Groundworks: Justine and Ian Garrett’s Documentary About California Indigenous Artists Airs on Public Television

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Groundworks, a new documentary by Justine Garrett (Critical Studies MFA 06) and Ian Garrett (Theater MFA 08), airs on multiple US public television stations this month. In Southern California, the film will be broadcast on KCET on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 2 pm PST and PBS SoCal on Oct. 10 and 11, coinciding with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

The film documents four Native performers as they commemorate San Francisco’s first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day with oral history and traditional dance on Alcatraz Island in 2018. [Watch the trailer posted above.]

In a yearlong collaborative process, the Garretts worked through their production company Toasterlab to provide media production, directing, writing, design and technical advising, media installation, and scenography services for the documentary, live performance, and virtual reality aspects of Groundworks

“Throughout the development residencies, the creation of the dance performance, and the documentary, Toasterlab’s role has been to support our Indigenous collaborators and bring attention to their important work,” Director and Producer Ian Garrett said.

Inspired by the contemporary dance company Dancing Earth Creations, the hour-long documentary chronicles the multidecade fight for Native people’s rights and land reclamation efforts through the Land Back Movement. Woven into the documentary are the stories and performances of artists and activists from First Nations of Ramaytush Ohlone and diverse Ohlone bands, Pomo, Miwok, Wappo, and Tongva people.

Groundworks showcases performances by Ras K’dee (Pomo), Bernadette Smith (Pomo), Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Ohlone), and L. Frank (Tongva-Acjachemen). Alongside the Garretts, the production team includes co-producer and writer Tiśina Ta-till-ium Parker (Miwuk/Paiute/Kashia Pomo), editor Tia Taurere Clearsky (Ngā Puhi/Te Aupoūri Nations of Aotearoa—New Zealand), and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Don Schroeder as consulting producer.

A group of Native American dancers performing in a circle.
Performing on Alcatraz in 2018 for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (l to r): Natalie Ghezzi Aceves, Esme Olivia, and Bernadette Smith. | Photo: Keep Ya Joy

Music in the documentary is created specifically for the original performance by Smith, K’dee and his band Audiopharmacy, and Esmé Olivia.

The film will be distributed by American Public Television and Vision Maker Media, the premier source of public media by and about Native Americans. 

—by Ishika Muchhal

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