November 25, 2008

Infuriated at the Discovery Channel

A mass e-mailing that someone forwarded to me:To: Haudensaunee Nation Councils
Fr: Doug George-Kanentiio
Re: Discovery Channel’s “First Nations”
Date: November 17/08


I am sending this notice to inform the Haudenosaunee that the Discovery Channel is set to broadcast a program entitled “First Nations” which is supposed to tell the story of the founding of the Confederacy. This is being done over my vigorous protest as the film is inaccurate, violent and badly edited. It is an insult to our history and to all who see it. The credits may list my name as well as other Haudenosaunee but I have asked repeatedly to be removed from the credits as I have had no part in the final edit of this project.

In May of last year I was contacted by the film’s original producers Jonathan Zurer and Joe Becker to become involved in a unique series of stories entitled “First Nations.” This was supposed to be ten stories about Native history told “in our own words” beginning with the Confederacy and moving on to other Nations. In July of last year I was given the working script and made great changes to reflect our story as we know it. Filming with a mostly Haudenosaunee cast began in late August. I had informed the Mohawk Nation Council of this project but the leaders were doubtful this could be done correctly but I was confident the director and producer would follow my advice.

The film was to have four elements:

  • The conditions among the Iroquois prior to the arrival of the Peacemaker which would show conflict and war.

  • The four individuals who would play a key role in the formation of the Confederacy: Atotaho, Jikonsaseh, Aiionwatha and the Peacemaker.

  • The meeting of the Peacemaker with each one of the other three and how he convinced them to abandon war and violence.

  • The creation of the Confederacy, the Great Law and how it has effected all human beings.

  • We spent six weeks filming the above with over 55 hours of raw footage. Then the project was shelved for many months as the Discovery Channel board fired the Chief Executive Officer who had approved the film and hired a new one named David Zaslav. We had no contact with this person or the new editing team from a company called Half Yard until June of this year. Again, I expressed my clear intent as to what the film must include. A non-Native scriptwriter was hired unknown to myself and without any contact with any Haudenosaunee person. This person destroyed the story and in its place created a film which is full of distortions, lies and violence. None of what Half Yard wrote is true to my agreement with Zurer and Becker, both of whom resigned in protest from the film.

    I have been show two rough edits of “First Nations” and was infuriated at what they had done to our history. I arranged to have the film shown, in early August, to Oren Lyons and a group of filmmakers and media professionals at Syracuse University without preconditions. They agreed this was a bad film. Dr. Robert Venables also reviewed the film and told the producers he could not recommend that the episode be shown to anyone at anytime since it was a disaster in every way. They have ignored his counsel.

    I have written letters outlining my concerns but to no avail. The current producers have refused my request that they meet with the Haudenosaunee to discuss this. They will not make any changes and are determined to broadcast this mess across the nation this coming week on Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 9:00 pm est.

    I am including the telephone numbers of the Discovery Channel persons involved in this project. I have insisted that my name, as well as that of my wife Joanne Shenandoah, be removed from the credits just as has Mr. Becker and Mr. Zurer. I have extensiv e records showing my concerns about the film which I will send along to all councils if requested.

    Here are the numbers:

    John Ford, President, Discovery Channel

    Abby Greensfelder, President, Half Yard Productions
    (240) 223-3380

    I will send the number for David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery Channel. I extend my apologies to the Haudenosaunee and anyone who might see this travesty.


    Doug George-Kanentiio
    Comment:  Since I don't get cable, I didn't see this documentary. I hadn't even heard of it until I received this message. And since it's apparently aired already, there's not much anybody can do about it. About all we can do is remain vigilant for the next Native-themed movie or documentary.

    For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.


    Anonymous said...

    Welcome to the world of mass media. I really don't know why Natives hardly ever go with one of their own independent Native film makers, either from their own tribe or another. They always seems to let non-Natives make these films. Sometimes I wonder if they think a non-Native film maker is better than a Native film maker when it comes to telling our own stories. Who better to tell our own stories then ourselves? Right? I hope all Natives that hear about this situation take this as a lesson learned and utilize their own instead, but I'm sure most won't and will continue to do more stupid-ass things like this in the future.

    Rob said...

    In this case, non-Natives initiated and controlled the project. The choice was to cooperate with them and try to shape the final product, or not cooperate and have no say in it.

    Hiring Native filmmakers wasn't a choice since it wasn't the Natives' decision. About all they could do was refuse to help unless the producers hired Natives and hope that would stymie the project.

    FaceyFacem said...

    Thank you for including this message revealing the true culprits. I am Joe Becker's nephew and was really inspired by his vision of the project which was centered on deference to the Native people telling their own stories. It's a shame the Discovery Channel couldn't complete the task with the encouraging potential and began with.