Film Forward Goes to Michigan

Film Forward Manager Brittany Ballard blogs from the grounds of Film Forward Michigan, discussing screenings, presentations, and more.

Day 1

Today was a full day of travel for the Film Forward Michigan team. We traveled together by plane from Washington D.C. to Detroit, then took a three hour road trip in the cold rain (with Michael Jackson tunes!) due north into the heart of mid-Michigan Tribal Land. We arrived at Mount Pleasant where we were greeted by our partners Shannon Martin, Stefanie Griffin, and Jennifer Jones of The Ziibiwing Center and Saginaw Chippewa Tribe at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort. After our lovely welcome dinner on the property, Shannon's father, George Martin, ceremoniously bid us farewell by reminding us that we are all doing great work, and that he never thought he'd see the day where young Native and Indigenous people were traveling the world, telling their stories, and creating positive change in the world through the arts. He was very proud and encouraging, and his strikingly poignant and honest words created goosebumps (and perhaps even tears!) for all of us. After George's closing remarks, we headed to the casino's discoteca where everyone is welcome to dance and celebrate amidst the sounds and lights of the bustling casino! It was cultural engagement in its truest form and a great introduction to Michigan -- all-American on Native Land, a striking combination and confluence of peoples and cultures from all walks of life. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings, and what we bring to tomorrow!

Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

Day 2

Today was an amazing day for Film Forward in Michigan as we joined the Ziibiwing Center in organizing a full day for youth! The symposium included screenings of Boy and La Mission followed by filmmaker Q&As, as well as entertaining presentations from Taika Waititi and Peter Bratt. The day culminated in an invigorating and empowering PSA brainstorm led by the filmmakers and leaders of the Saginaw Chippewa community at large.

The presentations were a real treat. Taika shared a wonderfully imaginative presentation encouraging youth to embrace their creativity. He shared the idea that his life is creativity. He's applied his creativity to everything from comedy to illustrations to music to inventions to film. He encouraged us to stay energized by creating small, little creations all the time. He also encouraged us to fail. Fail Fail Fail! Embrace the moments when you fail, take those moments and learn from them. Make stuff. Try something new. See the world in a different way and keep yourself engaged in living.

Peter Bratt and youth brainstorm during PSA workshop at Ziibiwing Center. Photo by Brittany Ballard.

He recalled for us the lowest point in his life, when he played a stripper on a TV show. This was also the best thing that happened to him because it led to writing and directing his first short film, Two Cars, One Night, and eventually to a successful career as an independent filmmaker.

Taika ended on the idea that success is not defined by making money. Instead he defines success by the completion of a project or piece of art, or inspiring someone else to embrace their creativity. Success is being here, and that means being you and showing up for your own life and exploring your own creativity.

Peter's presentation was highly engaging and energizing. He shared his short script Good Boy with us, and screened two short films made by two groups through another youth workshop, where two teams took Peter's script and made their own films based on it in less than 24 hours! It was empowering to experience two short films made by young people who had no prior training or experience whatsoever in filmmaking. Peter is truly gifted in speaking with youth in their own voice -- meeting them where they are -- and speaking with them, not at them. His presentation proved to us that it is indeed possible to jump right into creating! It's also exciting to experience two completely different points of view based on the same blueprint, providing more proof that we all have our own stories to tell, in our own voices, no matter how limited we feel our resources or experience might be.

Both presentations led directly into the PSA workshops and brainstorming sessions, where we broke into two groups: one led by Taika, and one led by Peter. They were joined by Bird Runningwater and Owl Johnson of the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program, and also tribal elders and council members of the Saginaw Chippewa community. Guided by the filmmakers, the youth brainstormed ideas about how best to construct a PSA which the tribe will use as a tool to fight against issues facing the community at large, including teen suicide, alcoholism, and drunk driving. After the brainstorming sessions, which were highly energized and full of brilliant ideas, one brave team member from each group stood up to present their teams' favorite ideas and themes to the entire symposium.

The creation of this PSA is a community driven project, fully supported by Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Elders. The next steps are planning meetings based on the theme the youth finally decides on together in their next brainstorm session. We can't wait to see what they come up with and we're proud to be a part of their first dive into combining truth telling with filmed media to effect positive change in their community. Members of Sundance Institute's Native and Indigenous Program, Film Forward, and the Institute at large, are all honored and humbled to take part in the planting of the seeds with the youth here in Mt. Pleasant, and we look forward to advancing the dialogue together.

Peter's closing remarks struck quite a nerve in the room. He reminded the youth that all of us are always growing. We are always facing our demons and fears, and the only way to know you can't do something is to try it! He spoke of his first Q&A session after his screening of Follow Me Home at the Sundance Film Festival, where he was terrified to speak, but now speaks to hundreds of people every month with his film. He also spoke of his near dropout of college, where a professor told him he wasn't worthy of being part of the institution. Instead of believing this, he was encouraged to stay in school, focus on his writing skills, and from there, his career as a screenwriter came to be! You just never know where you will end up. He also reminded the group that both he and Taika are self-taught. He shared stories of conquering his fears and commended his 'young relatives' for the courage and commitment it took each and every one of them to take part in today's long day of activities and education. Instead of apologizing for expressing their voices, he encouraged the youth to build up confidence by taking risks, because a life without risk is not worth living -- just like love requires the risk of rejection, the journey of creativity requires the risk of failure. And we come full circle to Taika's message of encouraging failure. A perfect note to end on.

Lead photo: