Strange and Sacred Noise

A film by Leonard Kamerling,
Country: USA,
Duration: 82min,
Language: English,
Subtitles: N/A,
Year: 2011

“What would it sound like if the wilderness could sing, and I could hear it singing…” asks Alaska’s preeminent composer, John Luther Adams, in Strange and Sacred Noise, a visual and aural exploration of his “sonic geography” of Alaska. Five renowned musicians travel to Alaska to perform Strange and Sacred Noise in the wilderness environment that inspired its creation. The film chronicles this rare performance of Adams’ monumental percussion cycle on the remote tundra of the Alaska Range over an Arctic summer night.
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In Our Own Image

A film by Leonard Kamerling,
Country: USA,
Duration: 30min,
Language: English,
Subtitles: N/A,
Year: 1999

In Our Own Image takes viewers into the world of seven accomplished Alaska Native doll-makers, where we learn first-hand about the traditional, spiritual, cultural, and financial realities of being a contemporary Alaska Native artist. 
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The Reindeer Thief

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 15min,
Language: English,
Subtitles: N/A,
Year: 1974

Lincoln Pelaasi is an elder from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island.  He tells a mythical story about a man who goes out in search of a reindeer thief. The ensuing encounter becomes a test of supernatural powers and human/animal transformation. Pelaasi’s story is called an ungipaghaq, a tale that has been passed down unchanged through generations and is believed to be based on truth. Like many St. Lawrence Island legends, this story is set in Siberia.
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Joe Sun

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 20min,
Language: Iñupiaq,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1975

Joe Sun, an Iñupiaq elder from the village of Shungnak, grew up moving among seasonal camps in the Kobuk River Valley region of Alaska.  He tells of the legendary Iñupiaq prophet, Maniilaq, who predicted that “people with a different language would come and live among the Iñupiaq, and from that point on, everything would be changed.  He even predicted that people would start traveling in the air.” Joe Suns talk is known as an uqaaqtuaq. Elders gave such talks to young people who came seeking information or advice.
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In Iirgu’s Time

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 20min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1974

As his two grandchildren listen, Samuel Iirgu, an elder from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, recounts events in the community from the time the first missionaries arrived. His story is known as an ungipamsuk or true historical narrative. Traditionally, a storyteller’s integrity was based on the accuracy of his ungipamsuk; exaggeration was considered a sign of weakness.  Iirgu describes how the missionaries succeeded in converting people and the problems that visiting people from Siberia caused the missionaries.

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At the Time of Whaling

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 40min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1974

“When our ancestors hunted a whale,” elder Lincoln Pelaasi from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, tells us, “They harpooned it right on each cheek. Attached to the harpoon was a walrus skin rope and at the end of each rope was a small bag of water.  If the whale went to the right, they shook the bag on that side and he would go to the left, turning away from the sound of the water. Those big whales, just like dogs they would steer them to the land. This is how it was done.” From the roof of a snow-covered house men with binoculars scan the ocean for signs of whales.  It is April and the Bowhead whales are beginning their summer migration to Arctic waters. For generations, St. Lawrence Island hunters have waited in this very same place for their arrival.  The hunters launch their skin boats under sail and soon an exuberant voice on the CB radio shouts the news of a strike. The boats power up their motors and join the others to help corral and tow the whale back to shore where the three-day task of butchering and distributing the meat begins.

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Ryan Matthews: Basically Me

A film by Leonard Kamerling,
Country: USA,
Duration: 18min,
Language: English,
Subtitles: N/A,
Year: 2014

Ryan Matthews is an accomplished artist with Asperger’s Syndrome. Since childhood, he has been perfecting the expression of his singular subject: TRAINS. Ryan talks about the evolution of his work, how art opened him to the colors of the world, and how it shaped his journey from isolation to a bright future expanding before him.
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On the Spring Ice

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 45min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1975

Elder Lloyd Oovie, from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, recounts the mysteries of sea ice, “Long ago, people were drifted by the pack ice. It took them far away and they were never seen again.  Nothing is too big for the ice to move.  When seen for the first time, it is a mysterious thing to watch”.  A cluster of men stands on a rooftop scanning the sea.  A walrus hunting party is in distress far out on the ice.  The weather is bad and they are being drifted towards Siberia. Long ago, there was nothing that could have been done to save them.  Now they have options.  The men discuss the situation and finally decide to call the Coast Guard.  A rescue helicopter is dispatched from Kodiak, 650 miles away.  The next day, the men prepare for another walrus hunt.  They travel through leads in the pack ice where they spot two walrus sunning themselves on the ice.  Back in the village, the meat is cut, distributed, and hung to dry.
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Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 90min,
LanguageYup’ik, English,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1988

Dance was once at the heart of Yup’ik spiritual, social, and economic life. It was the bridge between the ancient and the present, the living and the dead and a person’s own power and the greater powers of the unseen world. Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter, presents the spiritual world of Yup’ik dance, music, and reciprocal gift-giving. The Yup’ik people speak about how their history, social values, and spiritual beliefs are woven around the songs and dances that have been handed down to them through the generations.  Named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006.

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Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter audios

Hear unedited field recordings from filming of Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter.

Track 01

Yup’ik dance leader, Cakiceńaq (Stanley Waska), sings and drums the traditional songs he composed for the Emmonak community Inviting-in Feast.

Track 02

In the men’s house (the Kashim) Cakiceńaq and Emmonak drummers and singers discuss a song and rehearse for the Inviting-in Feast.

Track 03

Yup’ik elder, William Tyson, talks about how shamans used traditional animal spirit masks in previous times.

ENGLISH TRANSCRIPT

Yup’ik elder, William Tyson, talks about spirit masks used in traditional dance. This is an original field recording from the filming of Uksuum Cauyai: The Drums of Winter.

William Tyson: The thing… when they danced like this, in the old days they had the masks. And those were made by the medicine man. They said this is the spirit of this one (an animal) and if I get this, I can do this or I can do it like this.

Sarah Elder: How do you mean?

William Tyson: Okay, if I make a mask of an eagle, if I make an eagle mask, the medicine man says, “you can become an eagle and fly around and do this or that.” Or, I can become a mink and do this and do that (using a mask of a mink spirit). If there’s a sickness of some kind in a person, I can become this animal and take the sickness away from him.

I don’t know whether that is true or not because I never experienced it. But people believed it was true.

Sarah Elder: Did you ever see those kind of masked dances?

William Tyson: Yeah, I did.

Sarah Elder: How did it feel to see them?

William Tyson: Very good, you should see the motions of the dancers…. some masks kind of weird and look scary, but when they dance with those masks, they’re good. I still remember them.

Sarah Elder: Tell me a little more about how everything looked with all the people and the masks.

William Tyson: Now it depends on what kind of a mask you have. It will be an image of a certain thing. It could be a half-man, or half… whatever. If it’s a seal, it will look like a seal, with the whiskers and ears and everything, that would be able to do something (be useful) – as far as the medicine man was concerned. Either bring something or take something.

A person can make a mask of a tree, but it would have to have a face. Because the spirit of the tree has a face. I don’t know what the face would look like, but the spirit of the tree is what makes the tree talk and sing and those things.

Looking at pictures of Yup’ik dance masks.

William Tyson: I can’t explain what that mask is. Maybe somebody else can. But the second one, half a face… If I remember right, it was a man who was attacked by the shaman – the medicine man. And this is when the shaman attacks him, he would take half his face and use it. And the other would not know on which side his own human body would be. He, the shaman, is hiding behind that half a face, because half of it is hidden. They couldn’t know exactly where the shaman was.