Tracey Deer, a Mohawk from the community of Kahnawake, obtained her bachelor’s degree in Film Studies from the Ivy League Dartmouth College in 2000, graduating with two awards of excellence. Immediately afterward, she began working for CanWest Broadcasting’s nightly news program in Montreal. Four months later she joined Rezolution Pictures, also out of Montreal, as a production assistant on a feature-length documentary they had just begun. Within three months she was promoted to co-director and co-DOP of One More River, a 96-minute process documentary that followed the emotional and political turmoil involved within the Cree Nation when they signed a new deal to allow more hydroelectric damning on their land. The film won the Best Documentary Award at the Rendez-vous des Cinema Quebecois in Feb. 2005 and was nominated for the Donald Brittain Best Social/Political Documentary at the Geminis. The film was broadcast on APTN in March 2005. Her second film, Mohawk Girls, a 63-minute process documentary, was a solo effort that she directed, filmed and wrote about the lives of three Mohawk teenagers growing up on the Kahnawake reserve, which was co-produced with Rezolution Pictures and the National Film Board. It won the Alanis Obomsawin Best Documentary Award at the Imaginenative Film Festival in 2005 and aired on APTN in February 2006. Her latest projects are a feature documentary examining the concept of modern Native identity, also with Rezolution Pictures and the National Film Board, co-directing a feature documentary about the Mohawk immersion elementary school in Akwesasne, with Mushkeg Media, and two short fiction films that her production company, Mohawk Princess Pictures, is presently developing.
Interview with Tracey Deer
Tracey Deer decided to become a filmmaker at the age of 12. She saved up pocket money to rent video cameras and made little movies with her friends. One Christmas, she was given a camera of her own. A filmmaker was born! Since then, she never stopped writing screenplays and directing her friends in her films about teenage life.
She loved Hollywood and making movies was her dream. In college, she took a course on documentary filmmaking and realised that it was her favourite form of expression. Documentaries are so much a part of human reality.
She returned to Montreal to visit her family before leaving for Los Angeles or New York to start out on her career … so she thought. But instead, she met people from a local production company who hired her right away. She started out as a production assistant, and very quickly was promoted to the position of assistant director.
She suggested filming the documentary “Mohawk Girls” to the producer and things kept on from there. More recently, she has been working on two other documentaries and has founded her own production company.
She co-directed the film “One More River – the Deal that Split the Cree”. This was an important step in her life. To start off, since she was Mohawk, she knew practically nothing about Cree culture, which she had to learn on the ground. However, the co-director was a Cree, which made this task easier. Making a film about the culture of another First Nations people is very different from making one about your own.
When she was working on “Mohawk Girls”, she was always afraid that it would displease the people in her community. But finally, she didn’t have to fear their reaction, as local people praised and supported her work.
Her next film, “Club Native”, is about identity and belonging. Who were we, who are we and where are we going? The film looks at people who are affected by questions of identity. It isn’t just a matter of politics; it is a fundamental but somewhat taboo issue. People say she is brave indeed to take on such a subject. Tracey doesn’t like the idea of backing off from taking action out of fear. It is no way to live.
She is proud of what she has accomplished up until now. She thinks determination is essential, but that the sky is her only limit.
Excerpts from the film Mohawk Girls by Tracey Deer
The first scene opens onto a palisade surrounding a traditional Mohawk village. The camera shows an overview of the village, which is actually a model. We can see three longhouses. The inhabitants are figurines involved in daily life activities. A woman is grinding corn and carrying a baby on her back, a man carrying some kind of load, another holding a pot and a child standing near a longhouse.
The following scene contrasts with the scene of the traditional village, as we see a bird’s-eye view of a large land area dotted with houses and modern buildings. The river is flowing in the distance. Then the camera pans an asphalt street lined with cars and houses. There is nobody on the sidewalks.
The following bird’s-eye scene shows a line of cars crossing a long bridge over the river. Then the camera points towards a large city; Montreal, with the mountain seen from the left and the skyscrapers that do not exceed the mountain’s height.
Returning to the modern Mohawk village, the camera takes us to the front of a two-storey house. Then we see a teenaged girl in pyjamas sitting with her legs crossed, on her bed. She shakes her foot and hands a bit and sits up straight while talking very excitedly. She stands up and leaves the scene while indicating that she will return.
Three feathers appear on the screen above the letter M of the film title “Mohawk Girls”. The teenager returns, jumping onto the bed.
The following images show three teenaged girls speaking to the screen. The frame of the screen contains four small images on which the girls appear in turns, in medallions. The first three are in colour, indicating that they are contemporary. The fourth girl is the one sitting on her bed at the beginning. Her image is in black and white because she seems to have been filmed during the 1950s or ’60s. Behind this girl, another makes “feathers” on her head, as a joke, by holding up two fingers in a V.