'Pearl' a hit on film festival circuit

"Pearl," the true story of a Chickasaw girl who became the youngest licensed pilot in the U.S. in 1928, has garnered accolades from audiences and film industry insiders.


Produced by the Chickasaw Nation, "Pearl" focuses on the tumultuous teen years of the late Pearl Carter Scott, who was befriended by famous aviator Wiley Post in the late 1920s. Most recently, "Pearl" was named a "Heartland Film Festival" official selection. The film is one of only13 feature films chosen for the distinction out of more than 600 submissions to Heartland, which is well known as one of the largest family oriented film festivals in the world.

"Pearl" also won a prestigious "Best of Show" award from "The Indie Fest," and swept the feature docudrama category at the "International Cherokee Film Festival."

Veteran film maker Rick Thompson said "the cinematography was breathtaking and the story was heartwarming."

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the story of the Chickasaw aviatrix was a natural for the tribe's first feature-length film project.

"Pearl is a legendary figure in the history of Oklahoma, the world of aviation and in the Chickasaw Nation," said Gov. Anoatubby. "She was a dynamic, determined and caring individual who exemplifies many of the finest qualities of Chickasaw people.

"She was a unique individual who had a profoundly positive impact on everyone she met. Bringing her life story to the screen will help preserve that impact for generations to come."

Pearl was the daughter of a successful businessman in Marlow, Oklahoma who witnessed the world around her change from prosperity in the late 1920s into the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

These social and economic changes serve as a backdrop for the passion, celebrity status, romance and internal conflict which marked Pearl's teen years.

Producer David Rennke said "It is very satisfying to see how people relate to the issues in this film. It contains a universal message about the importance of family and community and the importance of pursuing your dreams.

"Hopefully people will get an inkling of the spirit that pervades the Chickasaw Nation," said Rennke. "The motto of the tribe is unconquered and unconquerable and Pearl really personifies that. If nothing else, I would like them to take away the fact that Chickasaws are resilient and determined."

Director King Hollis, a 17-year veteran of the Dallas independent film scene, said that he hopes the film will help illuminate the rich history of the Chickasaw Nation.

Elijah De Jesus is "Pearl." This 14-year-old actress from Burbank, California has appeared in the primetime ABC comedy "Ugly Betty" and numerous other productions.

"It's been a real honor for me to play somebody who had such a remarkable life and did so many wonderful things at a young age, it was really exciting for me," she said.

Andrew Sensenig is George Carter, Pearl's blind businessman father. Sensenig has performed in dozens of film and television roles, including "Friday Night Lights" and "Prison Break."

Angela Gair plays Lucy, Pearl's strong Chickasaw mother. Gair played Senorita de la Venta in "The Other Side of Paradise" and a British Mum in "The Wayside." She said "it was magical" to watch the film and see the audience response.

Tom Huston, Director of the University of Oklahoma School of Drama, plays legendary aviator Wiley Post. He said that the film is important because of the accurate portrayal of a close-knit and successful Chickasaw family.

"We don't always see that the Native Americans are educated, that they are artistic, intellectual, hard working," said Huston. "That's unfortunate, but that's the way it is. I think the most important thing about the film is the portrayal of the Chickasaw people. It's not a film about Wiley. It's not a film about a 13-year-old girl. It's a film about the Chickasaw people."

A number of Chickasaw actors were cast during an open casting call in Ada, Oklahoma, home of the Chickasaw Nation headquarters. Paden Brown, a freshman at a local high school, plays Arnetta, Pearl's little sister. Pauline Brown, Chickasaw elder and cultural preservationist, plays Widow Harjo.

The movie was filmed on various locations in the state of Oklahoma, including the historic Harn Homestead, the El Reno Municipal Airport, the Jude and Jody Airport and several locations in and near Guthrie.

Harn Homestead in Oklahoma City serves as a primary location during the four-week shoot. Located in the shadow of the Oklahoma State Capitol, Harn Homestead is an expansive outdoor museum which includes a farm, one-room school house, and a Victorian home.

"Pearl" is the first film to qualify for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program.

The Chickasaw Nation produced the movie through a contract with Media 13, a production company based in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Film Commission provided assistance in various aspects of the film production.

"I can't think of a more worthy project for the state to get behind than "Pearl," a project honoring an Oklahoma pioneer like Pearl Carter," said Jill Simpson, Director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.

"We hope this is the beginning of a long and successful working relationship with the Chickasaw Nation," said Simpson.