“History is Unwritten,” a short film by Tulalip filmmaker Aaron Jones, is striking in its beauty and elegant simplicity. It is narrated in Lushootseed, a Coast Salish language that was largely unwritten until the 1960s. The late Vi Hilbert, the Skagit educator who helped preserve the language, once called Lushootseed “the most beautiful language in the world.” The film was shot in a cedar forest, for centuries the source of materials for items that testify to the lifeways of the people: artwork, baskets, canoes, clothing, longhouses.
Jones himself composed the film’s score, a beautiful, unwritten piece he says he “winged” at the family piano. “It’s something I wanted to express, a mood I wanted to set for the film,” he says. He submitted “History is Unwritten” to the “History is ___” Film Competition hosted by the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. Still, he wasn’t prepared to hear his name called at the museum awards gala May 7. “History is Unwritten” earned Jones the Best Emerging Filmmaker award,
“We got there five minutes early, and I didn’t really expect to get an award,” Jones says. “When I heard my name announced, I had to take a deep breath. Then I kind of stumbled out of my chair.”
It is, perhaps, just another award in just another film competition—someone was going to win it, after all. But it’s worth noting that Jones is 18, a high school senior in his fifth year in Longhouse Media’s Native Lens filmmaking program. “He competed against people with 20 to 30 years of experience in filmmaking,” Native Lens executive director Tracy Rector says. “He’s incredibly well-rounded and talented. He’s very proud of his tribe, and his piece really honors his tribe and his culture.” Jones produced the film as part of Native Lens’ after-school program at Tulalip Heritage School. He and five others—Yvonne Ancheta, Nick James, Becca Marteney, Nico McLean, and Kia Pablo—wrote the script. A friend, Kal-olet-za Virginia Jones, a Lushootseed language teacher at Tulalip Elementary School, narrated. Filming began in February; Jones edited it in March and finished by the April 1 deadline.
Jones says his goal for “History is Unwritten” is to call attention to “the small things in the forest that are overlooked a lot.”
For the competition, filmmakers produced films that completed the sentence “History is…”; other titles in the competition include “History is Invention” and “History is Sung.” Winners in five categories each won $1,000 to $2,500 and their films will be shown on Seattle’s PBS station and screened at the Seattle International Film Festival May 19 to June 12. The films will also be included in an exhibit at the museum. (To see a selection, visit youtube.com/mohaiprograms.)
Aaron says he followed a formula he and his brother, Derek, also a budding filmmaker, came up with for short films. Indeed, the Jones brothers have been making movies for years and are accustomed to telling a compelling story in a short film. Aaron first participated in Native Lens’ SuperFly Filmmaking Experience in 2006. In SuperFly, participants have 36 hours to shoot and edit six films based on an original script—the event is so named because the participants are making their works “on the fly.” He and Derek went on to direct, produce, and/or score six films shown at the Tulalip Film Festival in 2007. For 2008 SuperFly, the brothers wrote four short scripts based on Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Jones, who has been writing music for nine years, is the son of Daniel and Lena Jones and is the youngest of four children. He gives his parents a lot of credit for his varied talents, saying that he was raised in a nurturing home where he had the encouragement and freedom to explore his interests. He is a Running Start student at Everett Community College; Running Start students take high school and college courses for two years and graduate with a diploma and an associate’s degree. He has been writing music for nine years. Jones says he will pursue an undergraduate degree in political science at The Evergreen State College, and then study law.