DULUTH, Minn. (MCT) – Georgina Lightning has been waiting two years to tell this story.
It’s a story of despair, of healing, of a culture being stripped and a mystery being unraveled. And in some ways, the film “Older than America” will tell the story of Lightning’s family and thousands of others who endured the Indian boarding school era.
Filming on the independent movie begins in Cloquet and the surrounding area in mid-November and should wrap up by mid-December. Up to 60 cast and crew members will stay in Cloquet throughout the production.
The city won out against two other locations in Minnesota, said Riki McManus, director of the Upper Minnesota Film Office in Duluth. The filmmakers found many of the locations and the housing and production space they needed in Cloquet, on the Fond du Lac Reservation and in surrounding areas, McManus said.
“We’ve had open arms everywhere,” said Lightning, who will direct the film.
She and producer Christine Kunewa Walker spoke at a news conference about the project Oct. 12 at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton, and on Oct. 14 they held an open casting call for people interested in appearing as extras in the film.
“Older than America” is set against the backdrop of an Indian boarding school, where in the late 1800s and early 1900s American Indian children ages 6 to 18 in the United States and Canada were sent to be assimilated into white culture. Many didn’t survive the cultural isolation and strict environment, Lightning said – including, in a way, her own father.
Lightning’s father grew up in a boarding school, “but he never spoke a word about it,” said Lightning, who was raised in Alberta, Canada, and now lives in Los Angeles. “He hanged himself when I was 18.”
Indians who grew up in the often rigid, isolated boarding school environment would have a hard time providing a nurturing environment to their own children. “The past has a way of affecting our future,” Lightning said.
Before Cloquet and Carlton County officials began seriously working to bring “Older than America” to town, they asked that the filmmakers meet with members of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa Tribal Council to seek their input, said Kelly Zink, president of the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We wanted to make sure members of the tribal council embraced the idea,” Zink said.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Rocky Wilkinson, marketing director for the Black Bear Casino, hotel and golf course and member of the Fond du Lac Band. “Any time you can bring people to the area, it’s going to be good for the economy.”
The cast and crew will stay at the Black Bear hotel during filming.
The institutional backdrop also resonates with Wilkinson, whose grandfather attended boarding school.
“The fact that this will bring to light the boarding school stuff that went on is good,” Wilkinson said. “So many people don’t know what happened; they don’t know what many of our elders went through.”
“Once we had the approval of the tribal council, we put the project on the front burner,” Zink said. She and Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman helped find potential sites for filming and production.
Much of northern Minnesota caught Hollywood fever in 2005 when “North Country” was filmed partially on the Iron Range. About 2,000 people worked or volunteered as extras in the movie, which was nominated for several Oscars and pumped about $1 million into the local economy.
Several well-known American Indian actors have signed on with “Older than America,” including Tantoo Cardinal, Wes Studi and Eric Scheweig. Adam Beach will be the associate producer, and actor Graham Greene of “Northern Exposure” and “Dances with Wolves” is considering a role, according to the film’s Web site.
There has been no official local budget projected for “Older than America,” but after researching similar projects, Zink said the production could bring more than $500,000 to the Cloquet area. That money will be spread across local sites, including hotels, hardware stores, lumber yards, restaurants and general merchandise stores, Zink said.
Some scenes are scheduled to be shot at the Cloquet Community Memorial Hospital. The former Washington School in Thompson Township will be used as the boarding school, Zink said.
McManus also expects the film to involve the local community more intimately than Warner Brothers’ “North Country,” with its “hush-hush” scenes and sets, she said. An 18-year-old intern from Cloquet has been working with the production crew, DeLisi said, and they are seeking more.
And though the cast and crew will come and go in a month or so, having a movie shot in town brings a different buzz for people who are just now beginning to catch wind of the project, than, say, a new shop or other business, Zink said.
“The film industry has intrigue,” she said. “People are excited about it.”
Copyright (c) 2006, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.