SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – “The Cherokee Word for Water” has been voted the top American Indian film of the past 40 years in a survey conducted by the American Indian Film Institute. The movie will be honored with a special screening Nov. 9 at the 40th Annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. It will also be available all month on Comcast’s Xfinity on Demand platform as part of the cable company’s National Native American Heritage Month celebration.

“The Cherokee Word for Water” is a feature-length motion picture that tells the story of the work that led Wilma Mankiller to become the first modern woman chief of the Cherokee Nation.

The movie is based on the true story of the Bell Waterline Project and is set in the early 1980s in the homes of a rural Oklahoma Cherokee community where many houses lack running water and others are little more than shacks. After centuries of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity, the people of the rural Cherokee Nation communities no longer feel they have power or control over their lives.

Led by Wilma Mankiller (played by Kimberly Guerrero, A&E’s “Longmire”) and Cherokee organizer Charlie Soap (played by Mo Brings Plenty, Netflix’s “House of Cards”), using the traditional concept of gadugi – working together to solve a problem – they inspired the community to trust each other, and reawaken universal indigenous values. Together with a community of volunteers, they build nearly 20 miles of waterline to save their community. The successful completion of the waterline led to Wilma’s election as chief, Mankiller and Soap’s marriage, and sparked a movement of similar self-help projects across the Cherokee Nation and in Indian Country that continues to this day.

First-time filmmaker Soap directed and produced the film with Kristina Kiehl, women’s rights leader and friend of Wilma and Charlie, serving as producer. “The Cherokee Word for Water” was executive produced by Paul Heller (”My Left Foot”) and Laurene Powell; co-directed by Tim Kelly with cinematography by Lisa Leone; and a screenplay by Tim Kelly and Louise Rubacky.

Besides the AIFI honor, other awards received by “The Cherokee Word for Water” include Best Motion Picture from the Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum (2014) and Best Actress for Kimberly Guerrero from the Red Nations Film Festival (2013). The film was also named one of the 11 Essential Native American Films You Can Watch Online by Indian Country Today Media Network.

In celebration of the AIFI recognition, “The Cherokee Word for Water” is being made available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray at a discount for a limited time. Visit and enter AIFF40DVD at checkout to buy the DVD for $10 or enter AIFF40BLU to uy the Blu-ray for $15.

“The Cherokee Word for Water” was funded through the Wilma Mankiller Foundation to continue her legacy of social justice and community development in Indian Country. Support for the Wilma Mankiller Foundation is tax-deductible and profits from the film fund positive portrayals of American Indians and programs for Indian communities across the country.

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