MUBI is partnering with the New York Film Festival to present highlights from Projections, a festival program of film and video work that expands upon our notions of what the moving image can do and be. Sky Hopinka's Dislocation Blues (2017) is playing October 23 - November 22, 2017 in most countries around the world.
They said there hasn’t been a gathering this large of Native people sustained for this long since the late 1800s. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. Because and despite of that, it was hard to shoot this footage from my time at Standing Rock. It was also hard to edit this footage after I left. Not only was I was aware of my presence, as an Indigenous person at the camp, but also as someone holding a camera. Before I went I was really captivated by the idea of the camp itself. The awe at the size of the community, the duration, the focus, all stirred something deep within that I hadn’t thought about since I was a child.
A dislocated body is still a body. Catching glimpses of someone I knew—or would like to know—scatter through my days and nights as I hope that the bodies praying and protecting the land and water will part and reveal those arms and legs I've always seen moving and shaking and swaying. I never asked why they shook.
There were plenty of cameras pointed at the actions, at the violence, at the People. While these events are important to document and share, they still reinforce the effects of Minority Stress Theory. Within the thousands of people that passed through the camps there are a thousand opportunities to tell stories that are more multidimensional and complicated than the reductive stories of an addicted, recovering, and conquered people. Taking control of those narratives is an opportunity to prevent those stereotypes from becoming the locus of our identity.
But I barely shot. Over the course of three visits—each one about a week long—I recorded only nine hours of footage. Three of those hours were as a B camera for a couple of interviews I did for a friend of mine. I felt okay about it, though. I ended up keeping some distance between myself and almost everything I shot. I didn’t want to be rude, eager, or inconsiderate of who and what I was filming. I tried to keep my eyes up as I wandered without intention.
A dislocated dream is still a dream. It exists in the dark and is real until it's forgotten. Sleepy containers full of all the odd things we've been looking and longing for. Seeing each other through heavily lidded eyes, filtered bodies, and landscapes that give as much truth as they take.
There wasn’t anything overtly traumatic about the footage, but it was difficult to look at. I didn’t want to watch any of it. I didn’t want to see those spaces where I was for such a brief amount of time—such an intense time as it was.
I remember walking through camp, looking for Terry Running Wild to do his interview, and stopping to ask people if they’d seen him. I’d go to the top of media hill and run into someone else who I didn’t know I was looking for. I’d make my way down to the Sacred Fire and get a cup of coffee and stand and stare at everything and meet someone else who’d just found me. I’d find Terry eventually, but all those footsteps felt important meandering around a village and meeting people, asking them questions, for directions, and then giving them in return when it was my turn.
I remember the mall in Bismarck where I saw the same dirty looks I’d seen all my life. But, finally, there were others aware and willing to bear witness to the sublimated hatred of Indigenous People that I’d always known was near, but could never point at, or was made to feel like it was all in my head and a manifestation of my own insecurities. I can still see it.
A dislocated love is still love. I suppose that is enough, but it never is. Trying to find meaning in this place is easy. Everything means something. Everyone means something to someone. The scaffolds we built up and built on top of each other are still walls. We go up, but not over. Ascension without location complicates no body.
After each visit I made to Standing Rock the best word I could find to describe the experience to friends and family was “dislocated.” I felt dislocated when I was there, as an Indigenous person on land that was tribal, but not of my tribe. To be amongst people that were just like me, who were so familiar but different. To try and figure out where I fit in with a camera and a purpose that was never about journalistic integrity, but about being useful and true to myself and my beliefs. It was hard to locate myself amongst so many swirling ideas and ideologies, but the conversation with Cleo helped.
I met Cleo Keahna about a year and a half ago. He was an actor for a book trailer I did and just a smart, sharp, honest, and sincere human being. I found out via his Instagram that he was heading to Standing Rock, so I reached out. We saw each other briefly just as his first trip out there was beginning and mine was ending. I knew that I wanted to interview him, but the timing just never worked out. It wasn’t until late February just after the camp was forcibly evacuated that I asked if we could do an interview via Skype and he agreed.
We talked about his experiences and I shared mine—about how hard it was to be critical but honest, and questioning our roles, and about what comes next. I had ideas that I’d been working through—the italicized texts are from what I wrote on a plane in mid-January as I was trying to make sense of how to approach the video—and Cleo’s experience was very different from mine, as was the experience of every single person that was there in body or prayer. Limiting to the scope of the video to the two voices of Terry and Cleo helped establish a resistance of futilely trying to tell everyone’s story.
As processing the process became a theme it was comforting to hear from others who were just as dislocated as I was—in this time, space, place, and emotional field. Maybe it’s not about dislocation, but rather about triangulation. Finding others that are just as alone as you are makes navigating the longitudes and latitudes of post-colonial America that much easier to bear.
A dislocated wild is still the wild. It exists in a place described by movements and overlapping layers of memory. Remembrances come together to finish the whole—a whole incomplete for so many mother, father, daughter, son, and other relationships fraught with history and everything standing in the way of healed joy and the permission of soft whimpers lamenting unknown infants—still without voice—and unknown grandfathers—still, abandoned, gentle, quiet. We'll roam those wilds, lesser than what we dreamt they'd be, but a wilderness nonetheless.