Wind River Reservation is home to the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes who find healing in skateboarding and tradition
20th November 2019 by Will Stewart
The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is home to the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes, who feel strength through a great sense of community. Film maker Jackson Tisi, who originally grew up in Wyoming but now lives in New York, spent months building up trust with community elder James Trosper. James talks about healing through ancient ceremonies around a fire at night, whilst the youths have a more modern way of bonding through skateboarding. A beautiful film in sentiment and visuals. Watch out for some fantastic traditional clothing.
MadeGood – Please tell me a bit about yourself as a film maker. Is this Good Medicine a typical example of your work. For a short film, the credits list is quite extensive. Please tell me a bit about how the team was arranged, and what the working dynamic was like.
Jackson – I am a young filmmaker based in NYC but I was raised in Wyoming. I don’t know if any particular film is a typical example of my work since I always try to grow and do something different than what I have previously done. This was typical in the sense that it impacted me profoundly to make and took a lot of delicate time and care to craft. Whether it is typical to the rest of my work or not, that is for a viewer to decide. While there were a ton of people involved in bringing this to life from pre-production to post, the production crew itself was very small. This was very important to the production. The production crew was comprised of Lucy Place, Zoe Simone Yi, Sunnie Kim, and Aiden Ulrich. All of which are extraordinary people and friends. We were able to really immerse ourselves within this world and everyone handled the delicate situations with a lot of empathy and respect. In post, I was very lucky to have to collaboration of Matt Schaff. He really helped me find the story and shape the film into what it became. I’m grateful for his vision, hard work, and friendship on this film and others. I was also very grateful to Kath Raisch for taking this project on and being so careful and intentional with the beautiful colour grade she created. I am grateful to everyone else involved in bringing this to life, but like you said, the list is very long.
MadeGood – How did you find out about the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes of Wind River Reservation, and what made you want to make a film about them?
Jackson – I’ve known about them and the reservation for almost my whole life. I grew up a few hours away and when I saw the potential to fund a new short it seemed like the perfect story to shed light on. I had a boss when I was younger and working in a skate shop that has sons that are native and would go to Riverton to skate. When I reached out to her and started doing research it quickly became more clear this was the story I needed to pursue. Native communities are often portrayed through negative and harmful stereotypes. I saw a real opportunity to lend my lens to a very positive and spiritual story. This film is all about positivity. Of course there are struggles, as with any community, but I wanted to focus on the healing aspects. I wanted to focus on what brings people together. These kids have so much talent and wisdom. Weaving this youth in with the spiritual and traditional elements of the tribes was all just to shed a light on how beautiful and thoughtful this community is. Through a chain of people that is how I connected with Patrick Smith. I also reached out to one of my best friends, Aiden Ulrich. Aiden and I grew up together and I am so grateful for his presence on this project. His mom is very connected and knowledgable on a lot of the happenings and details on the Wind River Reservation. She guided me through a lot fo the nuances and connected me with James Trosper. This is where the story you watched really started to come to life. James and Patrick are the foundation of this film.
MadeGood – You touch on some quite subtle and sensitives topic in the film, which I imagine the people involved would want to be told properly. Was it difficult to build trust, and get the honest and open interviews that did?
Jackson – Yes. It was difficult. I was really lucky that James Trosper trusted me. These communities have been burned by opportunists trying to misrepresent them too many times. James had a few dreams and gut feelings that this would be the right project to let through the door though. We spent months talking on the phone and slowly built a friendship. I am very grateful he let me and my crew into his life and was so honest with us. Without James and the trust of the community, there would be no film.
MadeGood – There’s a lot of spirituality in the film. Did you learn anything from the tribespeople of Wind River Reservation? Did you feel like you know what ‘good medicine’ means!?
Jackson – Definitely. I think everyone on my crew can say that too. One of the most important things in doc filmmaking is to really soak in the experience. So much is personal and doesn’t end up on the screen. This was a very humbling and personal journey for the whole crew. Aiden and I actually did a sweat lodge ceremony with the tribe. The experience itself is personal and impossible to describe. I actually did not have a title for the film until after the shoot. Learning what Good Medicine was and meant throughout the shooting of the film made it the obvious choice. It is a concept that shouldn’t have borders or be contained in one community. I think all of us can have our own version of Good Medicine in our lives. It just has to be personal.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Jackson – A couple projects. A few music videos and commercials. I am really excited about a new film I made on Leon Ford. It is coming out in a few months, we are just waiting to hear back from some festivals. I encourage anyone to go read about his story though. He’s an incredible human being. I am very grateful and humbled he trusted me with his story.
MadeGood – Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Jackson. Can’t wait to see your new film on Leon Ford!