What Lens Are You Using? Diversity in Visual Storytelling with Dewi Marquis
When we tell stories, we tend to tell them from a certain perspective, our own. Whether it's intentional or not, it happens, it's a human thing. This conversation with Amy Marquis guides us toward creating more honest stories from more diverse perspectives, so we end up telling the whole story.
By far, one of the most important conversations that we can possibly have inside of conservation visual storytelling is that of racism and diversity inside of the conservation movement, and inside of visual storytelling.
This conversation has never been more necessary than today. Because when it comes to primarily White-led movements like conservation and White-led fields like visual storytelling, it means that there's a very limited perspective that most people see. A very limited lens through which conservation stories are told. And it means a lot of voices are left out.
Amy Marquis is willing to get into the trenches with us on this topic. Amy is a filmmaker who started out her career as a photo editor for conservation publications, and she's moved into filmmaking as she realized how much this medium really resonated with her as a storyteller.
But as she dove into more and more film-making projects, especially those that hit close to home, she realized that there's a whole lot for her to unpack about how racism, colonialism and diversity affects her as a person, as a mother and as a storyteller.
As Amy has explored these topics within the films she's creating, she's uncovered some deeply surprising things about her family and her past, which are dramatically shifting how she shapes her own future.
- how we as individual people can experience our own journey
- how we can ask better questions
- how we can recognize our limitations
- and how we can move forward with responsibility and truthfulness
Episode 80: What Lens Are You Using? Diversity in Visual Storytelling with Dewi Marquis
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
0:00:00.1 Jaymi Heimbuch: By far, one of the most important conversations that we can possibly have inside of conservation visual storytelling, and indeed it's a conversation that we have to have on an ongoing basis, is that of racism and diversity inside of the conservation movement and inside of visual storytelling.
0:00:19.3 JH: Now, when we tell stories, we tend to tell them from a certain perspective, our own. Now, whether it's intentional or not, it happens, it's a human thing. It's hard to avoid, but it is avoidable, and that's never been more necessary than today. Because when it comes to primarily White-led movements like conservation and White-led fields like visual storytelling, it means that there's a very limited perspective that most people see. A very limited lens through which conservation stories are told. And it means a lot of voices are left out.
0:00:58.7 JH: Most of what we see is just a fraction of what's real, but we as individual people, regardless of your background, your ethnicity, your race, your sex, your religion, your gender identity, you're anything, we as human beings can start that journey of recognizing our perspective, and when needed, putting it aside for a more honest lens.
0:01:23.4 JH: We can do that from where we're standing right now. We do that by asking questions, by being curious, by really digging into what it means to be the storyteller, what responsibilities do we have, what roles do we play, how is racism or unconscious biases, or passion for an issue that causes blind spots or filtering, or simply convenience, how do these things play a role in storytelling? We have to ask these questions from day one, and every day.
0:01:53.8 JH: It's a really big complex and often deeply and profoundly difficult conversation to have within ourselves, let alone with others, especially if you, like me, are a White person who wants to do right by your fellow humans and the planet, but often get a free pass to the front of the line. What do you do with that?
0:02:16.1 JH: Now, difficult or not, this is a conversation that we cannot avoid, so I'm really grateful to today's guest who's willing to get into the trenches with us on this topic. Amy Marquis is a filmmaker who started out her career as a photo editor for conservation publications, and she's moved into filmmaking as she realized how much this medium really resonated with her as a storyteller.
0:02:39.8 JH: But as she dove into more and more film-making projects, especially those that hit close to home, she realized that there's a whole lot for her to unpack about how racism, colonialism and diversity affects her as a person, as a mother and as a storyteller. And these questions, these conversations that Amy is exploring inside of her own story creation process busted open some pretty profound things for her.
0:03:06.7 JH: Listening to Amy's own journey offers all of us a lot of insight into how we as individual people can experience our own journey, how we can ask better questions, how we can recognize our limitations, and how we can move forward with responsibility and truthfulness. This conversation can help guide us into how to bring about more honest stories for more diverse perspectives, so that we end up telling the whole story.
0:03:35.0 JH: Now, while this may be an often difficult conversation, it's also a beautiful one to have, so I welcome you to join in on this one. Let's dive in.
0:03:50.1 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you. The conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
0:04:22.8 JH: Amy, welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography podcast. You are a dream guest that I've been really excited to talk to for a while now, because you're such an incredible filmmaker, but you started out with a background in photo editing, moving into film making. And that's something that I'm super stoked to kind of have as a path forward, so I'm really excited to have you on the podcast and start to dig into who you are, where you've come from, and most importantly, where you're heading with your filmmaking.
0:04:52.7 Amy Marquis: Thank you, Jaymi. It's super fun to be here. It's really fun to be there. I like these moments where kind of my old career combines with the new one or the current one, and old friends come into the picture, so I appreciate it.
0:05:06.8 JH: Awesome.
0:05:07.6 AM: Yeah, so this is where I introduce myself?
0:05:10.6 JH: Yes, yes, so for anyone who doesn't know you yet, who is Amy?
0:05:15.7 AM: I always feel like this is the hardest part and everyone always wants to start with it. It's a little extra hard right now because I've been finding some things out about my lineage. So let me just start by saying I'm a trans-racial adoptee. I was born in Indonesia to a young Indonesia woman, and my White American parents adopted me when I was a month old and brought me back to the States a few months later, and I became a citizen when I was three.
0:05:42.9 AM: So that's where it kind of starts, if there's a beginning. And again, we'll get to what's coming up with that, which is part of everything else that we're discussing today. On the professional side, yup, I had over a decade, decade and a half in the magazine industry, working for conservation non-profit magazines.
0:06:04.0 AM: First photo editing under John Moon, and then switching to more writing and photo stuff at National Parks Magazine, which is published by the National Parks Conservation Association. I was there for nine years. In the last five years of that, MediaStorm came onto the scene, and they were doing amazing work that I hadn't quite seen before, especially in that like kinda bite-size digital, internet-friendly film storytelling that was just blowing up at that time and they were on the front of that wave.
0:06:37.5 AM: And I just remember thinking, we're telling these great stories in print, and long live print, it has such an important place, but I was constantly frustrated not being able to express the emotion that would come up in someone's voice when I interview them over the phone. And I would write stories and edit to music that I thought fit the tone of the story and I couldn't put that in print. So without really realizing it, I was moving towards filmmaking as a medium.
0:07:11.6 AM: In 2011, I got to go on my sabbatical, which is this awesome thing that NPCA offers to seven-year employees, so I went to Yosemite, I made my first two short films on set. I've been making films from the desk. I'd been directing stuff for our contributors in the field, but this was my first time on set in Yosemite, and it was profound.
0:07:32.7 AM: I think the biggest impact was being able to work with Shelton Johnson, who's this amazing African-American ranger. He famously hosted Oprah on her camping trip there. But being able to work with him on one of the stories about a group of African-Americans from LA. I'm sorry. This is a little long-winded. Once I got on set and made those films, I knew there was no going back, then it was just figuring out an exit plan to be able to do the filmmaking full-time.
0:08:01.9 JH: Wonderful. And when you say that it was really profound, do you remember what about that experience felt so profound? I'm curious to dig into that a little bit more.
0:08:12.9 AM: That's a very personal answer. This is a kind of art that I think has lived in me since I was a kid, but no one pointed out. I had to find it on my own. And that's fine, I don't blame anyone or anything for that, that's just what my path was. Once I got there and started doing... And I was so green. I was such a rookie, just deer in headlights.
0:08:38.4 AM: I think I knew how to tell a story basically. I knew the structure of that. I knew how to interview and ask questions. But managing a crew, even if it was just one other camera person on the ground, I was a baby. I think there are two parts. One is that form of art had lived in me for a long time, and I was finally realizing it for myself. But it was also really hard. It was really hard. It was hard with interpersonal relations, I had some tricky relationships to manage.
0:09:12.1 AM: It was hard with the workload. I came back from Yosemite. My daughter was conceived [chuckle] the first night I was back from my six-week Yosemite trip. More info than people probably need. But anyway, so I was pregnant, and then birthed my child and was a new mom, working the magazine job full-time and trying to edit these films and get them into film festivals. It was nuts. So being challenged like that and not wanting to walk away from it, was profound in itself. I'm not sure I had experienced that before. Does that makes sense?
0:09:46.9 JH: Yeah. That is such a beautiful answer, because I think that one of the things that resonates with so many people is the idea that here's this woman who's had 10 years of experience in magazines and creating stories, and then you've moved into something that seems like a natural fall forward, and you still recognize that you were totally new and deer in headlights and that it's a big scary, amazing, fulfilling, exhausting experience to make that shift.
0:10:14.4 JH: Well, you've gone on to create some really exceptional films, and one of which I just watched last night, which is Canyon Song, and it is one of a series of films that you made for the National Park Experience. Can you tell us about... 'Cause this is gonna help us dig into what the bigger, more important topic is of our conversation, which is allowing space for more voices inside of a primarily White conservation movement. How did Canyon Song and the other series, films in the series come to be?
0:10:45.4 AM: Where do I start with this one? Okay, for as long as I can remember, I've always just looked at the quieter voices. When we're in a room of a bunch of people, it's not the loud ones I'm generally tuning into, it's not the dominant one. So that, I just didn't know why. I didn't know where that came from. I certainly didn't see myself as not part of the majority because I was raised White.
0:11:13.1 AM: I grew up in White suburbia, in a White community, and had all the privileges associated with that, so I didn't necessarily see my connection to my subjects in that way at that time, but it was always really important to me. It just didn't seem fair that White people always have the money. And working in non-profits, conservation, environmental non-profits, that was always the case.
0:11:41.5 AM: In the office, in the magazines, behind the camera, at the editing level, it was just White, White, White, White. Good people doing important work, but White. For reasons I didn't understand at the time, I was drawn to a more diverse range of voices and you would hear the Park Service talk about it all the time like, "If we want all Americans to fall in love with and wanna protect the parks and vote for parks, then we have to get a broader diversity of supporters engaged," and there were a lot of great efforts including Shelton Johnson hosting Oprah on camera at Yosemite. I think she hated that camping trip, by the way.
0:12:23.2 AM: But anyway, so when I rolled off of National Parks Conservation Association, the Centennial was coming up, and it was really important to me that somebody recognized the need to engage a greater diversity of American experiences in the National Parks in order to honor that big benchmark coming up.
0:12:44.3 AM: Because if it just stayed in this White space, what were you doing? What are you achieving? We weren't forwarding anything. I kinda dove in with the idea that there are some really interesting cultural stories that don't get any air time ever. Or on a big platform, and we certainly did not create a big platform with MTS, but... So that's where it started from.
0:13:10.2 AM: And my partner, and it was Dana Romanoff, and she came in with a lot of global experience working in other communities, fluent in Spanish. She'd lived in Mexico and Africa, different... I'm trying to remember where. Anyway, so she was a great partner with a lot of the same desire and intention that I had going into it. So that's the set up.
0:13:33.7 JH: Oh, and also set up what Canyon Song is, 'cause I realized that listeners don't yet know what exactly it is that it's all about.
0:13:43.0 AM: Right. So, I think it started with, I had left the magazine at that point and I think I had an assignment to go write a story about Canyon de Chelly, which is a fascinating part because it's owned in part by the Navajo Nation, but it's also co-managed by the Federal government. And I actually think ownership lies within the Navajo Nation, and it's really just the Federal government who's helping to manage, employ and protect the archeological sites, because that's what a lot of it is.
0:14:12.3 AM: But it's this tiny little part in about Arizona and New Mexico? Arizona. Chinle, yeah, Arizona. Wow, it's been a while since I've been there. And you go down into the canyon and there are families that still farm there, like they have been farming for generations. You have this very modern life up on the rim in Chinle, which is a pretty... I don't wanna use the word depressed, but that's the one that's come to mind. It's a depressed community. It's a lot of gas station food and economically struggling families, but tight-knit.
0:14:49.8 AM: We went there, we started exploring some stories in the park through a Navajo ranger, Ravis Henry. We were invited into his grandmother's hogan and did some filming, and then kind of the door shut and we lost access to the story. And I remember just giving credit here to that visionary storyteller. Dana was like, "Wouldn't it be cool if we found this kind of family who had a child who was involved in this way?" And that's where we found Tonisha Draper.
0:15:19.5 AM: So there is this royalty, but not royalty pageants, these cultural pageants, where young girls and young boys, I saw one on TikTok the other day, he's freaking amazing. But young youth learn cultural practices and then perform them for the community, and take the crown or the sash or whatever, and become Ms. Navajo. And we found this, I think she was nine or 10 at that time, maybe 10.
0:15:47.3 AM: Tonisha Draper had just the most stunning voice I'd ever heard. We saw her perform when we were scouting for the other story. And sure enough, her family was this amazing open family, that the paternal side still farms under, in the canyon. We introduced ourselves. They totally let us in and we did what we could to tell their story about the connection they're maintaining to tradition, which wasn't always a part of their story.
0:16:21.6 AM: I think we honored that, but you know what? We were just another crew of predominantly White people going in and telling a Navajo story that wasn't ours. And looking back now, I can see where... This gets into the whole authorship thing. I can see where there are things we just didn't understand and will never understand.
0:16:45.3 AM: That if we'd had, if I'd had a Navajo co-director or a producer, or somebody at high level, high decision-making level on set and in post, could have guided that in the way that honor that family a little more authentically than we probably did. I look at some of that, I'm like, "Wow, we really romanticized that one idea." And it's the story that, it is what it is. I'd just do it differently now.
0:17:13.5 JH: When you go into a situation like this, especially now that you're aware of what it means to have someone either from the story itself, or at least from the culture, that the story is about helping at a high level to navigate something. Now that you understand the importance of that, what do you notice most about stories about cultures that are clearly not told from someone in that culture. What stands out to you?
0:17:42.8 AM: There are a lot of answers to this that people of communities still experience they have people coming in and telling these stories and just print it out like that. It's the White gaze, and I have some of that because of where and how I was raised. But the example of, what do they call it, the Magical Negro? Romanticizing the indigenous person.
0:18:04.0 AM: There's a nuance of their lives that doesn't always come through when it's told through the filter of someone who doesn't... Isn't of the culture. And I'll just say this, I don't wanna take us too far down another path, but let me tell you. It's impossible for us to ever completely match up 100% with our subjects, unless you're making a film about yourself. I think I wanna be careful about what kind of rules we define about authorship because it's gonna vary.
0:18:37.2 AM: I got into it a little bit on Clubhouse with a woman when I was criticizing one of the Oscar-nominated Shorts this year, where clearly a man was filming a grandmother who had just lost a baby in the hospital, who walked out of the room away from the mom, who was just a mess, like big loud, just going through it.
0:19:00.7 AM: The grandmother walked away to quietly deal with her own emotions, and he followed her into this room when she turns, looks at the camera, the look in her eyes, it's just like... That's when you walk away. So I made the point that a woman should have been filming. And then this other panelist countered with, "Well, if it was this woman, she would have been more invasive and she's been really criticized." So the next part of that conversation, "Okay, well then a mother should have been filming."
0:19:26.2 AM: So, we have to find these places where we intersect, and honestly, I think the places where we intersect has to come from a place of knowing what it feels like to be oppressed in that moment, or knowing what it feels like to have trauma in that moment. There's a shared something that's not necessarily an empowering experience.
0:19:49.2 AM: What I have since learned about my own lineage, history, conception, adoption, upbringing is how colonialism is embedded in me. So I can't necessarily walk into a Black community and be like, "Okay, I'm gonna tell... I understand what you're going through as someone who lives here constantly oppressed by the system and dealing with police brutality." I don't know that, that's not my experience, it's not my life experience, I can't understand that.
0:20:18.6 AM: There might be a tie somewhere where you can see the effects of colonialism on our life experiences, and maybe that's the little place where I have a little bit of a right to go in and try to interpret something that they're going through. Or the feeling of White supremacy on their life, how that shapes your identity, how it affects your vision of yourself, where it's disempowering and then where you use it to find your power. So that was winding.
0:20:51.3 JH: Yeah, what a beautiful winding road to go down. And it brings up so many other things too that is going through my mind, of ways in which we, as the storyteller, can recognize where we do and don't have overlap and we don't have overlap, what needs to happen next. Do you then step back from the storytelling all together? Do you bring someone else in to lead the way and help you navigate the overlaps in a way that is respectful and honest and truthful, and so many other things?
0:21:24.2 JH: But before we go too far down that road, I wanna back up and bring it back to you personally, because you just talked about how there's so much about yourself that you're exploring right now and finding out about yourself and how it's shaping your own consciousness. But it started, or at least in terms of how I've known you, because I've known you for a couple of years...
0:21:44.9 JH: I've followed you for a long time, but then actually I have known you for a couple of years now. I am curious because it seems like this started in sort of a big way last summer with, Ara, Untamed. So can you tell us what Ara, Untamed is, and what that's broken open for you?
0:22:03.5 AM: So Ara, Untamed is a short film I made with my daughter over the last year. We started filming in April, end of March, and my mentor was like, "Fuck the business model, you just need to start filming Ara 'cause you're on to something there." We were living at that time in this very manicured, beautiful suburban community that all the houses are centered around a golf course. [chuckle] And it was just the reality of our situation at at the time, and I'm grateful for a lot of it.
0:22:34.7 AM: It was really good for Ara to be there, and it was during those four years. And it wasn't a far throw from where I grew up, it really wasn't. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, in White suburbia. White suburbia across the States is pretty similar. I felt this restlessness there, and I thought at first that it was because we weren't going outside enough. We weren't... It was greens and our lost connection with wilderness and our own wildness. And I thought that was the problem.
0:23:05.0 AM: I realized as the reports were coming out of one murdered Black person after another, starting with Ahmaud Arbery for me, who was running through White suburbia in Georgia, when I was running a lot at the time. So I realized that it was bigger than our connection to nature. It was the whole entire system that created suburbs to begin with, it's the fact that, "Oh, wait a second. Maybe I am a brown girl and there's no one who looks like me in whatever square radius," whatever that neighborhood took up.
0:23:48.2 AM: It was trying to realize, remember whose land we were actually on and how easy it is to ignore that, and how easy it was for the White narratives to just continue fueling our image of ourselves and where we lived. So what the film is about is my struggle to engage my White past and eight-year-old daughter, as I went from blending into the community to dissenting. And I fucked up a lot.
0:24:20.4 AM: I probably... Maybe she's gonna need to go to therapy with some of this down the road, because she's young and I'm pulling her into... She was watching George Floyd's video with me. I didn't turn CNN off when there was a story of another Black man who was killed by police and it's unfolding on our TV screen in our living room.
0:24:44.1 AM: She saw those things, and she needs to see those things because Black kids don't get to turn that off. Why should we? We're part of that. That's that film. [chuckle] And it opened up a whole door to this other stuff that's happened here.
0:25:00.2 JH: And just to step back a little bit and to realize that you're making a film about your daughter's experience, this young child's experience and what that opens up. That alone, I think is a really brave and terrifying thing to do as a parent because I watch... I'm not a parent, so I don't understand this, but I have friends and siblings who are.
0:25:21.3 JH: And so, I feel like I understand how scary it is to navigate big issues, big potentially traumatizing issues, and how much do you reveal and how much don't, and how much can a kid handle and how much can they not. And this is a really, really incredible thing to navigate alongside your daughter and to craft something. How does...
0:25:44.1 JH: So considering that we just talked about making sure that your subject is leading the way and there's intersection, how much does Ara play a role in dictating where this film does and does not go? How did that change and how much did you realize that you were shaping the story and then need to step back from that? What was that process like?
0:26:03.6 AM: So this is an interesting... So I worked with this brilliant writer, documentary writer, Vickie Curtis. And even when you're telling your own story or your kids are in a story, you're gonna have blind spots, either because you're too close to it or you haven't processed and figured it out for yourself yet.
0:26:23.5 AM: I ran into those pretty quickly, and I would huddle with Vickie and be like, "I don't know what I'm trying to say here. Like why doesn't this feel right?" And we'd work together to write and she'd offer something and then I'd come back. One of the lines that she came up with that I fully understand for myself now, is the idea of our colonized minds and... Minds, M-I-N-D-S. I realize when I say that sometimes it's like "mining" or something.
0:26:52.5 AM: And in different ways that would come in daily and through different events, and I started to understand what does it really mean when our minds are colonized. I recognized this is the struggle of a lot of parents, it's really easy to try to colonize your kids. Like just with the idea of, "You know, I have this image of you that you need to be," instead of just letting them be and learn on that path, and encourage the right skills for them to develop to be able to handle themselves as they move through the world for the rest of their lives.
0:27:33.2 AM: So I had this moment editing where I was like, "Oh my God, I'm literally actively colonizing Ara right now with the way I'm trying to get her to do this thing or make this happen, or get that line. Or have her be happy when I'm rolling the camera right now." I was taking some agency away from her.
0:27:56.1 AM: She's an amazing, strong kid, and she'll put her foot down and draw boundaries in her own special ways, and I've learned to see that through the process of making it's film. But you'll see there's a scene that we kind of ramp up to at the end, and I remember when were were planning the whole thing, we wanted to dissent somehow in the neighborhood, we wanted to make a statement.
0:28:20.3 AM: When I thought through it through my adult mind, I was like, "Oh, this is sketchy. We literally might have the police called on us. There could be serious percussions for me if we do it that way." And then all of a sudden I started trying to think of it like through Ara's eyes, and it all fell into place.
0:28:34.4 AM: It was a much more rewarding experience and it's way more visually fun in the film too. So long answer, but that's, it was a process of making sure I was collaborating with Ara and not just dominating her with my perspective.
0:28:54.3 JH: How has that film... Because we still... We have yet to welcome it into the world, I know that you're in fine cut mode right now, and there's so much work that has to be done before we all get to see it, but... So there can't even be too many spoiler alerts, I'm sure, but what about making that film beyond realizing the extraordinary power that the storyteller, the person creating a story has over the truth of it, the honesty of it?
0:29:24.4 JH: And how well represented a character or a subject's kind of inner thoughts and process, how well represented that is in a film. But it also, it played a really big role for you in having to dig into these complicated things, and it sent you down your own road in a way. What really broke open for you? Was there a catalyst moment where you were just like, "Okay, I got some shoveling to do."? And where did you go from there?
0:29:55.8 AM: Yeah, there are a couple of moments. When I started making this film, it was really truly about Ara. It was all her. And then unless you're going pure verite, it's a really simple message, there's one that an eight-year-old can articulate. So I had to kinda step in, make my perspective part of it, my experience with her part of it.
0:30:17.6 AM: I had a lot of edits on the table before I realized that my adoption story and my Asian heritage, our Asian heritage was gonna be part of it. But that started popping up. I'll just share a quick story, because this one is a big one, and it shook things up for me.
0:30:39.9 AM: I was on this webinar that was being led by, actually, by a BIPOC man and his White male business partner about distribution, and there were like 200 plus people on the Zoom call and everybody... It was a sea of White. And there were a couple of Brown Girls Doc Mafia members in the mix, quickly connected.
0:30:57.7 AM: But they came out of the gate with these Christopher Columbus slides and metaphors about how they're moving from the old world of distribution into the new world of distribution, and the new world is just so much more civilized and smarter and makes so much more sense, and that's where we all are now, and it's where we all should wanna go, and literally had these slides up of like these Christopher Columbus-looking ships crossing in the sea to colonize America.
0:31:28.9 AM: And the feeling that came up in me, I don't know where it come from. Intellectually, I couldn't explain why that was a hard moment for me, but I quickly gathered privately in chat with my BGDM sisters, and then we dissented publicly later when they wouldn't drop the metaphor. First we were like, "We'll just email them and tell them that maybe you should consider changing your language."
0:31:53.6 AM: So that was like the first clue that there's something going on with colonization, colonialism, that was a part of me that I didn't quite understand yet. Then the shootings happened in Atlanta, and I felt this kinship with Asian women here in America. And then I'd say most recently the 215 in Canada, the children that were in the mass grave under the Catholic government school, state school, I think they call it there.
0:32:24.5 AM: So it's been this progression of BLM, Stop Asian Hate, the 215, and all these little moments in between where people in the boycott community are getting together and having really lively discussions with each other about what all this means. I've had these things coming back into my life through my birth family. I've had these moments where I feel like I'm connecting with my ancestors. I'm learning about my lineage.
0:32:55.5 AM: That explains a lot of what I have been starting to see that I couldn't understand why. So I don't know if there's one moment that blew it all open. It's been a pretty steady drumbeat, but it's like every day gets a little more intense, at the same time that it makes a little more sense than it used to.
0:33:14.4 JH: As you're exploring this and stuff is coming to light, it can feel like this waterfall of realization and reckoning, and there is so much coming at you and breaking open, and sometimes it's really hard to know what to do with it all. How is this part of the process shaping you as a storyteller?
0:33:36.1 AM: I'm very clear on my role right now. I have skills and cameras, and there's so much power in that. We have to remember that. Whenever you have a camera in your hands, you have so much power. I was gonna say this earlier when you were talking about authorship, that the first thing that we should do when we pick up a camera and start to roll is know, at the deepest, truest level, that we're gonna have blind spots, and then assumptions, and a way to counter that is to go in with curiosity. Pure, clean, crystal clear curiosity, untainted curiosity.
0:34:22.2 AM: So I'm trying to approach my filmmaking that way. I'm trying to get out of my own way. I'm realizing that a lot of the things I'm learning that I'm using to write the script of the new feature is not coming from me. I'm not the one writing it. It's coming from bigger, older, wiser places. And if I am the one with the camera who can help interpret that a little bit and give a little bit of context to what's really happening in the world right now, which I'm pretty confident I'm seeing clearly, then that's my job as a storyteller.
0:35:00.4 JH: I wanna go back to a point that you were making earlier that I think is really important to dig into, and you were talking about how when you were creating Ara, Untamed, realizing how colonized you are. Let's dig into that. What does that mean to you? How are you recognizing that? What does the word mean to you, and what does the concept mean to you?
0:35:28.5 AM: Alright, I'm just gonna share some things I've been learning. My birth mother gave me a name when I was born, Dewi. D-E-W-I. It has a meaning that you can look up. I'm not gonna say it here. It appears we are descended from a king in Banjarmasin, which is South Kalimantan, who was the leader of the rebels who were the last hold out to Dutch colonialism.
0:35:58.5 JH: Wow, you learned all of this last night?
0:36:01.4 AM: Well, it's been unfolding in bits and pieces, but I'm in touch with my birth mother. After I was born, she married an Italian man. She had three sons, they all moved to Breton, Brittany. She lives there now. Her oldest son and his family are about to make a move to London. Her husband just passed, so she's probably gonna go with them.
0:36:21.3 AM: But we're in touch. This is where she told me she named me Dewi, and she gave me the name of this Sultan, and there's plans in the work for the whole family to go back in July 2022 and dig into our lineage more to figure out what the connections are. I was with Jason last night, and we were just like when you think about the children he had and the different family tree branches, and there might be a lot of us out there, and I have this really just intense curiosity right now to find out who else is tied to this man, this king, and what's going on in their lives right now.
0:37:07.2 AM: I keep feeling like there's this thing happening that transcends race and transcends the racial conversation we're having in America, and it gets to bigger groups of people, and colonization is a big part of that. Like, what were those ripple effects? Where did you end up? What are you feeling and experiencing in the world right now? Where are you finding your voice?
0:37:32.9 AM: And Jaymi, you're part of this. It doesn't matter that you're a White woman. Just the fact that we're having this conversation right now, you're part of this. So I'm really curious, if I just can go down this path, put my ego aside, and film it all, who's it gonna draw out? Like even just in the process of it, cameras or not, who's it gonna draw out? I'm so excited to see what comes of this, and who comes together, and how we start to think of the world a little differently.
0:38:06.1 AM: Like climate change is part of this, it's all tied in. And this is where I do not have the most highly educated, doctorate level explanations of colonization. This is just stuff I feel, I know. It's in my blood, it's in my DNA, my ancestors are telling me about it, I see it. I see in ways and images that I can't articulate, how this affects the land, I see how the land misses its people.
0:38:34.8 JH: I think in visual storytelling, we always talk about, how do you... We come at things from a place where we see the topic, and we care about it, and we are motivated, and we wanna explain it, and one of the biggest hurdles that visual storytellers have is how to go from topic into story, and you've literally realized that you are the story.
0:38:57.6 JH: You are learning exactly how you and your own life experience and where you're going inside of this journey can help other people understand a topic that is hard to wrap your head around, hard to understand, hard to understand how it relates to you. As a White woman who was raised on the California coast, this is part of my story and I don't dig into, "Oh, how do I de-colonize my mind?" because that doesn't exist for me in my consciousness.
0:39:33.2 JH: But I think that through your journey, you're sort of helping to illustrate to so many other people who may feel like it doesn't relate to them, how it may relate to them.
0:39:44.4 AM: First of all, I'm so glad you shared that. And I just... Every time I hear something like this now, I get so excited 'cause it's such an opportunity, and it's such a... There's so much opportunity right now for White people to trace back. And I think you have to be willing to let some trauma into your life.
0:40:03.0 AM: You have to just be willing to take on some trauma to do this work. And yes, understanding the trauma of other people who we aren't a part of that community, but that's important, that's a really big first step. But we have to understand, the really ugly shit that happened on here. And I have an English side, I have an English half. I have the oppressor and the oppressed, the colonizer and the colonized in me.
0:40:35.4 AM: I identify much more strongly with the Indonesian side 'cause I feel like that's who I am. And somehow, I made it through the dilution of our line and the adoption and being ripped away from my motherland. Yeah, but I have that colonizer side in me too. So there's a huge opportunity here for people to trace back and look at the ugly truth of the past.
0:41:00.2 AM: And I think... I was on a run through our town, Louisville, the other day, and I've always felt like the outsider. I always... I just put in my earbuds and I don't make eye contact with anyone, and I do what I have to do to just physically process the stuff that's going on in my life right now. That's my integration time is my running. If there are big groups of people or lots of community out somewhere, I just wanna shrink away from it.
0:41:29.4 AM: This last time I went on a run and I felt like I could see the confusion in the people living in this community, because they forgot where they came from. They don't really know how they've got here. Yes, they own a house and they went through the system, and they pay taxes on this land and they pay for water and sewage, and the system makes their lives work really well. Yes, there's that.
0:41:51.8 AM: But the ancestral knowledge has been stripped away and you have to go so far back to know where you're from and what was that original connection in land that you had. We all are indigenous, it's just super, super varied for some people. What we have to do... It is what it is, we're here. All of these things have happened for us to be in this place right now today. If we wanna be free in our bodies on this Earth and sustain our lives here, we have to earn our place back on the land.
0:42:27.3 AM: And for conservation photographers, I think the important thing to come in with, again, just picking up the camera, I have blind spots. You pick up a camera, I have blind spots that I'm gonna need others to help me see. And I have assumptions that I need to kill with curiosity instead. But also, I have to earn my place, I have to earn my place on this land by telling stories that are no longer perpetuating the lies.
0:42:57.6 AM: National parks are these beautiful pristine places that are for all Americans, but look who we kicked off that land? I love the national parks. I am so glad public opinions exist, but I cannot look at a pristine people-less photo of backcountry Denali anymore without feeling sick. It's a lie. So I think especially storytellers in this conservation space, more that they can understand for themselves what really happened in these places we're trying to protect. That's powerful. That's earning your place back on the land.
0:43:36.6 JH: I feel like I'm, in a way, going through this right now with the project that I'm working on, that is gonna end up being more weird and complicated than I thought. [chuckle] Because I moved to an area on the Oregon coast that I'm absolutely in love with and that feels like home. And I want to work on a project that helps us, all of the residents reconnect to the watersheds in a way where we're relating to the species that are dependent on watersheds.
0:44:05.9 JH: And through that love and protection of the species, we take ownership back of the stewardship of watersheds, which are under threat from multiple things. One of the things that I realized a little while back is, I always felt a little bit awkward, in that I'm a new resident here. So first of all, who am I to start to dig into this and bring my own thoughts and experiences to what needs protection, and who's in the right and who's in the wrong.
0:44:36.8 JH: But then, I really started to think about who's been in these watersheds for millennia. And not only am I new here in terms of I've lived here for four years, but I'm new here in terms of basically mass takeover of the land. And I've started to dig into the history of the tribes that were marched to other areas and put on reservations and what that's meant, and there, what it means for them to be connected or reconnected to the watersheds that they've watched for generations shift.
0:45:13.2 JH: And it really... I think I know that I'm talking about my own stuff right now, and I apologize for taking over in any way, but it really is eye opening to realize that, yeah, I can go ahead and keep working on the imagery of the species, but I cannot move forward on the story yet.
0:45:25.4 JH: Like I don't even know a portion of what's going on, and there are so many characters that I have to talk to and understand and know what the actual story of our watersheds and what stewardship even means. Because conservation is about so much more than setting up rules and protecting things. What are you protecting? Why? For who? Who was doing that before you got here? How has that shifted?
0:45:53.3 JH: There's so many questions that it really breaks open once you start to, like you said, be curious, and I think realize that you may have a passion for something and you may have a passion for telling a story and you feel truly driven to tell it, but how it's told, may not be the shape.
0:46:09.3 JH: It's sort of like your experience with Ara, Untamed. You thought you were going into something understanding how you wanted to shape the story and then realized like, "Oh, I can't shape it this way after all, I'm dictating a story rather than letting a story unfold." Anyway, there's a tangent for you. [chuckle]
0:46:25.2 AM: No, no, it's not a tangent, its good conversation. Who is anyone to discount anyone's pull they feel to the land? That's a pure feeling. There's something that you're connected to there that you can't explain, and maybe there's no like DNA path to explain it either, but you feeling it there for some reason. There's an opportunity maybe for you to... You're not asking for my advice, I just...
0:46:52.6 AM: I don't wanna discourage people from feeling a connection to a place where they didn't originally come from or don't belong, and yet I'm curious, what is the relationship moving forward? Is it, do you find a way to like meet somebody there who is the original tribes that were marched off? Or is it just like...
0:47:11.1 AM: And I think too, something that I realized about my own evolution, especially over the last, say, six months, was how my constant reading and listening and a being a part of these boycott groups that are having conversations and exposing so much more than I am exposed to just in my part of the world here, that whole... It was like a re-education.
0:47:39.2 AM: That's what when I think about de-colonizing my mind, like that was my process of doing it, and it meant immersing myself in narratives of the oppressed. And it's traumatic, like we just finished watching Them before we started watching Underground Railroad. But those are, I wouldn't recommend either of those to a single Black friend. It's just so... I don't even know how... I don't know how Barry Jenkins directed the set, I don't know how to actors in it got through those scenes. They're so...
0:48:10.3 AM: But like White people have got to watch that stuff, because you have to be a sociopath, to not feel and start to understand the trauma that we caused. We, they? I dont, I don't even know what group to associate myself with sometimes. But anyway, I think I just wouldn't like discount the pull you're feeling or the work you're feeling.
0:48:31.6 AM: There's just a different way to go about it, and there are just so many White people at the top in these conservation organizations that aren't modeling the right path. And so we have to just stop and be like, "How are we gonna do this for ourselves in a way that feels better? That we know is not perpetuating some fucked up power dynamic or some colonialist lie?"
0:48:57.8 JH: As you're exploring all of this and really coming to some very powerful realizations for yourself, and especially when it comes to, as you've put it, White oppressors and colonialism of yourself, I'm really curious how your adoptive parents are going through this transition with you?
0:49:18.3 AM: So my dad passed in 2009. I think this would have been a lot harder for him. Because he especially never wanted to think that I ever belonged to anyone else. I think this is probably a common sentiment among adoptive parents, they want... If they want children so bad and they find the child or children and bring them into family, and there's so much desire to be acknowledged as a real family, right?
0:49:49.5 AM: My mom is my real mom, my birth mother is my birth mother. My adoptive mom is my real mom. Shes amazing, I think she's a White woman who's living in White suburbia, and biggest active resistance I feel was embracing my Dad's decision to do so much work in Southeast Asia and going there and kind of de-colonizing herself of the religion she was raised in. Living in a muslim country and accepting people for the things they believed in.
0:50:24.5 AM: As far as like our belief in religion or lack of belief in religion, we've always been really aligned in that way, and she's very anti-missionary. So there are things that she sees and appreciates, and again, because of my dad's work in Southeast Asia I kept this incredible tie to Indonesia.
0:50:43.0 AM: I wasn't like my Korean-American friend who was adopted by evangelical White people and never knew a thing about the culture where she's come from. She's in her 40s now, I think and shes recovering all of that now, which is a beautiful thing to see. So anyway, I hear you on... I kinda went into this being like, "I need my mom's consent," and then it's like, but how do you tell your own story if you have to get everyone else's consent to do it? That's not the right approach.
0:51:15.5 AM: So I think again, going in knowing that I have assumptions about her and how she thinks, that might be incorrect, and so trying to go in with like loving curiosity instead. 'Cause she's such a great sport and she's trying so hard. I don't know, I have a lot of questions to ask her about how she feels about this. Sometimes she doesn't reply to something I text and I'm like, "Huh. I wonder if that hurt her just now?"
0:51:38.7 AM: She just turned 80. She could have a decade left, two decades left, who knows. But I also feel this urgency to really, I don't know, get real with her about some of the stuff and not be so afraid to talk to her about some things. I'm debating a legal name change to Dewi, and that is probably, I imagine, gonna hurt. And Amy's never fit for me, it's never felt... Whenever I write it or say it, or introduce myself with that, it's never felt right.
0:52:12.0 AM: And it's a name that she thought was beautiful, it's the name she understood, it's an identity she wanted to associate with her daughter. I will always be Amy to her, she can always call me Amy. All the people in my life right now, fine, know me as Amy. I'm Dewi. Saya Dewi, Saya Dewi.
0:52:31.4 AM: Yeah, I'm trying to be gentle and patient and curious and forgiving, and sometimes I feel like my mom doesn't deserve this at her age, she doesn't deserve it. She has worked so hard to earn an easy daughter, and I'm not necessarily that right now, but I know she loves me and I love her, and that's where we'll keep coming from.
0:52:56.4 JH: You've talked a lot about the power that we have when we pick up a camera, and especially as conservation visual storytellers, there's so much power that we have as conservation visual storytellers, and there's an extraordinary amount of power that White conservation visual storytellers have.
0:53:14.8 JH: But in general, when any of us, no matter who we are, are picking up a camera and wanting to tell a story, in all of the experiences that you've had, and really, I know it sounds cheesy to say this, but awakening to what storytelling really means and how much we have to very carefully navigate the role between being passive and active in moving a story forward.
0:53:43.4 JH: Are there things that you feel are off the top of your head really easy, almost low hanging fruit, starting points, where everyone when we pick up a camera, especially inside of conservation, where racism plays a significant role, regardless of if we want it to or not. What are some of the things that we can be aware of or do to start dismantling that?
0:54:08.3 AM: Yeah. I think, again, this practice of... And this takes commitment, but I feel like it's such an interesting process, who wouldn't wanna do this? But that's me. But really starting to pay attention to some other stories that aren't the main narratives, like before you... Say you've got the seed of an idea. What are other people saying about it who don't belong to your community? Who aren't of your community? What are non-White people saying about this, let's say indigenous story?
0:54:42.1 AM: Again, I think the media in the stories we choose to take in have a huge impact on how you then step out as a storyteller yourself. So there's homework that has be done, but it's fun homework. We have been lied to so many times. From the day we were born, we have just been relying to all the time.
0:55:02.7 AM: And I'm not talking fake news, Trump bullshit. I'm just saying like the Indians and the European sat down and had Thanksgiving dinner together. No. Christopher Columbus bragged about raping indigenous women in his journals, among so many other things. We don't hear these things. It's starting to shift in some of our more progressive schools a little bit. We as adults, it's on us to re-learn the story. So I'd start there. That's a long answer, but I would start there.
0:55:33.8 AM: And then again, just knowing every time you pick up a camera, it becomes the mantra, "I know I have blind spots. I know I have blind spots." I think the way, if you're telling a story, one of the best ways I think that, if you are of the White and dominant voice in the world and perspective, and know, even for part of the story to be, "I realize I'm seeing it through this lens, and that might not be accurate."
0:56:04.1 AM: Making that a little piece of the narrative. And you don't only have to center yourself in the film or the photography to do that, but if more White storytellers could start admitting that as part of the final product that we see, even that feels like a great shift.
0:56:21.7 JH: So one of the most important things that I'm hearing is basically starting with questions, starting with acknowledging that no matter what we have blind spots, and that we have to start with questions about that. When you acknowledge what your blind spots are, what are some of the things that you recommend people do to fill those gaps in a responsible way?
0:56:47.0 AM: I mean this is where I think the art of film just gets so beautiful. You collaborate, you bring people in to understand something you can't see yet, and might not ever see. And you empower them, you give them power to guide that part of the process, for the film or the interview, edit, whatever.
0:57:10.2 AM: There's a fine line here between checking off the diversity box or having a token Navajo producer who you're not actually listening to and empowering. But like, you know it's funny, all my first films were in partnership with Dana, and that was like... I learned so much from that, I'm so grateful for that time with her.
0:57:34.2 AM: I came out of it and really wanting to have my own voice. And there was conflict in that, and I kind of floated around without landing much in about the five years of that time. And then when I got to Ara's film, I was like, "Sweet, this is my story. I'm gonna tell it my way." Then I realized I didn't have all the answers, I needed Vickie to come and introduce the idea "de-colonizing your mind".
0:58:00.8 AM: I needed Shannon Galpin to come in and talk about bombing our neighborhood with chalk and fairy dust to descend. Amanda, oh my God, my therapist, my mom mentor, my spirit coach who's doing a river ritual with me on Friday. She has opened up so many things I couldn't see by myself. Jason has been an incredible partner in all this. And so this is my little immediate circle.
0:58:32.3 AM: But we can't do it all by ourselves. We're not meant to do it all, we're not meant to see everything by ourselves. It's like the people coming in at the right points, at the right time along the timeline. And people who feel like adversaries are actually the ones who get you over the roadblock or they open the thing up for you. We don't have to be the ones opening our own doors for ourselves all the time. It just doesn't work that way.
0:58:54.6 AM: I think just collaboration where... Where as much as possible, you're getting your egos out of the way. It's not about winning some competition, it's not about getting published in National Geographic. It's about pursuing the truth of the story and the truth that's your role in bringing that story to a wider audience, and making sure you have the right people on your team.
0:59:19.5 AM: Because your either perpetuating... What was that quote in that authorship? You're either perpetuating all the old harmful stereotypes that have hurt people and kept people down, or you're doing something new, or you're taking the new path that's breaking down all that harmful.
0:59:40.5 JH: So I hear acknowledging immediately almost like a muscle memory, but when you pick up the camera you have blind spots, knowing that, just knowing that. That's a human, that's that's a human trait. Asking questions and coming in with curiosity, being really comfortable inside of collaboration and releasing control. I'm curious about... 'Cause I hear where you talk about Amanda and kind of mentorship and guide, what about that inside of all of this?
1:00:09.5 AM: I've been in therapy with different people since I was in my 20s, so I'm just a big fan if it's done right, and I wish everyone had an Amanda. I'm happy to share her info. She specifically works with moms , which is great 'cause I needed that. I came in with... I was starting to edit Ara's film, and I was like, "I think I need to make sure I'm doing this right." She was also one who helped me understand where I was colonizing my daughter.
1:00:35.7 AM: Yeah, I... They're they're there, they're, they're just... You can't force any of this stuff, it's open... It's opening? It's just like trusting the way the world works, the way the universe works. So I know I sound like... Yeah, I know what I sound like. But it's trusting that and staying open and and just...
1:00:55.4 AM: And everyone's at a different point in their understanding of these things, and where everyone's at is where they're supposed to be, it's fine. It's just staying open to who could come in in that form. You know the old saying, when the... What is it? "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." So cliche, but it's so true.
1:01:15.9 JH: It really is, it really is. 'Cause we finally recognize that there's teachers for us out there in our sphere.
1:01:22.6 AM: And you know what, and they're not all White either.
1:01:26.0 JH: Mm-hmm. Amy you've shared so much with us that is not easy to articulate, that takes a lot of vulnerability to express. Especially, when you're in the midst of the process of figuring it all out, and it's incredibly helpful, and I really appreciate you sharing all of your thoughts, your process, your journey.
1:01:46.9 JH: Because I know that there's so many people out there, everybody needs to hear it, but there's so many people out there where it's gonna really profoundly resonate, and I really appreciate you being that voice.
1:01:57.3 AM: Thank you, Jaymi. I would say it's a very vulnerable thing for you to step in and host the interview too. So this is really nice.
1:02:05.6 JH: Well, thank you.
1:02:07.1 AM: And it's, I just wanna say one other thing. I do... I do have these conversations and it's true in the moment, and then I look back and I'm like, "Oh, I learned this other thing I wish I could get in." And so I guess I just wanna say too, these conversations are gonna keep evolving and we're gonna know things two weeks from now, that we didn't know right now in this moment. And it just keeps going. Let's keep going with all this. Let's keep talking.
1:02:31.9 JH: Thank you so much, Amy.
1:02:33.5 AM: Yeah. Thanks, Jaymi.
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