The Making Of
Producer Tracy Rector and Director Annie Silverstein talk about the misrepresentation of Native people in popular media, being surprised by their co-filmmakers’ perceptions and why the boys were wearing zebra, tiger and leopard robes.
What led you to make MARCH POINT?
The first time we met with Cody, Nick and Travis about working on a documentary was on a cold October day in 2005. We were crammed inside a small office in the social services building and the boys, 14 and 15 at the time, were bundled up in jackets and beanies, spinning in their chairs but giving serious thought to the proposition. “It has to be about the environment,” we told them—a hard sell to teenage boys. We had just received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency which would help us continue our youth media programming on the Swinomish Reservation, contingent upon the fact that we create a piece that related culture to an environmental issue. We were worried this would deter their participation, having heard them express interest in making an action/gangster movie. But to our surprise it didn’t take long. They looked at each other to confirm, “Sure, we will do it.”
We decided to explore the impact of the two oil refineries that sit on March Point. It felt important to raise consciousness about the environmental impact of the refineries and how they have affected tribal health and culture over the last 60 years. We were also interested in exploring the land ownership dispute and the tribe’s claim that the oil refineries are in fact on Swinomish land.
The more we filmed the more invested they became in the project, and it became increasingly apparent that the very process that Nick, Cody, and Travis were going through to make the film, was an essential part of the story itself. This resulted in a film that weaves the boys' personal stories together with the documentary they are making, resulting in a parallel awakening, as the boys uncover the detrimental impacts the refineries have had on the health of their tribe and the contested land issue, they begin to see themselves for the first time as storytellers and leaders in their community. What happened exceeded anything we could have imagined.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
Many of the subjects in the film were from the Swinomish community, so the boys already had ties to them and already had their trust. For people outside of the community, in certain circumstances it helped that the boys were young because people assumed that they didn’t know much and they didn’t feel threatened about giving interviews.
What aspects of Native American culture and reservation life were most important for you to communicate through your film?
The Swinomish way of life has sustained itself by living off of the land and water and all of the surrounding natural resources for thousands of years. It is a very strong community, which has suffered greatly as a result of environmental racism from big industries and popular ignorance about the complexities of the Native relationship to the natural world. This is a story that happens all over Native America and it is often the indigenous people living on reservations who have to deal with the worst effects and/or health hazards as result of big industry. Also, we hope that the healthy vitality of Coast Salish culture is apparent. For hundreds of years the First People endured trauma, genocide, removal and oppression, yet so many beautiful and unique aspects of the culture has survived.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
It is a very powerful scene when the boys are talking on the bench and grappling with how they fit in Washington, DC. They discuss how they experience their voice being heard or not, what it means to be people of color and also class issues. They struggle to understand the experience, yet they offer honest critique about the frustrations while trying to make a difference and bring about change in the realm of politics and government. This is a particularly moving scene because by that point in the film it is clear that they have come to see themselves as leaders—yet they are faced with the reality of how difficult it can be to bring about real change.
How did you resolve the technical challenges you faced while shooting?
Intergenerational filmmaking is technically tricky by nature. We wanted the boys to film as much as possible. In the end, they shot about 50 percent of the film. So we were teaching filmmaking and shooting our film at the same time. We realized though, that the resulting technical challenges, ultimately became part of the story, and give the film an authentic quality. We believe audiences understand that Cody, Nick and Travis are doing their best with what they have learned to capture their experiences. And it is clear that the boys are improving at the filmmaking process as time goes on.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
We have been honored to show MARCH POINT across the country in a number of film festivals and community gatherings. The response has been incredible, especially when the boys are able to travel with us to speak about their involvement with the film. It seems to move people on a number of levels to experience this story and relate it to their own lives. There are a number of great conversations and discussions about the lives of the boys, the environment and health of the tribe, the culture and of course the process of filmmaking within our program and during the creation of MARCH POINT.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Native people are underrepresented and often misrepresented in popular media. This can perpetuate hatred, stereotypes, violence and feelings of low self-esteem for our people. It is essential that we continue to do this work to create positive images of our people for others to see and learn from. We are fortunate to be in such a position of leadership and hope to nurture many young indigenous filmmakers to see their own potential.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
We were excited about establishing an intergenerational collaborative approach to filmmaking that could propel stories from indigenous and youth perspectives to national audiences. The issues we address through MARCH POINT are relevant to Native and non-Native communities on a national level. Many tribes throughout the country are facing similar struggles with big industries on reservations, and pollution and environmental degradation impact everyone everywhere. In addition, given the lack of Native films from a youth perspective, it was important that we make this film as accessible as possible, so national audiences would have the opportunity to experience and witness the journey of Nick, Travis and Cody, as they learn about themselves, tribal history, social activism and environmental stewardship.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A. Are there any commonly asked questions from the audience?
Ha-ha. Well we find it really amusing that the audience often questions why the boys are wearing animal print robes in the Washington, DC sequence. For the trip we were able to get an amazing room rate at this new hotel. The boys had never experienced a hotel that indulgent before. So, it was so funny to watch the guys wear those zebra, tiger and leopard robes around the hotel and the room, just really enjoying the experience of being in a fancy place and feeling good. That’s why they are studying in those robes—because they wouldn’t take them off.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Well, people do not realize that we are also running a growing nonprofit organization and working with youth across Washington State. We serve about 300 students per year and travel every day to reservation sites that are hours away. With this in mind—and having a major film project too—we essentially did not have a personal life for two years and it was hard to get most anything done on time!
What impact do you hope this film will have?
We of course hope that this film will give the audience a window into the unique beauty of the Coast Salish people and their way of life. Also, it is our desire that March Point will bring awareness to the issues of environmental racism and the resulting disparity of big corporations on tribal lands and near people of color. Finally, we hope that governmental officials and local citizens will be inspired to take action in the clean up of pollution from Puget Sound so the First People of the region can continue subsistence practices which nurture their rich cultural heritage and support good health there by maintaining the cyclical nature of the region.
What are your three favorite films?
Tracy: The Gleaners, Annie Hall and The Princess Bride
Annie: The Princess Bride, City of God, Life is Beautiful
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Annie: Listen to what's around you.
Tracy: Follow what inspires you and to remember you are part of a team.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Whatever food is for free!!!
Get the DVD >>