Maliaq Kairaiuak is now entering her senior year at the University of New Mexico, having spent the last four years exploring the local film industry. In this time, she has worked a variety of roles on a handful of sets, even creating her own documentary last summer, titled “STEM’d From Our Ancestors,” which is currently making its way through the film festival circuit.
Despite her great successes in the New Mexico documentary scene, Kairaiuak only recently took up an interest in film. Having had a career running cannabis corporations in Alaska, leaping to a new state to pursue a new career has been hard but good work, according to Kairaiuak.
“I'm 30 and a single mom and I'm about to start my senior year in the FDMA program,” said Kairaiuak. “Film wasn't something that I always intended to be in. I was in a documentary called ‘Road Trip Nations, a Single Mom Story’ in 2019… I just really fell in love with… helping people share their stories.”
Even as her work in the New Mexico documentary scene increases, Kairaiuak still manages to balance it all with motherhood and work at Bosque Brewery.
Since entering the film industry, Kairaiuak has been a force of nature. In spring 2022, she earned an internship with New Mexico PBS, working as an associate producer. Tara Walch, a producer for “¡COLORES!” at NMPBS — an art, history and culture program — invited Kairaiuak to intern at the studio after meeting her at a Vision Maker Media conference in Santa Fe. Walch has been impressed by her unique determination and heart ever since.
“Maliaq is wonderful to work with,” Walch said. “She's really engaged in community … she gets right to the heart of a story, so talking to her about things is always really great.”
“¡COLORES!” is a program which delves into the culture of New Mexico, according to Walch — something Kairaiuak excels at.
“(Maliaq) gets so much insight into that artistic process and what people are curious about and fascinated by and, you know, problems that we are looking at as a society,'' said Walch. “She’s just really engaged artistically.”
With most of her work having been in documentary film, Kairaiuak is working on a narrative script to broaden her horizons. Even still, her work retains its signature cultural, familial backbone, in this case by way of incorporating the themes of a book written by her great grandfather, Arthur Wright, published in 1927 called “First Medicine Man: The Tale of Yobaghu-Talyonunh.”
“I am working on a script that like highlights missing and murdered Indigenous women and also interweaves some traditional storytelling,” said Kairaiuak. “I'm actually incorporating my great grandpa (who) published the first book of stories from my region and like involving animals and their significance. Using animals based off of what was in his book … That's really exciting for me, to be able to incorporate something, you know, from my family.”
This element of community in her work stems from her generally community-driven take on life. Kairaiuak recommends her community of New Mexico artists maintain an open vulnerability.
“Be kind to yourself and (do) not doubt … the power of sharing stories,” said Kairaiuak. “In film, or in any kind of art really, you're showing a sense of vulnerability, and people really like to connect to that.”
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Kairaiuak hopes to finish her narrative piece before her graduation in May 2023. Her work is available on PBS and YouTube.
Natalie Jude is the design director for the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @natalaroni.