Vision Maker Media’s First Indigenous Online Film Festival is showcasing three films focused on stories about Alaska Native and First Nations history. The films are part of the festival’s history and environment showcase and are available to watch for a limited time.
Director Christopher Waats’daa Auchter preserves a special moment in the Haida’s recent past with his short documentary “Now Is The Time.”
Auchter brings the viewer back to a day in 1969 when a totem pole was raised in the village of Old Masset on Haida Gwaii, just south of the Alaska panhandle. It was the first time a totem pole had been raised there in almost a century after a decades-long ban on First Nations art and culture.
Auchter weaves archival footage with interviews of community elders who were there that day and with the totem pole’s carvers, Robert and Reg Davidson. In one scene, Auchter uses animation to bring Haida art and language to life.
“Imagine your world without art,” Auchter says in the film. “Now imagine if you were the one to help bring it back.”
Auchter says he was inspired by Barbara Wilson, a community leader who helped bring the National Film Board of Canada to produce a film from the original footage in 1969.
But Wilson was pushed out of the post-production process and didn’t see the film for another 50 years. Auchter says when she finally did see it, she wasn’t happy with the end result.
So he took up the task of directing the new documentary.
“I didn’t know about this story going into it and going ‘oh wow, this happened.’ and then every time I dug into the story a little more, it just became clear that it was such a pivotal moment in our recent history,” Auchter said.
When the totem pole is finally raised, Haida people celebrate with dancing a potlatch. And Auchter says the totem is still there today.
“Yes it is. It’s in marvelous shape,” he said. “I think it puts other 50-year-olds to shame. It looks so good.”
“Now Is The Time” is one of three films focused in and around Alaska showcased in Vision Maker’s First Indigenous Online Film Festival this week.
Directed by Mark Blaine and produced by Torsten Kjellstrand, the films take place on Kodiak Island, where Sven Haakanson Jr. grew up.
“I have a responsibility to make sure that we are able to share this knowledge with communities by bringing it home and giving the knowledge back to our community so that they can have a living context.”
Haakanson is a curator at Burke Museum in Seattle. He’s interviewed in both films about his efforts to preserve the past on Kodiak Island.
In “Lived Knowledge,” Haakanson shares his perspective of building a traditional Alutiiq kayak.
“What do you learn from building a boat? Well you learn patience, you learn that your assumptions are probably wrong and you gain a deep respect for the people that were actually making these boats,” he said.
In “Stories in Stone” he shows what it takes to document the 7,500-year-old petroglyphs carved in the rocks near the village of Akhiok. The ancient carvings are being eroded because of rising sea levels and increasingly strong storms.
And while both documentaries are centered on the old, Haakanson says he also learned something new during one of his visits to Akhiok.
One day, while he was pecking on the rocks where the petroglyphs are carved, a seal popped out of the water.
“I was sitting there pecking and it’s like, ‘oh, my goodness, a seal!’ Like I didn’t think anything of it. And then all of a sudden, it popped up even closer is like “Oh!” And so I tested it out, you know, tested it out again, but at the end of the week and it was like, ‘Wow, that actually worked.’”