Aspen Shortsfest: ‘Nuuca,’ a haunting documentary about the Dakota oil boom
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Nuuca’ at Aspen Shortsfest
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale
When: Aspen Saturday, April 7, 5:15 p.m.; Carbondale Sunday, April 8, 5:15 p.m.
How much: $20 ($15 for Aspen Film members)
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: ‘Nuuca’ is one of seven films in a 92-minute program Saturday evening; the day at the festival also includes the panel discussion ‘Outside the Frame: Getting Your Film Seen’ (noon), a seven-film 2:30 p.m. program, a 4 p.m. happy hour at Jimmy’s Bodega, a seven-film 8 p.m. program and a closing night party at Silver City (10 p.m.); http://www.aspenfilm.org
The haunting short documentary “Nuuca” uses evocative storytelling and a poetic sensibility to shine a light on the link between the oil boom in North Dakota and a spike in violence against indigenous women in the region.
“Just as our land is being used, women are being used,” one anonymous woman says in a voice-over.
The film by director Michelle Latimer screens today at Aspen Shortsfest. It is one of four documentaries at the festival by the production company Field of Vision, which blends muckraking journalism with artful filmmaking. It was founded by the Oscar winner Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) and has produced short documentaries, including the 2016 Shortsfest stand-out “Speaking is Difficult” about mass shootings in the U.S.
Rather than look at a specific criminal case or assault, and instead of piling statistics on viewers, Latimer opted to tell the story in an essay form with voice-overs by native women from Fort Berthold Indian Reservation over haunting footage of the oil fields and drilling equipment running from dawn to dusk.
“We pulled back from the more graphic stories and went with something that was more about how a young woman might feel she can’t walk out of her door — how vulnerable and exposed they’ve felt,” Latimer explained in a recent phone interview. “That felt like a more subtle way to approach it than actually getting into women who were kidnapped, held hostage or sold — because that’s what you can read in any newspaper.”
Latimer had been covering the protests and confrontations at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline for Vice News last year. Producers at Field of Vision asked if she was interested in making a film for them related to the oil boom in the area. Latimer suggested taking a look at the overshadowed issues around indigenous women and how they’ve been impacted by the industry. After her news-based coverage of Standing Rock, she wanted to do something more meditative.
“I had just visited the Fort Berthold reservation and seen all those flares on the landscape,” she said. “Unless you’ve been there you would never know how post-apocalyptic it looks. So I wanted to convey that change in the landscape and how it also marked a psychological change in the people.”
The film, she hopes, can awaken viewers to the issue in a way that traditional journalism cannot.
“I want it to be more like poetry or music, where it emotionally resonates rather than informationally,” she said. “I hope in that way people can identify with the women that are having their lives changed because of this oil industry.”
After she made “Nuuca,” Latimer was awarded a year-long fellowship from Field of Vision. So the short is the first of many she’ll make with the production company.
She is also currently at work on a feature-length documentary, produced by the team behind “OJ: Made in America,” about women in the civil rights movement which she expects to release next year.
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