To the Smithsonian!

We are honored to have been invited to show all four Standing on Sacred Ground films at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on Sunday, March 23, as part of the U.S Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Anishinaabe author and activist Winona LaDuke will join director Toby McLeod for Q&A and discussion after each film.The screening schedule for NMAI’s Rasmuson Theater is:

12 noon – Pilgrims and Tourists
1:30 – Profit and Loss
3:00 – Fire and Ice
4:30 – Islands of Sanctuary

We’re in the process of inviting other speakers to comment and participate in discussion after the films. Please join us if you are Washington, D.C. on March 23, and please tell your friends!

Meet Caleen Sisk and Danil Mamyev in Berkeley on March 27

On March 27, we will show Pilgrims and Tourists at the David Brower Center in Berkeley with a VIP reception for special guests Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk and Danil Mamyev, Founder of Uch Enmek Nature Park, Altai Republic, Russia. Last summer, Caleen visited Danil in Altai to gather water to bring home to her sacred spring on Mt. Shasta in California. Our March meeting will strengthen the global alliance of sacred land guardians that we are nurturing with our Standing on Sacred Ground distribution campaign.

This upcoming event is a benefit being organized with our longtime partners, The Altai Project and Snow Leopard Conservancy to support Danil and Caleen’s work protecting sacred sites in Altai and Winnemem country. Our thanks to Don Weeden and the Weeden Foundation for supporting this work for many years.

Please join us for the special reception prior to the film screening.

Click here for ticket information.

Last Chance to Comment on Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline

March 7 is the last day the State Department will accept comments on the final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This is the last step before President Obama makes his decision in the next few months.The pipeline would be a body blow to the U.S. effort to curb global climate change, is destroying First Nations’ sacred sites in Canada and endangering human health.

Tar sands mining in Alberta to feed the proposed Keystone Pipeline clears boreal forest and then produces lakes of toxic sludge, deformed fish and health problems, including unusual cancers.

As our new film Profit and Loss shows, Alberta, Canada, is suffering from vast tar sands stripmining and boreal forest clearcutting to feed this pipeline. Tar sands refining and burning of natural gas is polluting the air, and oil production consumes huge quantities of water. Giant toxic holding ponds kill migrating birds and pollute watersheds, harming native communities.

Please write President Obama and the State Department (via opposing Keystone. It would move 830,000 barrels of crude per day and will decimate the boreal forest and exacerbate the harm to Alberta’s First Nations people. This is your last chance to take a stand. You can also send a comment via CREDO.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival To Show All Four Episodes!

All four films of the Standing on Sacred Ground series will screen at the 12th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival from January 10-12, 2014 in Nevada City, California. Ticket sales open to the public today.

The screening schedule details:

Friday, January 10 — Standing on Sacred Ground: Fire and Ice and Islands of Sanctuary, at 7 p.m. at the Stonehouse in Nevada City, followed by discussion with filmmaker Christopher (Toby) McLeod, and Native Hawaiian activists Craig Neff and Luana Busby Neff of the Protect Kaho`olawe Ohana.

Saturday, January 11 — Standing on Sacred Ground: Profit and Loss and Pilgrims and Tourists, at 1:30 p.m. at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, followed by discussion with Toby McLeod and Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk.

Sunday, January 12 — Standing on Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Tourists and Islands of Sanctuary, at 2 p.m. at the Vets Hall in San Rafael, plus Q&A with Toby McLeod and co-producer Jessica Abbe along with special guests Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk and Native Hawaiian activists Craig Neff and Luana Busby Neff of the Protect Kano`olawe Ohana.

The prestigious Wild & Scenic Film Festival, with its unique mix of home-grown and international offerings on environmental subjects, is a terrific venue to continue the roll-out of our new series. Please join us!

Tickets for the festival or for three screenings can be purchased by clicking here.

Reflections on the Birth of Four Films

As indigenous leaders from around the world head to the Bay Area this week to celebrate the premiere screenings of Standing on Sacred Ground, the excitement heightens my awareness of both the honor and humbling responsibility of directing this project. Bill McKibben has said, “Some of the finest minds on the planet are featured in this documentary,” and I hope you can join me for discussions with Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, author Barry Lopez, Altaian leader Danil Mamyev, Native Hawaiian activists Emmett Aluli and Davianna McGregor, tar sands activist Mike Mercredi, actresses Tantoo Cardinal and Q’orianka Kilcher and other remarkable activists and indigenous leaders.Discussions will take place after screenings on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and in Berkeley and San Francisco next week. Please check out our new website——for a complete schedule and ticket details.

Over the past seven years, I have been privileged to visit and film eight astonishing cultures. Whether I came back awed by a Winnemem Wintu ceremony on the McCloud River in California or shocked by the open pit wounds of the tar sands in Alberta, our fantastic writer/editor teams of Jessica Abbe/Quinn Costello and Jennifer Huang/Marta Wohl tackled the sifting and sorting, the weighing and discarding, the crafting and polishing of four unique but interconnected films with skill and patience.

From the Altai Republic of Russia to the Northern Territory of Australia, my dear friend and cameraman extraordinaire Will Parrinello endured frostbite and flat tires, mid-summer blizzards and crocodile-infested waters to go the extra mile and get the story. Master cinematographer Andy Black and sound recordist Dave Wendlinger had my back when we were detained by gun-toting policemen in Papua New Guinea for filming in a mine site, and also when we were challenged by Native Hawaiians on Kaho`olawe to learn Hawaiian, make offerings to Lono, and experience the four-day Makahiki ceremony with our cameras and microphones stashed away in our tents. Vicente Franco delighted our Q’eros hosts in Peru every time he proclaimed from his horse, “Let’s get organized!” It has been a beautiful ride and a great blessing.

As we made pilgrimage to Uch Enmek Mountain in Altai, returned over and over to Panther Meadows on Mt. Shasta, and struggled to capture the feeling and power of sacred places, I worried: would the controversial stories we were taking years to film be timely when the films came out? Amazingly, the answer is yes. From the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. government’s crazy plan to raise the height of Shasta Dam, from the disappearing glaciers in the Andes of Peru and Gazprom’s pipeline across the sacred Ukok Plateau in Russia to the Chinese-government-owned mining company dumping tailings into the sea in Papua New Guinea, the hot stories are boiling over.

The toughest shoot by far was the tar sands. Plumes of toxic carbon clouds going up, oily waste ponds seeping poisons down into the Athabasca River, moose and eagle and bear grieving for their shrinking, shattered boreal forest. I’d never been to a petro-state before, and the deformed fish and heart-breaking cancer cases in the native community of Fort Chipewyan took a toll on every member of our crew. Each of our spouses saw the sadness we carried home, and it lingered for months after we returned from Alberta.

And as much as we may have intended to help the indigenous communities that put their faith and trust in us, there have been unintended consequences. One memorable shoot involved a long trek to a sacred forest on Milo Mountain in Ethiopia. When a still camera was stolen from our baggage during the shoot, our host Makko Wareo, “the father of Milo Mountain,” insisted that he had to confront the local village leader whose wife had started bragging about her husband’s new camera. Everyone in the small village knew (but we didn’t) as we said our good-byes and left. It turned out that the government leader was a Christian fundamentalist with a grudge against the traditional spiritual leader we were filming. Shortly after we left, Makko Wareo’s son was badly beaten by a band of thugs and ended up in the hospital. We learned about it weeks later. Though Wareo’s son has healed, the incident reminds me of the delicacy of the situations in every community we enter briefly and then leave.

All of this strengthens my resolve to honor the commitments we have made to each of the eight communities in our new film series. We are well on our way to forming an international Sacred Land Alliance to support local struggles and encourage action on national and international levels.

We have begun to build and support a Council of Guardians of sacred sites from around the world, and have worked together to pass international resolutions calling for protection of sacred natural sites. Our friends and colleagues are publishing books on sacred places, fighting dams, mines and pipelines, challenging insensitive eco-tourism, telling stories of indigenous communities affected by climate change. We hope Standing on Sacred Ground will make a powerul contribution to these important struggles. We still have teacher’s guides to publish, DVDs and foreign language versions of the films to produce, screenings to plan and promote. Hopefully, we will get a broadcast slot on PBS in the coming months. There is still so much to do!

Please join us in the coming days to celebrate the completion of Standing on Sacred Ground after seven years of work by a dedicated team of talented filmmakers who have persevered only because of the invaluable friendship and partnership of eight inspiring and enduring cultures.

We encourage your activism to help protect sacred places from Mt. Shasta to Lake Athabasca, and we challenge you to take a deep breath, reconnect with the mystery of your own homeland and embrace the loved ones who surround you.

In addition to the colleagues mentioned above, my heartfelt thanks go to Ken Wilson, Bob Friede, Barbara and Tom Sargent, Jaune Evans, Patty Quillin, Reed Hastings, Polly and Bill McLeod, Cordy Fergus, Erin Lee, Vicki Engel, Marlo McKenzie, Todd Miro, Audrey Jardin, Anna Heath, Jennifer Castner, Gleb Raygorodetsky, Peter Coyote, Winona LaDuke, Susan Alexander, Pat Koren, Dianne Brennan, Allison Torres, Indra Mungal, Callie Shanafelt, Leroy Clark, John Knox, Kevin Connelley, Dave Phillips, John Antonelli, Chagat Almashev, Maria Amanchina, Luana Busby-Neff, Matt Yamashita, Donne Dawson, Kaliko Baker, Mike Preston, Kayla Carpenter, Rick Wilson, R.T., Nathaniel Wolde, Rosa Koian, Fredy Flores Machacca, Charles Roche, Cara Mertes, Don Weeden, Hadley Grousbeck, Susan O’Connor, Jim Crown, Susan Newman, George Appell, Jenny Abbe, and to friends and family too numerous to name, but in particular Miles and Fiona McLeod, and my ever-patient and profoundly creative partner Jessica Abbe.


Standing on Sacred Ground World Premiere at Mill Valley Film Fest October 10-13

All four films of the Standing on Sacred Ground series will premiere at the 36th annual Mill Valley Film Festival next month. Ticket sales open to the public today.

Thursday, October 10: Standing on Sacred Ground 1: Pilgrims and Tourists (Episode 1), 8PM at the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley, followed by discussion with filmmaker Christopher (Toby) McLeod, actress Tantoo Cardinal, Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk, and park visionary Danil Mamyev from the Altai Republic of Russia.

Saturday, October 12: Standing on Sacred Ground 2: Profit and Loss (Episode 2), 3 PM at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, followed by discussion with Toby McLeod, Tantoo Cardinal and First Nations tar sands activist Mike Mercredi.

Sunday, October 13: Standing on Sacred Ground 3: Fire and Ice and Islands of Sanctuary (Episodes 3 and 4), 2:15 PM at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, plus Q&A with Toby McLeod and co-producers Jessica Abbe and Jennifer Huang.

The prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival, with its reputation as a filmmakers’ festival and unique mix of home-grown and international offerings, is a great base to introduce our series. Mill Valley was our first choice for a premiere festival and we’re honored to be a part of it. Please join us for an Active Cinema hike on Saturday, October 5 at 10:30 AM!

Tickets for the three screenings:


U.S. Premiere of Pilgrims and Tourists on September 14

Please join us for the U.S. premiere of Pilgrims and Tourists, on Saturday, September 14 at Redding’s beautiful Cascade Theatre, 1733 Market Street in downtown Redding, California.

Russian shamans and a northern California tribe both confront massive government projects—and find common ground. This film is Episode One of the new four-part documentary series Standing on Sacred Ground, which chronicles the struggles of eight native communities around the world facing threats to lands of spiritual, cultural, and environmental significance. The first hour-long episode tells the stories of indigenous people of the Altai Republic of Russia and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe of northern California. Altaians are fighting a proposed natural gas pipeline that threatens their sacred Ukok Plateau while the Winnemem oppose the raising of Shasta Dam, which would flood traditional dance grounds, ancient villages and burials, and numerous sacred sites.

In the film, authors Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) and Barry Lopez, Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga) and philosopher Satish Kumar provide insights on the rapidly growing global indigenous movement for human rights and environmental protection. The film is narrated by Graham Greene (Oneida) with storyteller Tantoo Cardinal (Métis).

Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk will attend the Redding screening. Producer/Director Christopher (Toby) McLeod, who circled the globe for five years filming the eight stories that comprise the four-part series, will be on hand to answer questions, along with Co-Producer Jessica Abbe, McLeod’s wife of 20 years, who grew up in Redding. There will be a reception to celebrate this long-awaited premiere at 6pm in the Cascade Theatre lobby. The film starts at 7:30pm. Please join us!

Tickets are $35 for the reception and screening and $12 for the film. Tickets for this event are available at the Cascade Theatre web page.

Special Note: For our many friends and supporters who have been asking when we will premiere the entire four-part series, the answer will be coming very soon! We have been invited to show all four films from the Standing on Sacred Ground series as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival from October 9-13 (locations and times tbd). The following week we are planning screenings and a reception for Tuesday, October 15 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, where we are making the films. This day will feature screenings of all four episodes during the afternoon and a celebratory reception for friends, donors, allies and SLFP crew, starting at 6pm, with two film screenings starting at 7pm. Finally, we have booked the Roxie Theater in San Francisco for two nights, Wednesday, October 16 and Thursday, October 17 for evening shows that will start at 7pm. We will also screen one of the four episodes at Bioneers on Saturday, October 19 at 9pm.

Winnemem Chief Caleen Sisk is fighting the proposal to raise the height of Shasta Dam, and she will be present at the October screenings, along with Danil Mamyev, a nature park founder from the Altai Republic of Russia. Danil is a visionary leader who is working to preserve traditional cultural knowledge and land long held sacred by Altaians. In addition, we hope to have Mike Mercredi, a tar sands frontline activist from Fort Chepewyan, Alberta, Canada. We have also invited Onondoga Chief Oren Lyons to attend and speak at the October screenings.

Tickets will go on sale soon here and through our partners, Mill Valley Film Festival, San Francisco Green Film Festival, Earth Island Institute and Glogal Greengrants. You can purchase tickets for our September 14 premiere in Redding at the Cascade Theatre web page. Thanks to everyone for your support!