Biskinik article connects tribal members and results in film documentary project
By Shelia Kirven
May 1, 2023
A chance meeting with a Biskinik reader became a journey to Alaska to tell the story of the Tlingit Warriors for Choctaw filmmaker Taylor Washington.
Washington, a director, cinematographer and co-founder of Pan Up Productions, a full-service creative content production company, got to know Joel Spring (professor emeritus from New York’s City University and author of over 80 publications) after Spring read about Washington’s filmmaking successes in the January 2022 issue of the Biskinik.
The two became quick friends, living only about 30 minutes apart in New York.
Spring connected Washington to his friend George Bennett Sr. whom he had known from his time in Sitka, Alaska.
In 1961, Spring taught junior high in Sitka, being hired to work with the local Tlingit Native Alaskan population. While there, he got to know George Bennett Sr., who now leads the veterans’ group among Native Alaskans. Bennett, a renowned woodworker and elder of the Tlingit tribe, was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1966 and became known as one of the Tlingit Warriors.
Washington self-funded a 10-day trip in October to gather interviews and footage to seek funding to return next year to acquire additional interviews, visit more rural communities and for editing costs.
“Modern Tlingit Warriors,” tells the story of how the Tlingit veterans used their cultural values to help overcome physical and mental trauma from the war and how they are using those same tools against current battles around land rights and loss of language. Tribal members will share their stories during the documentary, many for the first time.
According to Bennett, members of the Alaska Tlingit tribe were forced to commit acts during the Vietnam War not within their cultural beliefs and teachings.
He talked about the effects the veterans suffered in the documentary trailer.
“We Tlingit warriors went to war. Unthinkable things happened to us. Suddenly we were sent back home,” said Bennett. “The bad dreams began. Our actions were unrecognizable. We could no longer recognize the way we moved through life.”
Washington said of the Tlingit project, “It was all because of the Biskinik,” said Washington.
Washington is grateful for his new relationship with Spring and his wife.
“I feel like I have gotten New York grandparents,” Washington said.
Washington also recently premiered his co-directed short film comedy, ‘Call Me Mommy”, at the SXSW Film & TV Festival, one of the country’s biggest film festivals. In Austin, Texas, each year, the festival premieres the best in cinema, television and virtual reality.
‘Call Me Mommy’ tells the story of an out-of-work actor named Annie who responds to a personal ad looking for someone highly skilled in improvisation. Inga, a very tightly wound pregnant woman, hopes to “optimize” her approach to motherhood by hiring Annie to roleplay as her daughter-to-be.
Washington said it was his dream to have the short film represented at SXSW, and he hopes to turn it into a feature film.
When thinking about his recent projects, Washington said, “It was a great year last year, working on so many things that are very meaningful, and it’s exciting to see where they go this year.”
You can follow @taylorewashington on Instagram or his website, taylorwashington.com.