January 30, 2011

Documentary on reviving Wampanoag

We Still Live Here

An Interview with Anne Makepeace

By Matt Kettmann
Former Santa Barbara resident and Emmy Award winner Anne Makepeace returns to SBIFF with her latest documentary, We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân), which is a perfect-for-PBS look at the Wampanoag people’s quest to revive their ancestors’ language. These New Englanders find help and inspiration in the oddest of places, and the viewer comes to quickly realize that the value of dead languages just might be infinite.

She recently answered some questions via email.

How did you find out about this revival?

I grew up in New England and, like most Americans, I had never heard of Wampanoag, did not know that they were “the Indians” who helped the Pilgrims to survive, and was completely unaware that any of these Indians still lived on their homelands in Massachusetts. Then, in 2006, I was hired by the American Experience series at WGBH to produce the first of a five-part series about Native Americans called “We Shall Remain.” My part was about the Wampanoag and the first English settlers in New England: the Pilgrims (and later Puritans) in 17th Century Massachusetts. It was while working on this project that I got to know Jessie Little Doe Baird, her family, and other members of the Wampanoag Nation. Learning about their history was a complete revelation to me, and I was amazed by Jessie’s story and the work the community was doing to bring back their language. When things fell apart with WGBH, I decided that the film I really wanted to make was the unprecedented story of the resurrection of the Wampanoag language.

What drew you personally to the material?

I have always been interested in Native Americans, and some of my films, notably Ishi the Last Yahi and Coming to Light, are on Native American subjects. Jessie’s story of resurrection, especially after learning about their devastating and largely unknown history, drew me so powerfully, partly I think because of my own background—I am descended from those Puritan settlers who co-opted Wampanaog lands or worse—and partly because of the intensely passionate dedication and commitment that Jessie and others have for bringing their language home.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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