Featured Alumnus: Documentary Filmmaker Keenan Holmes

We are proud to highlight the achievements of recent public anthropology master’s student Keenan Holmes, who screened his first full-length documentary, Indigenous Eyes on DC, at Native American Lifelines in September.

Indigenous Eyes on DC explores ways in which Native people are perceived by non-Natives and strives to amplify the voices and work of Natives in the tri-state area. The film explores the questions:

  • What are Natives in the tri-state urban setting doing about the misrepresentation of their identity?
  • How are Indigenous individuals rebelling against the popular culture’s stereotypes of their image?

Keenan employed critical race theory in driving the emphasis of his work. “I was focusing on the intersections of race, power, and law, and how they all meet in clothing stores, music festivals, classrooms, in law proceedings or court, and in stadiums for sports,” he said.

Anthro2cBefore turning on his camera, Keenan spent a year learning, listening, and connecting with the people and communities that would become his interview subjects. He spoke with grassroots organizers, urban Natives, artists, a Chief of a Native Reservation, and dozens of other community members. He attended more than 20 Native events, including festivals, PowWows, church meetings, museum symposiums, and protests. He consulted existing documentaries including In Whose Honor? and Bones of Contention.

“The subjects in my film have completely different occupations, yet there is community growth and advocacy flowing through their work,” Keenan said.


Keenan’s Journey to the Public Anthropology Program

Keenan majored in art and archeology as an undergraduate, and spent time at Moundville in Alabama, which has 26 earthen mounds and was occupied by Mississippian Indians from around 1000-1450 AD.

“I knew I wanted to study Indigenous artifacts up until that point, but I soon realized I felt a stronger calling towards the contemporary Natives in this country,” Keenan said.

He read about Dan Sayers’s work at the Great Dismal Swamp, and admired how AU professors still have their boots on the ground—as archaeologists or working in marginalized communities.

Keenan found his opportunity to bring his interests together at AU.

“American’s Anthropology Department fuses the best aspects of archaeology, sociology, advocacy, activism, and film in one department. That was exactly what I was looking for,” he said.


Keenan’s AU Experience

While at AU, Keenan took a documentary filmmaking class with Nina Shapiro-Perl and Larry Kirkman. For the course, Keenan worked with other students to create a short documentary about soldiers who use yoga to heal from PTSD (which you can view here). This experience incited his interest in making his own film outside the classroom—and gave him the tools necessary to succeed.

His connections with AU faculty and students led Keenan to contacts that would support him outside the classroom, and those connections have allowed him to see the varied roads that public anthropologists can take in their careers.

“I know people who work in newspapers and study old photos and documents at museums, and one who works for National Geographic,” he said. “Some go on to teach, some do independent work in other countries, and some help out marginalized groups through UNICEF.”

Keenan made connections that enabled him to take his passion for anthropology and make a real impact in the lives of others.


What’s Next for Keenan?

Keenan has finished his public anthropology MA requirements and will walk at commencement this December. After graduation, he is interested in creating more documentaries, including a film focused on individuals in the DC area who are fed up with the “sneaker culture” and high prices.

He also intends to work with the Alabama Natural History Museum Summer Excavation Expeditions in May.


Interested in Seeing Keenan’s Films?

Soon, Keenan’s film will appear on YouTube under the name KeenAnthro (he uses this handle for Veoh, Twitter, and YouTube). You can also view his group documentary about a veteran who used Yoga Nidra to heal his anguish from multiple tours of war here.


Ready to make a difference? Learn more about the master’s in public anthropology at American University.

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