PBS Broadcasts Begin!

Standing on Sacred Ground is being broadcast on PBS stations all over the United States in May, as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. For a full broadcast schedule visit our film website.The key “national broadcast” will start Sunday, May 17 at 9pm ET on The WORLD Channel.

Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area can catch the films on KQED as follows: KQED LIFE airs the series on Fridays at 7pm starting May 1. For Comcast viewers, this is channel 54.3. KCSM-HD will air the films on Fridays at 10 PM. For AT&T U-verse viewers, this is channel 1043. KQED Plus airs all four films starting at noon on Sunday, May 10. KQED-9 airs Profit and Loss on Tuesday, May 12 at 11pm and Islands of Sanctuary on Tuesday, May 19 at 11pm.

In Hawaii, where our fourth film, Islands of Sanctuary, concludes with the beautiful story of Kaho`olawe, the films air on two Saturday nights, May 9 and May 16. KHET has altered the order of the shows: Profit and Loss airs Saturday, May 9 at 9pm followed by Pilgrims and Tourists at 10pm. On Saturday, May 16, Islands of Sanctuary leads off at 9pm and Fire and Ice airs at 10pm. Mahalo and aloha!

New Video: Tar Sands Map Rap

In our film, Profit and Loss, we have four brief scenes of Mike Mercredi explaining a giant wall map of the Alberta tar sands that he and his colleague Lionel Lepine created for their Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation tribal government. The clips we use in the film are about 20 seconds each, and like all sound-bite simplification they’re cut from a 19-minute “map rap” in which these two amazing activists methodically lay out a powerful stream of consciousness describing the tar sands from a dozen angles—always focused on nature and culture or ethics and history.

When we started filming the tar sands in 2009, there had been virtually no media coverage in the United States—even though this form of extreme oil extraction is the largest industrial development in the history of mankind. Thankfully, that has changed now. But the full story is still not being told, in spite of the fact that U.S. consumers burn roughly 1.3 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and the leases stretch over an area the size of Florida or England.

While the focus in the U.S. has been on the Keystone XL pipeline drama, our film focuses on the cultural and ecological horrors playing out in Alberta. Cancer, deformed fish, sacred places bulldozed, 65-square miles of toxic waste—the ethics of a very unconventional form of oil.

As Jacques Leslie pointed out in an op-ed in the New York Times: “Keystone XL is only one of 13 pipelines completed or proposed by the Harper government — they would extend for 10,000 miles, not just to the gulf, but to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.” Leslie also reported: “Canada’s National Energy Board, an ostensibly independent regulatory agency, coordinated with the nation’s intelligence service, police and oil companies to spy on environmentalists.”

Check out a new video on our YouTube channel: “Tar Sands Map Rap with Mike Mercredi and Lionel Lepine.”

Tomorrow: Tar sands in Utah?

Yes, We Are Coming to Public Television!

We are thrilled to announce that the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) has accepted all four episodes of Standing on Sacred Ground for broadcast distribution. Public television stations nationwide will have the opportunity to schedule the films for broadcast starting this spring. Some stations may show episodes as early as April to celebrate Earth Day. Other stations have indicated they will broadcast the films during May’s Asian-Pacific Islanders Heritage Month. Hopefully, we will have major carriage across the country in November for Native American Heritage Month. We will keep you updated as we get broadcast information, but remember to check your local listings!

Check out our new 30-second promo clip for public television.

At this transformational moment it’s important to reiterate my heartfelt thanks to our two amazing writing/editing teams of Jessica Abbe/Quinn Costello and Jennifer Huang/Marta Wohl; to our field magicians: Andy Black, Will Parrinello, Vicente Franco and Dave Wendlinger; to our indigenous allies and film participants Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, activist Winona LaDuke, Altaian leader Danil Mamyev (pictured above and patiently tolerating our endless exploitation of his image), Native Hawaiian activists Emmett Aluli, Davianna McGregor, Craig Neff and Luana Busby-Neff, tar sands activist Mike Mercredi, actresses Tantoo Cardinal and Q’orianka Kilcher, narrator Graham Greene, author Barry Lopez, writer Satish Kumar — and also to Ken Wilson, Bob Friede, Barbara and Tom Sargent, Jaune Evans, Patty Quillin, Reed Hastings, Polly and Bill McLeod, Susan and Jim Crown, Peter Coyote, Cordy Fergus, Erin Lee, Callie Shanafelt, Allison Torres, Susan Alexander, Pat Koren, Laurie Smith, Vicki Engel, Marlo McKenzie, Ashley Tindall, Helena Gonzales, Jennifer Castner, Joan Lander, Anna Heath, Leroy Clark, Shane Watson, Gary Coates, Heather Weaver, Todd Miro, Audrey Jardin, Dave Murray, John Atkinson, Jon Herbst, Tom Disher, Stefan Smith, Charles Johnson, Indra Mungal, Dianne Brennan, John Knox, Kevin Connelly, Dave Phillips, John Antonelli, Jenny Abbe, Chagat Almashev, Maria Amanchina, Matt Yamashita, Donne Dawson, Kaliko Baker, Mike Preston, Rick Wilson, R.T., Nathaniel Wolde, Rosa Koian, Barry Lalley, John Chitoa, Alejandro Argumedo, Fredy Flores Machacca, Charles Roche, Gleb Raygorodetsky, Tadesse Wolde, Erjen Khamaganova, Catherine Sparks, Cara Mertes, Don Weeden, Hadley Grousbeck, Susan O’Connor, Susan Newman, George Appell, Cheryl and Leanne at Pacific Islanders in Communications, Georgianna and Shirley at Vision Maker Media, John and Winnie at Bullfrog Films, and to friends, allies and family too numerous to name, but in particular Miles and Fiona McLeod, and, once again, my ever-patient and profoundly creative partner Jessica Abbe. Thank you!

Sacred Sites and Biodiversity

Please check out our new film clip “Sacred Sites and Biodiversity,” which contains three scenes from Standing on Sacred Ground—from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia. Over the years we’ve frequently been asked the challenging question, “What is the tangible value of sacred places?” Our scientific, materialistic culture demands proof. These three film scenes answer the question. Then there’s this fact to ponder: according to the World Bank, indigenous people make up 4% of the world’s population, control 12% of the Earth’s land surface, and on that land is 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. Indigenous people are obviously doing a remarkable job respecting and conserving the diversity of life around them. Where do sacred sites fit in? Within indigenous territories—universally and crucially—are sacred places that provide the anchor, the center, the cultural values and customary laws that connect communities to wise ancestors and future generations. These are the reasons that sacred places and indigenous land rights are so important and need to be better respected and protected.

More proof: This satellite image shows Kayapó lands in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. The green area comprises the Xingu Indigenous Park with smoke plumes rising from burning primary forest remnants outside the indigenous territory. Dark green areas are indigenous lands and surrounding brown areas are agricultural ranch lands.

Photo courtesy of International Conservation Fund of Canada

Transcendental Flute Ceremony Reborn in Papua New Guinea

When we filmed the canoe ceremony in Bosmun village on the Ramu River in Papua New Guinea, there was an all night debate about whether we would be allowed to film the transcendental flute players who started playing at midnight heading into the final day of the four-day ceremony. They play inside a thatched hut, hidden from sight. As the sun came up, the eerie harmonic melodies of two flutes—one male, one female—echoed through the village, and we were told: the elders’ decision was no. No filming. “Someone might die,” was the convincing reason we were given.

The Bosmun leaders admitted at the time that the flute players had to come in from a village upriver because the tradition had died out in Bosmun. Well that has now changed. We received word from PNG last week that the good feeling generated by our 2010 filming expedition led the villagers to decide the transcendental flute ceremony must not be lost, and in fact should be revived.
The Little Green Palai blog reports that elder Anthony Tibong, 73, the local transcendental flute master (pictured at right), taught 13 young men “in the art of making mystical music” and after two years of training Mr. Tibong graduated his students in an emotional ceremony on July 30.

“As tears rolled down his face Master Artist Anthony Tibong is happy the flutes have been given life again after nearly 60 years. He is now at peace,” reports the blog.

We are very pleased that our film Profit and Loss has been well-received in PNG and that the village of Bosmun has such a tangible—and audible—result from participating in the film.

Here is the text of the email we received this week from Rosa Koian, of Bismark Ramu Group:

Hi Toby,

Last night I returned from Bosmun with my BRG colleagues feeling more uplifted. After the canoe making rituals in 2010 for the film production some of the young men wanted to continue with these trainings and so after two years, since mid-2011, 13 men graduated on Wednesday as transcendent flutists in their community. This was their cultural practice some 60 years ago and was kept by Mr. Tibong until 3 years ago. Recognizing that the last practicing artist is now 73, they made sure he left the skills behind. In yet another moving and tearful ceremony Mr. Tibong completed his rituals from 60 years ago and graduated 13 of his students.

As you saw when you filmed it was not just the students and elders ceremony. The whole village took part with young people performing various dances.

Bosmun people once again convey their thanks to you and the film crew for realizing the richness in Papua New Guinea.


As the flutes play on, hidden inside the thatched hut, may the Ramu River continue to feed the village and run free of toxic waste from the new Ramu Nico Mine.

And once again we send our thanks to the villagers of Bosmun for entrusting us with their beautiful story, and to everyone at Bismark Ramu Group for your invaluable assistance during production and beyond. Onward!

Screening at Hawai`i State Capitol

On Wednesday, August 20 at 6pm, I Ola Kanaloa will be screening our film segment on Kanaloa Kaho`olawe at the Hawai`i State Capitol, to launch the presentation and discussion of a new draft Strategic Plan for Kanaloa Kaho`olawe. The 15-year plan focuses on ecological and spiritual healing of the sacred island after 50 years of military test bombing. The strategic plan was developed after discussion at 15 community meetings on all eight Hawaiian islands in 2013. We are honored to be part of this process.

Other screenings are planned on Oahu and Kaua`i on Aug 20-21. Check out the I Ola Kanaloa website to find out more about the strategic plan and upcoming screenings. We hope our many friends in Hawai`i can attend a screening and contribute to this visionary, collaborative plan.

Screenings in Sabah and Papua New Guinea

Awakening one night in the middle of editing the Standing on Sacred Ground series, I tossed and turned and worried about the challenges of telling eight, long, complex stories in a society with an ever-shrinking attention span. I asked myself, “Who is going to watch four hours of documentary film?” The answer came within seconds: “Indigenous people, that’s who.” So, when my friend Cynthia Ong, Executive Director of LEAP—Land/Empowerment/Animals/People—offered to take a set of four DVDs to Malaysia to screen the films for leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo, I was more than happy to deliver four DVDs.

I just got this email from Cynthia, along with some photos:
Hi Toby, Sharing pics of the first screening on May 27 @ the opening of Harvest Festival celebrations, at the heart of indigenous leadership in Sabah. About 50 leaders and community organizers, including elders and shamans. There was deep appreciation and emotion as we moved through all eight stories (in one sitting, with short pee breaks between episodes!). There will be more screenings tomorrow and the day after at another location – CREATE: Centre of Renewable and Appropriate Technology – hosted by the indigenous renewable energy movement with support from JOAS (Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia or the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia). This is also part of the Harvest Festival celebration. Thank you for your beautiful and powerful story-telling, already deeply appreciated and felt here, Cynthia

A few days later we received an e-mail from our friend, Rosa Koian, at Bismark Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea:

Hi Toby, Can’t wait to share the experience of screening Profit and Loss this afternoon. People were emotional, screaming and shouting—and a lot of tears. The Al Jazeera section was the highlight as people screamed angrily at our former prime minister. Talked with some people in the group about a film festival in PNG. Reps from France are interested as well. UNESCO people were so happy (Smile). Anyway I am so over the moon this evening. Best regards, Rosa

Hearing this news from PNG and seeing Danil Mamyev’s image up on a screen in Malaysia, a wintry Altaian pilgrimage shared with rainforest dwellers fighting dams and palm oil plantations, was literally a dream come true. As we await the judgement of PBS, and a decision about whether, when and how the series will be broadcast, it is deeply satisfying to know that, like my kids, the films now have a life of their own.

On Stage with Winona

It was a cold afternoon in DC, gray skies but no rain, perfect weather to drive a crowd into an auditorium to watch four hours of films. The Capitol dome sat quiet and irrelevant off to the northeast, spitting distance from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. For me, NMAI is the crucible we needed to enter. When Melissa Bisagni, the film curator, agreed to host the entire Standing on Sacred Ground series as part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, it was a very sweet moment for the Sacred Land Film Project. I think the fortress door swung open because my old friend Winona LaDuke offered to appear with the films, and boy did she show up.

When the films started at noon there was quite a buzz in the air. By the time the fourth film began at 4:30 the room was packed, with people standing in the doorways. Quite a few brave souls watched the entire series. It was very exciting to screen at the Smithsonian, with PBS considering our series for broadcast this very week, and the slow-building momentum of independent film distribution starting to build—slowly, slowly…

After watching the tar sands story in Profit and Loss, Winona and I shared the ironic reflection that 35 years ago we started working to stop national sacrifice areas and now we are fighting international sacrifice areas. Winona commented, “We want to move gracefully out of the fossil fuel economy. We don’t want to crash our way out of this. And remember, only 3% of the tar sands have been mined. We can stop it now—and we have to.” Winona poignantly joked that she would rather be growing wild rice and corn at home in Minnesota but this phase of her life has been taken over fighting tar sands pipelines proposed in the Midwest.

After watching the melting glaciers of Peru in Fire and Ice, a young native Yup’ik woman from Alaska described the imminent flooding of her home village of Newtok, from rising sea levels. Her village is being evacuated as climate change continues unabated.

The high point of the afternoon came for me at the start of the fourth and final film, Islands of Sanctuary. A big cheer went up after Hawaii’s Derek Mar said, “If we can take on the most powerful military force in the world, and win, there is hope for indigenous people all over the world.” The room just erupted. It was one of those moments filmmakers dream about.

After Islands of Sanctuary, Native Hawaiian Leimomi Apoliona-Brown told some great stories about the original occupation of Kaho`olawe and how the strategic Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana activist movement sparked a renaissance of Hawaiian language and culture. Leimomi focused on the deep and complex meaning of Hawaiian words, `aina, kuleana, `ohana, malama — the love, responsibility for, familial relationship with and caretaking of the land that gives us life. Kaho`olawe is truly an inspiring, modern-day success story, and we are honored to be able to help tell it to the world.

Big thanks to Katsi Cook, Akwesasne Mohawk midwife and community health and environmental justice activist, and José Barriero, Director of the Office of Latin American Research at NMAI for excellent commentary after the films, and to Brad Forster of the Environmental Film Festival, for filling my memory card with great photos.