Travis, Nick and Cody have been friends almost all their lives, growing up on the Swinomish Reservation in northwest Washington. When they find themselves in trouble with drugs and alcohol, the teens are offered an opportunity to participate in Native Lens, Longhouse Media’s filmmaking program. Figuring it’s better than spending afternoons in drug court, they dream about making a film with car crashes and rap music. But they are asked to make a documentary about the impact of two oil refineries on their tribal community instead.
MARCH POINT filmmakers Tracy Rector and Annie Silverstein bring together filmmaking and alternative education through their collaboration with the three young Native Americans. The film assignment sends the boys down a path of historical investigation. Like many young people, Travis, Nick and Cody didn’t know much about their ancestors’ history. By interviewing tribal elders, they learn that most of their land was taken away by the federal government in the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, leaving the Swinomish with basic health care, some fishing rights and a small reservation. President Ulysses S. Grant took more land in 1870, a move the tribe considers illegal.
The boys learn that the people now known as the Swinomish flourished on the bounty of the coast of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. Clams, crabs and fish were plentiful, and as the tribal saying goes, “When the tide’s out, the table’s set.” But when in the 1950s, Shell Oil built two refineries on land once owned by the tribe, chemicals made their way into the water, tainting the seafood and shellfish that the Swinomish eat daily. And just as the toxins in the water seeped into the food, poverty, drugs and alcohol have seeped into the lives of the families who live there. Ambivalent environmental ambassadors at the onset of the filmmaking venture, the boys awaken to the destruction these refineries have wrought in their communities. Grappling with their assignment through humor, sarcasm and a candid self-knowledge, they begin to experience the need to understand and tell their own stories and to grasp the power of this process to change their lives and give back to their community. MARCH POINT follows the boys’ journey on their path from childhood to adulthood as they come to understand themselves, their tribe and the environmental threat to their people.
Filmmaker update: October, 2008:
The three boys have since had many changes in their lives since June 2008, including both struggles and successes. Currently they are all working towards completing their senior year of high school by January 2009 and both Nick and Cody are studying to take the SATs because they have decided to go to college. Nick is interested in attending a liberal arts program in New Mexico at the Institute of American Indian Arts and Cody is looking towards applying to film school.
Both Annie and Tracy are running an active program helping more youth use digital media to tell their stories. Since January 2005 they have worked with 950 students, including Nick, Travis and Cody, and look forward to the day when these students will become teachers in the Native Lens program. The next big project for the youth at Swinomish is to produce a monthly television show for the tribal television station and for a non-reservation cable station in Seattle called SCAN-TV.