenous reservation's territory, causing a risk for their water supply. 

It was the first time in American history that tribes from different parts of the US have come together in solidarity, united to amplify their voice against one issue, with over 5000 indigenous people from 300 tribal nations gathered in one place. Bell's lens observes the gathering, giving voice to some of the tribes' spokespeople, documenting the collective experience of the people present at Standing Rock with a result that is a moving window into the events. 

Spirits by Kyle Bell

A still from Spirits

(Image credit: Courtesy Kyle Bell)

'A lot of my work involves my identity, my native or indigenous point of view,' says Bell. 'If you look back on history, what we've been through as indigenous people, it's a dark history, and it's not talked about in schools or in history books often. We weren't represented in a positive light in history and in films and so for me it's important to tell positive stories from our perspective, to leave a sense of hope.'

'We are still here as a people, even though history did try to exterminate us. If we look back, we went through genocide, assimilation, colonisation. And so I just want to leave something positive, and for me, film is the ultimate empathy driver.'

Watch: Defend the Sacred by Kyle Bell 

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.