Private Project

Open Season

Mika Jones, a young Native American ribbon dancer, lives a relatively quiet life with her grandmother on the vast Thornfield reservation. While walking alone in a remote forest on the reservation, she’s approached by a white photographer claiming to be lost. After being brutally raped by him, Mika learns that a legislative loophole grants her non-Native assailant immunity from prosecution by tribal courts. Abandoned by the law and dehumanized by her attacker, she goes back into the lion’s den for justice. Inspired by real events.

  • Jenna Cavelle
    Blood Heist, The Mad Whale, Miss Dixie High
  • Guillermo Ortiz Pichardo
    The Wasteland, The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer
  • Chateau
  • Sarah Gross
  • Sara Anne
    Key Cast
  • Matt Beidel
    Key Cast
    Mad Men, Phoenix Forgotten
  • Sheri Foster
    Key Cast
    The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Project Type:
    Short, Student
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 42 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Jenna Cavelle

Jenna Cavelle is a writer, director, and producer based in Los Angeles, California. She is the founder and executive director of Her Pictures, a boutique production house that specializes in socially transformative content created by underrepresented filmmakers.

In August 2016 Cavelle completed principal photography on her feature film directorial debut, Blood Heist, starring and produced by Oscar-nominated actor James Franco and featuring Emmy-nominated actor James McMeniman of Orange is the New Black. Blood Heist is a grindhouse/action film about a band of Latin sisters and their brother who attempt a violent robbery in order to escape their mundane and impovershed lives and head to Hollywood to make their first Indie film. Blood Heist completed post-production in April 2017 and just entered the festival circuit.

Cavelle served as a co-director on the upcoming feature film The Mad Whale starring James Franco, Dominic Rains, Camilla Belle, and Summer Phoenix. In The Mad Whale, inmates at a 19th century women's mental asylum stage a theatrical production of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The Mad Whale completed post-production in March 2017.

Cavelle is producing the feature film, The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer, for Elysium Bandini Studios. A female adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer, reimagines Tom as a female and Huck Finn as a Native American who is the son of Indian Joe. The film aims to subvert racial and gender stereotypes and completed principal photography in April of 2017. It is currently in post-production.

She is currently in development on two feature screenplays based on the completed proof of concept short films Open Season and Miss Dixie High. She directed both films. Open Season was her USC MFA thesis film about a Native American girl who is brutally raped on her reservation and takes extreme measures when the law doesn't protect her. It just entered the festival circuit.

Cavelle is an Annenberg Fellow and a Stronach Baccalaureate Prize Recipient for her documentary film and community outreach work with the Paiute tribe of the Owens Valley. Since 2012, she has lived part time on the Bishop Paiute reservation, conducting and publishing extensive research on the tribe’s ancient irrigation systems and water history. Her award-winning documentary film Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute is the culmination of this research and is currently screening at festivals and in theaters throughout the United States.

Cavelle graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Political Ecology from the University of California, Berkeley. She has an MFA in Film & Television Production from USC's School of Cinematic Arts (May 2017), and currently heads research and development at USC's Media Institute for Social Change. She speaks Indonesian and served as a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Fellow at Malang State University in East Java Indonesia.

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Director Statement

As both an ally of the Northern Paiute tribe who lived and worked on their reservation for five years, and as a sexual assault survivor, Open Season is a truly personal story for me. When my writer and I first learned of the legal loophole Open Season is based on, we were horrified by how true and real this actually is. Over eighty percent of sexual violence against Native women is committed by white men, who do so with virtual criminal impunity. Furthermore, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than women of other races and that one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes.

These statistics are the direct result of the 1978 US Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish which ruled that no tribal government has criminal jurisdiction over non-Native people. Given that in almost all cases, the federal and state government refuses to prosecute on behalf of Native victims, this loophole has created a hunting ground on reservations - an “open season”. In our research, we even found forums titled “How to rape a woman and get away with it” on which reservations were listed as the best place to hit.

It’s quite difficult to shake this social horror once you learn about it and so as an activist filmmaker, I set out to make my MFA thesis film at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts about this very topic with the goal of affecting change. My writer and I collaborated with experts in the field, professors and advocates working on reservation grounds, along with Native American rape survivors to settle on the final shooting script. Additionally, we brought in two female Native American producers who were also film students to help us build our fictional tribe and reservation with an authentic eye and voice.

The development process took over six months and continued well after our project was greenlit through a highly competitive process that results in USC fully funding six thesis films per year. With a liquid budget of $12k and a subsidized budget of another $15-20k in labor and equipment, we were poised to tell a provocative film with high production value that could compete with professionally made films.

A filmmaker dedicated to using film as a tool for social change and a lover of thriller, I wanted Open Season to be a socially conscious thriller. By borrowing from classic thriller and horror tropes such as the rape revenge and combining that with socially forward themes of female empowerment, I landed on a tone that feels transformative but also thrilling and entertaining. I also wanted Open Season to be corrective in that while it highlights America’s racial demons, it does so in a way that doesn't represent Native Americans in the typical way “poverty porn” often does. Rather, I depict a middle-class household like many of those I encountered while living with the Paiute, that is culturally intact, located on a reservation that is easy to access by outsiders, and rich in environmental health.

So often poverty porn depicts Native communities as marginalized and impoverished to the point that one would just expect crime to happen there all the time. But not all reservations are like this. I wanted to subvert the stereotypical image of a reservation community while also showing that even on a healthy reservation, there is this ever-lingering threat because racism is so institutionalized in the very laws surrounding sovereignty in Indian Country. Moreover, I wanted to tell the story of a girl who takes this tragic thing that happens to her and finds a way, to use her mind and her body (on her terms) to get justice rather than exact revenge. To do that, was liberating for me personally given my own history of feeling so much powerlessness as a sexual assault survivor.

During my time as a graduate student at USC’s film school, I led the research and development department at USC’s Media Institute for Social Change (MISC). While at MISC I secured a grant to co-create an impact model (Her Impact Tool, or HIT) in partnership with MISC that measures the behavioral, attitudinal, and informational change socially conscious filmmakers have on their audiences. As a starting point, we used my previous film, Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute, to design the model.

My plan is to apply this completed HIT model to Open Season. The model is designed to begin where all great films do, in the festival circuit. So with this, I thank you for taking the time to read why I believe you should program my film. I hope you enjoy the film as much as my team and I did making it.