November 16, 2008

The making of March Point

Three Swinomish Indian Reservation high-schoolers turn the camera aroundTHE THREE BOYS, friends since childhood, were on shaky foundations when Native Lens came to them in September 2005, their outlook colored by deaths in their families and discouraging dropout rates among Native American kids at the high school they attend, La Conner High.

They'd found trouble in a place where, in their words, there was "nothing to do." Ennui bred smoking, and smoking turned to drinking. "After drinking," Cody says in the film, "that's where everything gets all messed up."

They moved on to drugs, but when the Native Lens opportunity arose, they made a deal with their drug counselor and arranged to get school credit. They'd hoped to make gangster movies and rap videos, but a chance was a chance: Soon they were in Native Lens' Swinomish offices, where a poster advertises "Smoke Signals," the 1998 movie based on the work of Native writer Sherman Alexie.

"All the kids we work with can recite it by heart," Silverstein says. "That's still the movie."

The boys vaguely understood that the Pacific waters bordering their lands had been a longtime source of clams, crab and fish. ("When the tide is out, the table's set," the saying used to go.) But they knew little or nothing about making a movie. "They were learning filmmaking as we were filmmaking," Silverstein says. "But that's what makes it so authentic."

"March Point," then, is built on imperfections, showing the boys' struggles as they learn filming and interviewing techniques, an often difficult, frustrating and time-consuming process. They grumble as equipment sneaks into view during a shoot and stumble through interrogations. "Ask me again, Nick," one interviewee says after one shaky outing.

But it was also empowering and eye-opening. They talk to the tribal chairman and general manager, learning how President Ulysses S. Grant ceded March Point away from the tribe—a move the tribe might contest in court—and how surrounding waters were tainted with chemical runoff from the refineries that eventually rose there. They talk to concerned local fishermen and residents. "When you have biologists telling you there's carcinogens in your fish," says tribal member Tony Cladoosby, "... it's scary."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Swinomish Film on Refineries' Impact.

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