Crying Earth Rise Up- Engagement Event in Chicago

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Suree Towfighnia is a director, producer, DP, and documentary educator from Chicago, IL.

Crying Earth Rise Up- Engagement Event in Chicago

Date Posted: 
2012-02-27 00:00

Blog Series:

With support from an Vision Maker Media producer fund, Prairie Dust Films was able to bring Producer Debra White Plume to Chicago to participate in a series of events "From Pine Ridge to Chicago". The goal of the event was to connect those involved in the difficult work to protect Mother Earth from environmental destruction both on Native lands and in Chicago. To support our youth mentorship initiative on Pine Ridge, the Lakota Media Project, we organized opportunities for advancement and collaboration with media organizations and institutions.

The participants from Pine Ridge included: Debra White Plume (Owe Aku/ Bring Back the Way), Members of the Lakota Media Project (Rosebud White Plume, Justine White Hawk, Darci Phillip, Miranda Dick) and main characters of the documentary Elisha Yellow Thunder (Lakota) and Jeremy Pettigrew (Lakota) who currently reside in Omaha, NE. Suree Towfighnia, Reuben Cruz and Jessica Tevaga from Prairie Dust Films also participated in the week long events.

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, we attended a screening organized by the Latino Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). 45 people came out to screen Standing Silent Nation and participate in a discussion about economic empowerment, native struggles and current work. We educated attendees on native issues, related them to local struggles and provided ways for the enthusiastic audience to get involved.

Wednesday’s event, "From Pine Ridge to Chicago", was a celebration of Native and Environmental activism and provided an opportunity for outreach and community engagement for the Crying Earth Rise Up program. Filmmakers, activists and main characters were able to connect themes from the short program to the important work many in the room are involved in.

The event brought together diverse communities, activists, musicians and organizations—all centering their songs, videos and discussion on themes of clean water and energy. Over 150 people joined us over the course of the evening to listen to Hawaiian chants, screen new documentary work samples (the most recent Crying Earth Rise Up, the Lakota Media Project trailer, clips from Vancouver resistance, part of a documentary on post-Fukishima Japan organic farmers), celebrate environmental and native activism, listen to live spoken word and hip hop, groove to DJ music, pray for the water in a Mixeca way and mosh around to political punk.

We raised over $400 in our raffle and silent auction efforts—and almost broke even on the event. But more important than money, we gathered many new allies for the cause and inspired others to search for cleaner options to nuclear energy, as well as to understand the connection between the source of the energy and their use. People vowed to stand up against the tar sands and over 60 people signed the Mother Earth Accord and letters to Laila Pettigrew, the little girl featured in the documentary who has kidney failure.

On Thursday, November 10, 2011, Director, Suree Towfighnia took the Lakota Media Project visitors to a Documentary class led by longtime Chicago filmmaker and media activist Tom Weinberg at Columbia College Chicago. The group presented stories from life on Pine Ridge and screened their trailer. They participated in a discussion of their video and received feedback from the class. Most students had little knowledge of the Reservation or Native Americans.

On Friday, November 11, 2011, we went to Lake Michigan to gather with others and pray for the water.

Our final outreach initiative was to bring together youth from all walks of life in a media workshop. Prairie Dust Films partnered with Street Level Youth Media, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Niles North High School, Gallery 37, Lakota Media Project and Owe Aku to accomplish this goal. The youth ambitiously tried to create three short videos and music around the themes. Over 23 youth attended from all ethnic and class corners of Chicago and the Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota) on Saturday, November 12, 2011. The group collaborated in discussion and idea development focused around themes of Mother Earth Protection and clean energy solutions. We screened a short documentary about the importance of water to the Lakota way of life and shared stories from life on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The inter-exchange of cultures and experiences inspired all. The youth led workshop made a pledge to finish their projects and hopefully gather again in the spring.

We are grateful to the Pine Ridge delegation for all their hard work, to Owe Aku and the Lakota Media Project who as the next generation is creating media in their own voice and perspective. We also extend thanks to the Elisha Yellow Thunder and Jeremy Pettigrew for taking the time from their busy life to educate and inspire with their story. A special thanks to all the volunteers, teachers, organizations and youth that helped make the week a success.

And finally, we are thank Vision Maker Media for all the support on our Crying Earth Rise Up project!

Crying Earth Rise Up is a feature documentary and multi-platform engagement project that examines the human cost of contaminated water and the fight to prevent the expansion of uranium mines on the Great Plains. It’s a contemporary story of a classic fight for land, water and protecting a way of life.

For more information about the project, please visit the link to our work in progress webpage.

All the best,

Suree Towfighnia

Director, Prairie Dust Films