A Conversation with the Makers of
Older Than America
- Georgina Lightning: Writer, Director, actor
- Dan Harrison: Associate Producer, actor
- Paula Gould: Publicist
I sat down with Georgina, Dan, and Paula at the Hideout following the screening of their film Older Than America at the Paramount. The film, shot on the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa Reservation in Minnesota, portrays the story of children abused in government mandated Catholic boarding schools during the early 20th century and the resulting effects it had on the lives of those involved and the Native American community. Woven into this tragic story is the underlying tragedy of governmental neglect, social stereotype, personal struggle, traditional spirituality and the fight for recognition of the Native American people and their story. As a white male I carried my own stereotypes, ingrained by our society, into the meeting and felt a little uneasy at first. Within seconds, however, the candor, honesty, and ease with which they spoke of the project made the meeting at the Hideout seem like a casual gathering of friends.
Dan Harrison and I had a very poignant conversation about native American issues walking to our meeting. I open with a few of his comments to set a tone for this interview.
Dan:…we can help the next generation to live a little bit better and not focus on the racist part. Racism is still the issue today even amongst our own people.
AD: In what way?
Dan: Many think the battle is still with whites, and it is in some sense, because we have to speak and create movements for different issues, but overall its not, its with our own communities, its hard to heal over something like this. [One example of an attempt at understanding] Pat Roberts, a respected evangelist in the Christian community, did a story on Crow Creek Reservation and asked ‘Why?’, how could this still be going on? This is one of the original people who inhabited North America. How could you ask ‘Why?’ If you knew the true history as we do, how could you ask ‘Why?’ You would know why. So we need to push this movie and hopefully more people will see.
The coffee shop was packed, but we found a small table in the back and all sat down while Paula headed to the counter to get drinks.
AD: As you mentioned in the movie a lot of native American history is not in the standard school history textbooks.
Georgina: Even people in native American studies, anthropologists, have never studied this.
Dan: hey, that woman I was speaking with after the screening, she was an anthropologist, she had never heard this story.
AD: Tell me more about your Tribal Alliance project. This movie seems like a cornerstone to furthering the Tribal Alliance, and bring more native American actors, directors, and artists into the industry. Less than one percent of of the industry are native American and you are looking to expand this.
Georgina: There are thirteen key unions and among those there is not one native American that has union tags, they have not been able to work on an projects to qualify, its ridiculous, so when we go to crew native Americans there is no such thing. The nonprofit side of the Tribal Alliance, Native Media Network, is trying to open opportunities to native Americans to work on these projects showcasing talent in front of and behind the camera, helping people who are interest in getting involved but don’t know where to go. Many of the cast came to work on this film as first time movie actors through the program. One of the requirements to crew on our projects was that you have to take one of our natives under your wing and teach them your skill and they agreed, which was very cool, and they did it. However, if [a native American] is interested in making movies try to volunteer on local projects in your community, get involved , don’t wait for me to make a movie because I’m not always shooting. I encourage everybody to do it, we will try to help through the network.
AD: Do you have any new projects on the table, I know this one has just opened?
Georgina: This movie is launching our company, I need media that matters, its where I need to come from. I have a responsibility to the community . I didn’t get into this for fame and fortune, I got into it for story telling and for community. The media is the most powerful tool in the whole wide world. If we can break stereotypes and negative attitudes and perspectives, well then we need to utilize that. Yeah, I want to make more movies, you know, I’ve several scripts, two that I like. Im not sure which way I am going to go, it depends on what happens with this film, what kind of budget I can attract. I’ve got one project that will need a budget of 10 million…
AD: Thats not a very big budget these days..
Georgian: Its a baby budget!, but its bigger than our budget on Older Than America. Thats one of the things, when I was touring the tribes and they wanted to invest, I said, no, no,no, let me show you I can make a film on this budget that is quality and then I want the financing.
AD: Well, the subject matter is pretty heavy, I think this film will really open up some eyes.
Georgina: I hope so. Thats the mission. If we can create a dialogue across the country then we are successful as far as I’m concerned, you know, lets talk, whether its negative or positive. Hopefully in our Indian community we can promote healing and create back room dialogue and in the non native community we can educate. A lot of people who have seen the film have been blown away.
Paula, the movie publicist joins us with cups of chai and some black coffee for yours truly.
Paula: We’ve started the My Space, and Facebook groups, and we are going to do some more screenings in other cities.
AD: Are you hoping to get picked up for large scale distribution?
Paula: Yeah thats what we are shooting for.
Georgina: Yep, that would be lovely! Im not set that it has to be in theaters, a lot of people watch movies on television or DVDs, I just want it to reach the masses. But it does look a hell of a lot better on the big screen.
Paula: Yeah, it really does.
Dan: Definitely, the sound.
AD: Georgina, you directed and acted in this film, that must have been a real challenge, what was that like?
Georgina: The schedule was done pretty well, so I had block days and I had my storyboard. I did a lot of preproduction and I wrote the characters as well, so I knew the story inside out. I didn’t have to study every night. If I was directing someone else’s piece it wouldn’t have been as easy. I also had a cast, like Wes[Studi], Tantoo[Cardinal], and Adam[Beach], that I had worked with and knew on a social and personal level and could draw things from. It makes it much easier than directing a total stranger. With Steve Yoakim it was more challenging, but he is a classically trained actor so we could talk technique and substitution. But, I think that having a strong support system around me made it a lot easier. Everybody was patient, they always had playback ready for me. The team worked really well together.
AD: Everybody bought into the concept.
Georgina: If you’ve got a well oiled machine it just helps so much. [When getting a crew] even if a member of the crew had more credentials but did not fit into the family atmosphere I was trying to create, I would rather give someone with less experience, but more energy the opportunity to contribute to the film. And we achieved it! It was awesome! If it hadn’t been such a harmonious crew it would have been a lot more difficult. Shane Kelly [Director of Photography] was amazing, he is a local guy from Austin. He was great to work with. I was so grateful to have Shane.
AD: Dan, how do you feel about working on the film?
Dan: I really appreciated the opportunity to work on the film with Georgina and be a part of the project. Earlier we were talking about the Native Media Network and Tribal Alliance Productions trying to push for newcomers, like myself, that are willing to do what they can and contribute to the project.
AD: You were involved in a lot more than acting in the film…
Dan: Yeah, I dealt with the cultural aspects of the film. The Sun Dance scene in the beginning of the film and the singers at the end were our drum group, the ones singing in the Sun Dance were our ceremonial singers we sing with across the country, you know, they had a really big part in this. I wish they could be here and enjoy all of this. We all did it together.
AD: Have the members of the drum group seen the film?
Paula: They actually performed at one of the screenings for the San Manuel band of mission indians [tribal sponsor of the film] and I have to tell you it made a huge impact on the emotional tone for the movie. It was beautiful.
Dan: We set up in front and played as people came into the movie, it kind of set the tone. I hope we can do that again in the future.
Georgina: Yeah, that would be awesome.
Paula: They wanted to do it here, but there was a pow wow…
Georgina: The Long Beach Pow wow in California at which they were the host drum group, and it doesn’t end until 6 pm Sunday, then they were going get in their van and drive all the way here, but they would get here too late. The fact that they were willing to do that, all the way from California, says what they are about.
AD: That would have been really cool.
Georgina: Here is an example of what Dan’s, even though he wasn’t hired for this, value was and what his function became. Thats why we made him Associate Producer of the film. Once we started seeing how things were going and his support and being an advocate for our mission he became crucial. Having a native American talking on behalf of native American content as a producer we saw as invaluable. Just being able to call up and say I have this scene and the crew is flippin out, and we are running out of time, and Dan can you hook this up? And Dan grabs some guys and gets it done and now you see it and your like Wow, thats it! And that wouldn’t be possible without ‘speed-dial Dan.’
Dan laughs and shakes his head.
Georgina: And Christine Walker [Writer, Producer], she was so supportive. We went all the way to Canada to record Cree Indian children singing. What ever it took. Just having someone back you up like that is tremendous.
After the interview we parted company and headed to check out the SXSW music scene. Later on that night in front of Headhunters I ran into Dan and Georgina again. We all hugged and talked about how awesome SXSW is and headed off to hear a metal band at Red 7. Gotta love it. E
Links to more information about Older Than America and the Tribal Alliance: