Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Thick Dark Fog

Olga García Echeverría

Yesterday, I got a call from the Obama for America Campaign asking for a donation. Three things instantly came to mind: Guantanamo. Immigration. War. I didn’t have the time or the ganas to delve into my disappointment, so I simply said—I can’t afford it.

More often these days, I don’t believe in the business of politics or in big institutions. I believe in smaller things--my girlfriend’s organic herb garden, buying local, the necessity of art. It may sound corny, but I believe in poetry, in beautiful photographs, in music that heals and frees the self, in books and films that document what is usually undocumented. I believe in art that testifies, educates, inspires, shifts the paradigm, and helps fill some of the voids in this crazy, upside down world.

That’s why today I’m saying chale to the Obama Campaign and putting my money where my art is by donating to Randy Vasquez’ new film The Thick Dark Fog, a documentary about Walter Littlemoon, “an everday Lakota man from Wounded Knee,” who shares his story of being forced to attend an Indian boarding school. Like many other Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and placed into federal bordering schools during the 19th and 20th centuries, Littlemoon’s upbringing was marked by racism and abuse. Aside from the film being a story about struggle and trauma, The Thick Dark Fog is also a journey of individual, communal, and inter-generational healing. Check out the trailer:

Before The Thick Dark Fog, Vasquez gave us another historically poignant film about the life of a Salvadoran woman who was kidnapped and tortured by death squads for her political activities in El Salvador in the 1980’s. That film, Testimony: The Maria Guardado Story, won Best Documentary at the 2002 New York Latino Film Festival. Looking back at his past two films, Vasquez shares, “I see a lot of similarities between Maria Guardado and Walter Littlemoon. Their stories were generally unknown and both were fighting for a wider audience that would pay attention to them, an audience that had ignored their realities for whatever reasons.” Like The Maria Guardado Story, The Thick Dark Fog is a also a personal testimony that sheds light on a painful part of history. Vasquez states, “Walter Littlemoon, before we met, had gone through his baptism of fire, which was four years of reliving what had happened to him at the schools as part of publishing his memoir, They Called Me Uncivilized: A Memoir of An Everyday Lakota Man From Wounded Knee, which in itself was an attempt to reach out to his estranged children and explain some of his negative behaviors in raising them.” It is this baptism of fire, this courageous journey of digging beneath the surface and moving towards true healing that is at the heart of The Thick Dark Fog.

Although The Thick Dark Fog is nearing completion, Vasquez still needs an additional $15,000.00 for final editing, original music, color correction, sound mix and archival footage. As with many independent filmmakers today, Vasquez is raising funds through Kickstarter. He has until September 1st, 2011 to raise the needed $15,000.00 via individual contributors like you and me. If Vasquez and his film crew don’t reach that goal by the set date, whatever monies have been raised must be returned. This is our opportunity to help make the films that matter. Every dollar counts!

Here’s Randy Vasquez answering a few more questions about his recent film:

What led you to Walter Littlemoon and The Thick Dark Fog?
After I'd done Testimony: The Maria Guardado Story I was wondering what my next documentary would be. I worked kind of half-heartedly on a couple of things but wasn't fully inspired. Then in 2003, I started reading about the American Indian boarding schools and how kids were being forcibly turned away from their Native identities. At the same time I was interested in why there was this stereotype of the drunk Indian. Why was that? I was being told that it was simply a genetic matter but I didn't buy it. I learned about childhood trauma from the Indian boarding schools and it made sense to me that alcohol or even suicide would help relieve painful demons of the past. I kept hearing about how difficult it was for people to talk about the boarding school experience, from Alaska to North Carolina, and it was creating this void in family histories, a gap.

As part of my research I came across the book Trauma and Recovery by Harvard psychologist Judith Herman. I contacted her, told her what I was doing and she turned me on to her colleague Jayme Shorin who had ties to the Native community. I contacted Jayme and she said "You need to talk to Walter Littlemoon in Wounded Knee." I did.

What's the hardest part of being a filmmaker? For me, it's been asking the hard, personal and painful questions of my subjects during the interview. I know it's necessary for what I do but at the same time I don't like getting into people's personal business. In the end, I think their stories are too important not to be told, so I just do my best.

What's been the best part? After a screening of Testimony when people come up to me or Maria crying or in shock saying "I never knew this happened!" Then I know it was all worth it.

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