Much of the impetus to make this documentary grew from the desire to be more useful. For an artist, usefulness has often meant being present in another's lifeworld and conveying that world to others with a consciousness not deceived by appearances. Usefulness is finding a way to reach out beyond what we think we know and to participate in this process fraught with complex and unconscious prejudices. The end result? A simple yet forceful nudging of another's path towards justice and reconciliation. A wonderful dividend to this sense of usefulness is how we fall away from ourselves when we cultivate a powerful connection to others.

At times, this connection to others takes the place of a connection to ourselves and, in this light, I can honestly say that this film began nearly fifty years ago in the wide open farmland vistas of the southern San Joaquin Valley, in California's Central Valley. On a verdant, clear spring day, I'd walked with my father through one of his almond orchards in riotous bloom, overwhelmed by this vision of an earth that seemed then to love me back. Even as a child I realized the power and fecundity of that moment: that we are what we behold -- that the landscape, any landscape, can enter and form us profoundly and that to make a life perhaps we can someday profoundly enter the landscape. This may be where I began this inquiry. I came to see how the landscape could facilitate and encourage how, and why, we choose to engage.

Many years later I inadvertently began searching for an environment that would encapsulate the sorrow that I'd been experiencing. In my earliest notes I traced yet another outline: This was to locate, perhaps in even greater isolation, a place, and perhaps even a community, that had also cultivated a close proximity to grief. I held in my mind this most curious and injured image of Shangri-La, that pass over the mountains to the highest, most noble form of suffering. Along the way, I found this place and in this place I found this movie. Within them both, I discovered that these lands and their ancient residents still resonated with deep loss, yet they also contained the vigor and joy of a community that knows its rightful place, and chooses to live in harmony within it.

As Freeman House so elegantly writes in Totem Salmon , “There can be no other way to learn from a place but from the place itself”. This mantra became the basis of the film -- that the shape and proportion and thematic 77-19-v direction of the film be guided by listening to this place and its inhabitants, and to mirror the aspiration I witnessed there: to “talk back”, to speak truth to power, and to reconcile the burdens of the past so that we may live in the present. The making of this documentary has led to realizations that could not have been reached in any other way, and validated for me that it isn't so much about what we do and how we learn, but what we can become by doing the work.

In Indian Country, there is this credo of “making things right”. As I've come to understand it, this tradition insists that some form of compensation be given if a person, or persons, (or culture) is harmed by the actions of another. To “make things right” means the damage has been corrected, it's settled, we can go on now. In this regard, I have always felt that the settlement and conquest of the West by Americans of European descent has been nothing less than ethnic cleansing, and that there can be no measured atonement for the immensity of this decimation. This, then, is my attempt to “make it right”. Your attempt, then, as the viewer, may be to “make things right” by simply bearing witness.

© 2008 Andrew Chambers