The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts presents The People of the Whale from July 7-28 in the Media Room at the Newport Visual Arts Center. The documentary film tracks the unprecedented change facing the Inupiaq people of the uppermost part of Alaska and how they continue to cherish their rich way of life. The 27-minute film was produced and directed by Portland filmmaker Lawrence Johnson, with Rose High Bear serving as executive producer for Wisdom of the Elders. An opening reception for The People of the Whale will be held on July 7, 5-7pm, at the VAC, with Lawrence Johnson invited to speak at 6:45pm.
The People of the Whale includes contemporary landscape footage and interviews with Inupiaq tribal leaders, historical footage, artist profiles and animation. Wisdom of the Elders, the film’s producer, is a Portland cultural organization that records and preserves the history and arts — music, dance, storytelling and traditional arts — of exemplary Native Americans and shares them through a variety of multimedia productions and public events throughout the region. Along with the NW Film Center’s Northwest Tracking series, Wisdom of the Elders co-presented in April 2017 a special Native Wisdom Films Festival featuring four recently produced films through their Climate and Native Wisdom Films project, which explores the impact of environmental change on the cultural and economic lives of Native peoples in the Northwest. The film was made with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts.Art Works.
“They are rushing to save the heritage of the people of the high arctic, from Alaska to Greenland, one of the harshest environments in the world,” says the film’s narrator during the introduction.
“Our way of life evolves around the seasons, when the game arrives,” says Eugene Brower (Inupiaq), a whaling captain and interview subject in the film. “Our window of opportunity to stock up came is limited. So when that opportunity arrives, we have to be prepared. The opportunity doesn’t wait for us.” Brower explains that the native people are taught never to brag about catching a whale. “You ask to ‘receive’ a whale for your boat and community,” he says. In The People of the Whale, the Inupiaq honor the bowhead whale, which is recognized as an essential part of their cultural heritage and everyday subsistence life.
With over 30 years of experience in documentary filmmaking, Lawrence Johnson has developed a national reputation for historical, cultural, and personal documentary films. Based in Portland, Johnson was the recipient of Regional Arts and Culture Council’s 2012 Fellowship in Media Arts, and is now at work on his second feature-length personal documentary, Ghost Money, about the unintended consequences of the Vietnam War.
Many of Lawrence Johnson’s films have been seen on National Public Broadcasting stations nationwide. He has created films for museums such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington State History Museum and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Johnson has taught cinematography at the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center and has completed several residencies through its Filmmaker-In-Schools program.
The People of the Whale will be screened in the VAC Media’s Room from noon to 4pm, Tuesday to Friday. The film will start on the hour and half hour.