They had forgotten that the earth was their mother - Black Elk
The birth of this project goes all the way back to 2012, when fellow filmmaker and dear friend Silas Hagerty (who shot and directed the feature documentary, ‘Dakota 38’) introduced me to medicine man Jim Miller and his wonderful family on Pine Ridge Reservation. In 2014, I had the chance to go back out to Pine Ridge and begin this collaboration with Ike ‘Wanbli Omani’ Miller. The exact message of our project was still very loose at that point - all we set out to do was capture the beauty of the reservation and it’s indigenous inhabitants.
In 2015 we got back together for a second round of shooting. This time armed with a full spectrum modified RED Dragon 6K, the Freefly ALTA 6 and MoVI M15, we were able to capture more of the riders, as well as interview numerous elders.
Filming out on Pine Ridge was very paired down - the majority of it was Tim shooting on the MoVI and pulling his own focus. For the drone work, Tim was piloting and Ike, after just a few training sessions, was camera operating and getting some stunning shots with unique framings.
After the second Pine Ridge trip we filmed for multiple days in NYC andI was able to put together a 12 minute B&W cut that incorporated the feeling that I was trying to convey. Something was missing though, and it still didn’t feel ready for a public release. There was a deeper emotional note missing from the film - something that I experienced while being on Pine Ridge but could not translate into the film. Instead of forcing an edit just to get it out into the world, I followed Jim’s advice. He always says, “You know what to do. Pray about it and it will come to you.” Remembering this gave me comfort in knowing that the answer would reveal itself sooner or later if I’d be open to it.
In the fall of 2018, that is exactly what happened. I had been experimenting with different IR photography for a while and replicating an Ektachrome-Infrared (EIR) look was one of the more challenging tasks. I had never seen NYC being photographed in this way and it felt like pushing the envelope in an interesting way. To achieve this look (modeled after the famous Kodak Ektachrome Infrared Aerial Stock that was developed during the Vietnam war for camouflage detection) a mix of in-camera and post processing is required. We shot all of this on a full spectrum modified RED Monstro 8K and Wratten IR filter. Then in the grade the blue and red channels are being swapped to achieve the look.
What I did not expect was to have such a strong emotional response to the EIR NYC footage. It did something very interesting, as this technique made nature appear extremely vulnerable, screaming out for attention. It nearly felt like ‘Mother Earth’ was bleeding.
Capturing this footage was the piece that was missing. I am grateful to Brandon Bray for opening my eyes to change the entire project to color (as I am always stubbornly partial to B&W) and to editor J.P Damboragian for finding some great moments in the interview and tying it all together tastefully. The project finally became what it is today.
Also, discovering Bethan Kellough’s beautiful music was another gift (hat tip to Jake Oleson for that one). Her mix of original composition and clever sound recordings added a really interesting layer to this edit.
I feel like this piece couldn’t be more timely. If you look at our planet and its people, it seems like we are reaching a breaking point. We think we are such an advanced species, yet I believe that the philosophies and way of life of the indigenous cultures are what we are lacking most: respect and a sense of value for our land, our relatives and fellow humans.
Director and Cinematographer: Tim Sessler || timsessler.com
Edit: J.P. Damboragian || jpdamboragian.com/
Music Bethan Kellough, Songs: 'Vision' and 'Low from the album 'Aven' || bethankellough.com
Color: Kath Raisch at CO3 || company3.com/artists/kath-raisch/
SFX: Defacto || defactosound.com/
Production: Tim Sessler
Gear Support: Brooklyn Aerials & Already Alive
Pine Ridge Unit:
Drone Camera Operator and Assistant: Ike 'Wanbli Omani' Miller
Additional Assistant: Vic Shoulders
1st AC: Drew English // drewenglish.com/
2nd AC: Stephan Hawk
Helicopter and Shotover Support: Gotham Film Works
Aerial DP and Operator: Tim Sessler
Pilot: Steve Masi
Shotover Tech: Mike Isler and Jose Montanez
SPECIAL THANKS to Silas Hagerty, Brandon Bray and Autumn Kay Brookmire for always believing in this project and pushing it forward.
My heart and gratitude goes out to everybody that put their time and energy into making this piece, especially the people and riders of Pine Ridge and all of the people that shared their wisdom with us:
Ike, Jim and Alberta Miller, Vic Shoulders, Janessa Garnette, Jaylin Garnette, Jada Good Crow, Ed Star, Trevon Spotted Eagle, Alden Steele, John Yellow Boy, Travis Red Owl Jr, Janessa Quick Bear, Weldon Spotted Eagle, Tyler Bull Bear, Connie Tibbits, Travis Red Owl, Marlon Iron Crow, Maria Red Owl, Bamm Brewer, Ilene Janis, Jay, Jamie and Jeffrey Shoulders and Guss Yellowhair.
And last but not least, thanks to everybody that made this project possible on the back-end: Bethan Kellough, Touch33, Mike Harding, Jake Oleson, Michael Marantz and Already Alive, Company3, Tabb Firchau and Freefly Systems, Jarred Land and RED as well as Kippertie.