Bridging the Gap - Getting Feedback from Communities

Bridging the Gap - Getting Feedback from Communities

Chris Bashinelli was born an raised in Brooklyn, New York. After a half-decade acting career including a role on The Sopranos (HBO), Chris moved to Tanzania.

Date Posted: 
2012-09-17 00:00

Blog Series:

We screened Bridge the Gap to Pine Ridge on five different occasions at a total of four different venues both on and off the Pine Ridge Reservation in May 2012. The goal of this project was to have a dialogue with students and teachers about our film. Did we hit the mark? Did we miss it? Did we film in a culturally competent manner? During the screenings we were able to have fruitful conversations with students about how we could improve on our storytelling techniques in the future.

We screened at the Pierre Indian Learning Center in Pierre, South Dakota, in order to get some perspective from viewers outside of the Reservation. We also screened at the Little Wound High School and Middle School, Pine Ridge High School and the Wolf Creek Middle School--all of which are on the Reservation.

There was a sense of gratitude among students and teachers alike that we were willing to open ourselves up, as filmmakers, to criticism. They appreciated that we did not just “get what we wanted," and never visit again. Overall, people were happy that we attempted to tell a positive story. While they very much appreciated our efforts, they were also kind in letting us know ways we could tell an even more positive, accurate story the next time.

Students expressed the wish to see more “every day life” elements in our film. They wanted to see a high school basketball game, kids playing football, and kids hanging out in the cafeteria. One of the most poignant moments was when a teacher commented, “We want to show that our kids are just the same as everyone else.” With this comment, I realized that as a filmmaker, I tended to focus on the ‘romanticized’ elements of Lakota life.

One of the most obvious elements of this is the buffalo harvest segment. In the future, if I go back to Pine Ridge, or to any Native community, I would love to capture more of that “every day life” element. I think it’s crucial for young viewers off the Reservation, who have never been to a Reservation, or maybe never had even a conversation with a Native American youth, to see that we are all the same. We listen to similar music, stress out about our relationship problems, and at the end of the day, all want to be happy.

By far the strongest feedback we received was from a young student at the Wolf Creek Elementary school. He said, “Why are we considered the poorest county?." In that moment, I explained that the United States classifies ‘poor’ by fiscal wealth. When in reality, money doesn’t have everything to do with poverty. Some regions that are ‘fiscally poor’ are very rich in a lot of other ways, such as culture or family. Pine Ridge is no exception.

Several cast members from the film were able to attend the screenings, including: Alex White Plume, Kevin Poor Bear, Randy Puckett, Jace DeCory, Eileen Janis, and Yvonne DeCory. Eileen and Yvonne were part of the Live Life/ Suicide Prevention segment and spoke at several screenings to increase awareness for their organization.

Survey Results: We handed out surveys at only one or two schools. We felt that it would be more meaningful to have a dialogue with students one on one as to where we could improve upon our work. The most important takeaways from our experience are the following:

  • Do not only focus on ‘romanticized’ or ‘exotic’ issues.
  • Capture more ‘everyday life’ elements. Not necessarily the most exciting elements, but simple activities that show people are the same everywhere.
  • Be careful on how you classify people. If you are going to say “poor," be specific in terms of what that “poor” classifies. If it’s money, say that.
  • Local communities are much more trustworthy of you if you are able to be honest about your mistakes or failures. This will enable you to grow as a person and will develop stronger ties with that community.
  • From honesty comes lessons. From lessons comes respect. From respect we can begin to create change together.
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