Behind the scenes: making ‘Cuddlefish’
Mato means bear in Lakota. This image was the basis for a hip-hop music video created by Native youth at Pine Ridge this summer. Students brainstormed story ideas and learned the basics of cinematography, directing, and editing. Their end result was producing a music video for Oglala hip-hop artist, Mato Wayuhi, at the Outlast Film Camp this summer.
The organization, who is in its fifth year, has a simple goal: to enable Native students to tell stories that depict their view of the world. “We thought … what if we taught young Indigenous people to make media so that outsiders don't come in to do it themselves?” founder, LaTerrian Officer-McIntosh said.
So what does it take to make a camp like this happen?
Here’s a small taste: mentors leave their living quarters at 5:30AM ... drive an hour and a half to pick students up … then drive an hour and a half to their meeting space at the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation.
They arrive, prepare breakfast for the students, play a game and then head to workshops to learn about how to make films.
At midday, mentors prepare lunch for the students and then the group gets back to work. At the end of the day, students play another game, grab a snack and hit the road again. This routine happens for a week.
In this time, students not only learn the process of making a film, they create one themselves. They paint their props, craft their sets, and make their own costumes. They also learn how to operate professional cameras and take turns acting as directors and producers.
“A lot of the students have a really keen eye for what can be accomplished and what looks strong in a music video,” said Wayuhi, who is also a film student at the University of Southern California. “I am always blown away by them.”
The students say the experience is invaluable for many reasons.
“The specific memories that stand out to me is the laughing fits that I would have with fellow campers, and the friendships that I have made at camp,” said participant Laura S. Ten Fingers. “I have learned about the different camera shots, how to carefully change a lense, and most importantly, how to communicate with the different departments that are on a set.”
The three minute music video has three sets with multiple actors and numerous props. To gain inspiration, students watched examples of music videos from Indigenous artists. Mentors say this was purposeful— so that students “don’t rely on mainstream white imagery for their inspiration.”
The organization said this work is meaningful, but sometimes challenging to make possible. Mentors do not get paid. They travel across the country to volunteer their time. They often seek collaborations with other organizations to pay for lodging, vans, gas, food, and production costs. The program hosts events and crowdfunds to fund their $8,000 program.
Wayuhi, the program’s co-director, said it is worth it. “This camp is invaluable to me because I can create and collaborate with my Lakota relatives,” Wayuhi said. “If we can inspire and activate our youth, we’ve done our job.”
Eventually, Outlast hopes to expand to build solidarity amongst other communities of color. “Outlast is an organization that is aiming to build community between Black and Indigenous communities because we all need positive representation,” Officer-McIntosh said.
The ‘Cuddlefish’ music video was debuted to a packed house at the Indigenous Film Festival on August 3. “Everybody loved it,” said organizer Willi White, Oglala.