by Rich Kiley
A film featuring a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Iroquois creation story created by Rochester Institute of Technology faculty, students and alumni working collaboratively with community partners has been recognized by a leading film festival.
The “Iroquois Creation Story” won the top prize in the category of live short subject and animated short at the Red Nation Film Festival at the Crest Theater in Westwood, Calif.. The event bills itself as “Hollywood’s biggest night for American Indian and Indigenous voices.”
The film combines a wide variety of perspectives, talents and abilities of traditional native dancers, modern dancers, filmmakers and animators as well as time-honored Iroquois and contemporary musicians.
Peter Jemison, director of the Ganondagan Historic Site and a Seneca tribal member as well as the film’s producer, accepted the award.
“This recognition brings a tremendous sense of reward, especially given the film’s strong collaborative elements,” said Jemison, recently named RIT’s first Special Adviser to the President on Native American Issues and Partnership with Tribal Organizations. “Although it can be a logistical challenge to work with such a large group of people, there is also a terrific sense of energy. And when everyone’s expertise is recognized, it’s just wonderful.”
The 17-minute live action and animated film is screened for visitors at the newly opened Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan in Victor, N.Y.
The film is the result of a collaborative partnership among RIT’s School of Film and Animation (SOFA), Friends of Ganondagan, Ganondagan State Historic Site, Iroquois Social Dancers, and Garth Fagan Dance, assisted by scores of international film and animation faculty and students.
Cathleen Ashworth, associate professor in SOFA and the film’s artistic director, was thrilled with the win.
“My goal in getting ‘The Iroquois Creation Story’ film into these festivals is to inspire future Native American filmmakers or artists to get their voices heard, ” Ashworth said. “We knew it was a special story when we were making the film, and all the artists who contributed to the film worked so hard to make it artistically unique. It is really fantastic to hear such positive responses from audiences.”
The ancient Iroquois Creation Story, passed down through generations of oral tradition, has never before been visualized on film. It was made possible by the generous support of The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.
“We send our sincere congratulations to Friends of Ganondagan and its partners for this wonderful award,” said Holli Budd, executive director of the Farash Foundation. “This film is a great example of the kind of artistic and cultural collaboration that leads to the best original art.”
Ashworth applied for additional funding from the RIT Advance Connect Grant and in February of last year received money to hire current students and recent College of Imaging Arts and Sciences graduates to build and design the 3D models of the main characters that are used in the animation. The models and the characters’ clothing were researched for authenticity.
The film’s story is based on the words of Chief John Arthur Gibson (Seneca), who related this version to J.N.B. Hewitt in the 1890s, later annotated into a book by John Mohawk (Seneca).
Film narration is provided by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida), with RIT’s animated characters voiced by Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) actors and original artwork by Jemison. The music combines traditional Haudenosaunee singers with original music by Native composer Brent Michael Davids (Mohican).
The Iroquois Creation Story film also has been accepted into three other competitive film festivals: the Comanche Nation Film Festival (Lawton, Okla.), Native American Film Festival of the South East (Columbia, S.C.), and the Indianer Inuit, Das Nordamerika Film Festival (Stuttgart, Germany).
For more information on the film, go to www.facebook.com/IroquoisCreationFilm.