Almost three years ago, Karen Weinberg came to Kodiak for the first time to teach a film editing course at the college. Little did she know, that visit would be the first of many, and the beginning of a documentary film project she never imagined producing.
Weinberg is the creative director of Ten Trees Productions, a Chicago-based film company and the producer and director of Keep Talking – a documentary film still under production that explores Alutiiq language revitalization in Kodiak.
The idea for the film came from Weinberg’s first trip to Kodiak, when she realized why students were learning to work with film.
“My entire class was learning the software to further preserve and grow their movement to save their language and culture. And that’s not your typical class. I’m used to classes of aspiring film makers so I was blown away by how important the objective was in my class. They had been doing interviews with elders they had been doing all sorts of things for many years it turns out and I didn’t know anything about language preservation really.”
The Native Village of Afognak was the organization that originally brought Weinberg to Kodiak, and now serves as one of the primary backers for the documentary film. Weinberg said she initiated conversations with them quickly after that first film workshop because she felt there was an important story to be told about the language revitalization efforts.
Since then, Weinberg has traveled to the island intermittently to film segments of the documentary, most recently for six weeks this summer.
“People have really opened up to us and there are some really remarkable people here in Kodiak. It’s really – it’s something. And we also did interviews with some locals in the town and the way the perception of the demographics and the way the Alaska Native population and the Kodiak Alutiiq language fits in to others who are not a part of the movement – if they are aware. Just to contextualize.”
While the film follows a few key people through the language learning and teaching process, Weinberg said it is important for everyone, not just language learners or Alaska Natives.
“I think there is a cultural void in this country. That’s one of the things that I asked the locals when were doing man on the street interviews, was ‘what’s your heritage and do you feel connected to it?’ And I think most of us don’t. Most Americans at least, that I know. And I feel like if you don’t know or have a sense of your culture and your background and your people and your rituals and your connectedness – where you come from – that there’s something missing with your own identity.”
Weinberg said she was inspired by the language revitalization here in Kodiak and how hard some folks are fighting to preserve their identities through language.
“This little group of people that we’re following in this story. There’s still a grasp on it. It’s very tenuous – it’s very tenous. We’ve lost some elders in the past year that we’ve been filming. There’s less presence. But it’s still there, so I think we can still learn something from that.”
Weinberg said this summer wrapped up primary filming for “Keep Talking,” which is the working title for the documentary. Now she begins the long process of editing, and fundraising to pay for those edits. She hopes to have the project completed in one or two years, and would like to see it picked up by PBS as a permanent home for the film. You can find out more information about the project by visiting keep talking the film dot com. www.keeptalkingthefilm.com.