Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Filmmaker Q&A: Nancy Iverson, "From the Badlands to Alcatraz"

What is the focus of “From the Badlands to Alcatraz”?
“From the Badlands to Alcatraz” weaves the past and present of both Alcatraz and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation into a vivid depiction of the awe-inspiring journey five Lakota youth—Alkapoane (ironically, pronounced Al Capone) White Calf, Lisa and Kelly Waters, and Arlo and Philip Iron Cloud—navigate as they arrive in San Francisco from South Dakota and prepare for the extreme challenge of swimming from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore in September 2005. It follows the group’s first plunge into the San Francisco bay through their personal and collective challenges, disappointments and triumphs as they strive to conquer both the Alcatraz swim and the dispiritedness connected to conditions on Pine Ridge.

What was your inspiration for creating the film?
I became inspired in 'steps' along the way. First, I wanted to have a film record that the participants could see to really relive and acknowledge their incredible accomplishment. As the filmmaking progressed, the inspiration of the story itself kept me going. Words alone only capture a part of the sights, sounds and the 'coming to life' that happens so beautifully in a film.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film?
I've never made a film before, and by starting this one, knowing almost nothing about filmmaking, I put myself on one of the steepest learning curves of my life. I learned that making a film requires much more than just the desire to share a beautiful story.

I started this project and kept it going for the first three and a half years using only my personal funds; working with extremely limited resources (including often needing to serve as producer, director, and my own support staff!) was incredibly challenging.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers?
I want viewers of "From the Badlands to Alcatraz" to be awestruck both with the extraordinary beauty of the San Francisco Bay and the incredible heroism of each Lakota participant.

I also want to share the vision of the impossible becoming possible. Whether the focus is on something as vast as making inroads into the bleak conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation or as individual as encouraging someone to do the Alcatraz crossing, change can happen, one person at a time, enhanced by support and community building.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film?
As I reviewed sequences of this film, I got to relive moments of humor and triumph over and over. Even though I've seen some footage hundreds of times now, I still laugh, cry or get shivers up and down by spine. It's also been wonderful to see the impact the film-in-progress has had on the participants and their families and the way they've greeted it with such enthusiasm.

What is your inspiration?
Our wonderful San Francisco Bay is a huge inspiration for me. I swim almost every morning in the Bay as part of the South End Rowing Club, often with a group called the 'Sunrisers.' To live in a major world city and be totally immersed in fantastic natural beauty every morning is an amazing gift.

The sense of community and support, both through the members of the South End Rowing Club and of the Dolphin Club, has helped develop and sustain the PATHSTAR Alcatraz swim program. The enthusiasm of everyone who has helped with the program and the making of the film has kept the momentum going. I've experienced many times in this project that when people give of themselves so generously the energy takes on a life of its own.

Imagining someone from Pine Ridge participating in an Alcatraz swim inspired me to start the PATHSTAR program, and picturing the Pine Ridge swimmers in the theater at the end of 'their' film in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival is the dream that kept me going making this film.

Each of the Lakota participants were awesome. Working with them and getting to witness their struggles and successes has been an enormous blessing.

What was the most memorable moment in creating the film?
Possibly one of the most profound times I remember in making this film was in South Dakota. Richard Iron Cloud, his son, Arlo, and I were watching some of the rough footage we had from the San Francisco 2005 filming which included an interview Arlo had done; in it he talked about what an inspiration his father has been to him. The next afternoon Richard took us out to a spot in the Badlands for filming and shared generously about his personal experience and Lakota values and spirituality.

Don't miss "From the Badlands to Alcatraz," at the 7th Annual San Francisco Ocean Film Festival!
When: February 3-7, 2010
Where: Theatre 39
The Embarcadero and Beach Street, San Francisco


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