Friday, May 23, 2008

Stop the ReRoute Documentary Premieres in Minneapolis

Last night I attended the premiere of the documentary film, Stop the ReRoute: Taking a Stand on Sacred Land, at the Riverview Theater in South Minneapolis.

The film tells the story of the unique coalition of neighborhood groups, environmentalists, and Native Americans that came together in the late 1990s to oppose the rerouting of Highway 55 through an area of South Minneapolis containing both parkland and the last remnant of bur oak savannah in the Twin Cities. Situated between Minnehaha Falls and Coldwater Spring, this area of land is not only of historic significance to the the State of Minnesota, but of special sacred significance to the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota.

I was involved in the struggle to prevent the reroute, and documented through photography the period of resistance from the establishment of Camp Two Pines in August 1998 to the destruction of the four sacred oaks in December 1999. A number of my photographs are featured in Stop the ReRoute: Taking a Stand on Sacred Land.

These and many other photos can be viewed in
Gallery 7 of my online photographic exhibit, Faces of Resistance. This particular gallery is dedicated to the coalition that came together to stop the reroute - a coalition that Jon Lurie of the Southside Pride newspaper described in April 1999 as “the kind of coalition that had rarely been seen in America: the joining of indigenous and non-native people whose shared vision and complementary talents could combine to create a better future for all.”

Above: The producers of Stop the Reroute: Taking a Stand on Sacred Land.
From left: Jim Gambone, Annie Follet, Scott Cramer, and Jon Carlson.

Sadly, the rerouting of Highway 55 was not stopped. As a result, a large area of green space was paved over, ensuring that a grove of four oak trees, considered especially sacred to the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota, was destroyed. Coldwater Spring, however, was saved - though efforts continue to this day to ensure its continued preservation.

Almost a decade after the events depicted in the film took place, here’s how the makers of Stop the ReRoute describe their work:

This inspiring film bears witness to the commitment of citizen activists to live lightly on Grandmother Earth, preserve precious natural resources, and resist car culture at the end of the Petroleum Age, as neighborhood and environmental champions, Native American activists, and young people coalesce in nonviolent civil disobedience.

It was quite something to gather last night with folks involved in the efforts to stop the rerouting of Highway 55. I hadn’t seen some of these folks in years. Members of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota provided spirited drumming and singing before the screening of the film, and afterwards people gathered in the theater lobby to share and discuss their thoughts on the documentary that’s been nearly nine years in the making.

Overall, I thought the film was a powerful retelling of the efforts to stop the reroute. It was difficult to watch the footage of the destruction of the four sacred oaks, yet inspiring to hear the testimonies of the Earth First activists and native people who joined with others to take a stand. I found my friend Lynn Levine’s testimony particularly moving.

Also, the footage of Earth First activist, Solstice, dangerously high up in the branches of a tree and courageously resisting a chain-saw welding city worker in a cherry-picker, was quite compelling. I’d forgotten just how much the young Earth First activists were willing to sacrifice in order to protect and save our threatened environment. Solstice, who unfortunately wasn’t able to be present at last night’s screening, also provides much of the music on the film’s soundtrack. His closing song, in particular, serves as both an elegy and a call to action.

I do feel, however, that the film would benefit greatly from a narrator - a single unifying voice that would help keep track of people and events for the benefit of those who didn’t live through all that’s being shown and discussed. Actually, what we saw last night wasn’t the final version of the film, and one of the producers did tell me that Bonnie Raitt may be approached to narrate the final version. (I think Buffy Sainte-Marie would be another good potential narrator.)

I also think the film needs further editing. In its current form, it’s way too long and, at times, veers dangerously close to being a disjointed collection of home video clips put together for the sole benefit of those who were part of the events being depicted. I can well imagine a wider audience feeling left out and potentially unconcerned with the unfolding on-screen events. This would be a great pity, as the film has a compelling story to share and an important message to impart. Any culled footage could, of course, be included as bonus material on the DVD version of the film.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Oak Folk Films - the production company for Stop the ReRoute: Taking a Stand on Sacred Land.
Gallery 7: Highway 55 - on my online photographic exhibit, Faces of Resistance.
Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition
Friends of Coldwater

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just came across your article and fabulous photos. Makes me want to cry every time I see them; tears of joy for the friendship as well as tears of sadness for the losses we endured.
Love you! Lynn Levine