Sunday, November 16, 2008


Now THIS is really cool!

As the saying goes, check your local listings...

Sunday, November 16, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


"March Point"
10 p.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Saturday on KCTS-TV, as part of PBS' Independent Lens series.

Three Swinomish Indian Reservation high-schoolers turn the camera around

By Marc Ramirez

Seattle Times staff reporter

FOR THREE HIGH SCHOOL BOYS on the Swinomish Indian Reservation, the chance to make an environmental film at first seemed like a chance to get out of drug court and hang out with friends. The subjects of their film — the nearby Shell and Tesoro oil refineries on land that once belonged to their community — were just fixtures they'd grown up with.

But as Nick Clark, Cody Cayou and Travis Tom interviewed elders and learned about their history, they discovered that generations-old tribal traditions of crabbing and clam-digging had been jeopardized by years of chemical waste. More important, the process led them to discover themselves and the far-ranging power of their efforts.

"March Point," the result of their work, will air Tuesday on PBS. A project of Native Lens, which teaches digital media to youth in several local tribes, the film was named best documentary at Toronto's ImagineNative Film Festival.

Native Lens is among the programs offered by Seattle-based Longhouse Media, a nonprofit founded in 2005 to encourage youth to use film to address issues such as cultural identity, drug prevention and addiction.

"March Point" began as a short film about the effects of the refineries on the reservation, nestled between La Conner and Anacortes. But during a Swinomish community screening, producer Tracy Rector and director Annie Silverstein realized there was a better story to be told. The screening earned a standing ovation for the boys, who were mostly too shy to take the mic.

"We realized it was the boys' story," Silverstein says.

The final, feature-length product tells that story against a backdrop suggesting connections between the refinery issue and the challenges faced by reservation youth and the community as a whole.

The boys' questions created momentum, prompting community interest in an issue tribal officials had begun pursuing on their own. "It seems like every day, somebody's asking us about it," Nick, now 18, says in his squinty, molasses-paced manner.

In the film, he says: "If I didn't get involved with Native Lens, I don't know where I'd be. Probably out on the streets or locked up."

THE 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."

A tribal health-clinic doctor says she's torn about what to tell patients. Fish is what their elders ate; it's healthy, generally. "But now I'm sorta caught," she says. "... It really is hard as a provider to know what kind of advice to give."

A Shell Oil spokesman tells them the plant more than adheres to current safety and environmental regulations. Craig Bill of the state Office of Indian Affairs encourages them to pursue the political process. But the boys come to see a pattern of petrol facilities located on or near reservations, and they begin to question. At one point, Cody realizes the complexity of the situation, sensing the potential negatives of refineries and oil production but knowing he could never give up his own car.

Though repeated requests for an interview with Gov. Christine Gregoire go unheeded, their inquiries ultimately take them to Washington, D.C., where they interview U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. The trip feeds their maturity as young men as much as it does their growth as journalists, and they realize it's a life-changing occasion.

"All the way across the country," Nick says, as though he can't believe it.

"I've known these guys my whole life," adds Cody. "We're like brothers."

Before long, wrapped in their hastily purchased earmuffs on a cold February morning, they're on the National Mall, taking in the country's capital city and a world few of their peers get to experience. They're nervous as they roam the high-ceilinged government offices of the people they've come to see.

"There was a lot of rich people in there," Travis says as they reflect on a bench outside after one meeting, irritated and cold. "We were probably the only dark faces."

"We didn't fit in, because we didn't have suits on," Cody says.

Travis: "We felt out of the box."

Cody: "Yeah. Like we weren't supposed to be there or something."

But by the time they return home, they're comfortable being themselves in a place that's as far away from home as they could ever imagine, knowing they've achieved something even if they're not sure exactly what. "After we got back from D.C., a lot of things seemed the same," Nick says. "But we felt different."

Not long ago, the boys didn't like talking to anyone. Now they're doing interviews, pondering the environment and their place in it. Nick, who has his eye on the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., talks of making a film about life in high school, where cultural differences and social ills create challenges for Native youth inside and outside the classroom.

"People are seeing them as storytellers," Silverstein says. More significant, she says, is that not only are all three on track to graduate high school in January, but that Cody and Nick intend to go to college.

"They're still trying to figure out what kind of lives they want to lead, how to stay on a clean and sober path. What has really changed is how they see themselves."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?