Michelle Danforth (2010)


Michelle Danforth (2010)

Lacrosse is a modern sport with deep roots in Native American cultures throughout North America. “[Today] It is the fastest growing sport in America,” explains Michelle Danforth (Oneida), co-producer of the new documentary film Sacred Stick. The documentary explains the origins of Lacrosse within Native American cultures; the spiritual background of the game, as well as stories from early European contact with the game. Intertwined with the historical aspect of the film is game footage of the modern day Iroquois Nationals—the all Native professional Lacrosse team representing the Six Nations of the Iroquois League playing at the world level. “What I’ve really tried to do is blend the game of sport with history and culture to make a documentary that’s different and more interesting for young people to watch,” Danforth says.

Because much of Lacrosse’s growth can be attributed to young players of the game, one of Danforth’s primary goals in creating Sacred Stick has been to attract a largely untapped younger audience towards PBS programming. “PBS’ core group is over fifty years old,” says Danforth, “our mission has been: How do we make this film for a younger viewing audience?” 

Her solution is a film that intermixes historical Lacrosse photographs, reenactments and commentary, along with game footage of the Iroquois Nationals playing at the 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. “The game part is what’s going to keep their attention throughout the whole thing,” says Danforth. She uses footage from the nail-biting overtime gold medal game between the Iroquois Nationals and Canada. “The game was so exciting... I’d be jumping up and down while filming,” remarks Danforth, “If it was a boring game, no one would want to watch.” 

Danforth took an unusual path to become a filmmaker. She graduated from college with an M.B.A in accounting. While working as an accountant, she pursued her interest in TV, working as a production assistant. “I always wanted to see how television was made, so I ended up volunteering for Wisconsin Public Television.” While working there, she learned production skills from the station’s engineers and began filming what would become her first Emmy-nominated documentary, The Oneida Speak. “The best advice I can give to new filmmakers is that you should collaborate with somebody who has made a film before,” says Danforth.

Even with her prior film production experience, Sacred Stick has had its share of ups and downs. During the editing process Danforth suffered a major setback when a substantial portion of her film’s media files went “off the line” in her computer video editing software, requiring her to spend many hours reconstructing her film. “It was heartbreaking, you’ve been working on this project for a couple years and all of a sudden it’s not there,” she said. Despite the setback, she is pleased with the results of her reconstruction work. “It looks a lot tighter, it looks a lot better, it’s edited better, so maybe this was just meant to happen,” says Danforth, “If you believe in a project, you just have to stick with it.”

Written by Ben Kreimer.

Interviews conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer.

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