Genius Awards 2016
A film director, a film producer, and an activist.
Work about Native Americans, a group that has almost no presence in mainstream or indie cinema.
Makes work about the environment.
With Tracy Rector, there is no point where her politics end and her art begins. The reason for this is found in the fact that her politics and art predominantly concern Native Americans, a group that, even in our late day and time, still has almost no presence in mainstream and indie American cinema. If one hopes to end this sad state of affairs, they must become political—because the system by which the movie industry excludes or represents Native Americans is almost totally political. Meaning, the history and plight of this group makes no sense unless it is seen as a consequence not of nature or destiny but of decisions made by one group (those in power, those with money, those who want more land) in the interest of that group.
Now think about this: Not one of the nominees at this year's #OscarsSoWhite Oscars was Native American, and the last big Native American role in Hollywood, Tonto in Disney's reboot of The Lone Ranger, was played by a white man (Johnny Depp). This is the kind of cultural background one must set the work and activism of Rector in. As the executive director of Longhouse Media, a film production group that focuses on indigenous narratives and images, she has for the past 11 years helped to provide the resources for films about a group of people that, if not ignored entirely, is vastly misrepresented.
The organization also works hard to make sure these films are made with as much care and creativity as possible. It is not enough to just point a camera at Native Americans and show them doing this or that; one has to transform these images into a feeling. For example, the Longhouse Media short documentary Our Home (2005) is about how the acidification of Puget Sound is not only destroying the life forms in that body of water but also an old culture that has had a very close relationship with those life forms. The destruction of this relationship is not so much about food but about a whole world, a whole way of thinking and dreaming about water. Every image and sequence in this documentary captures the mood of this loss. And this mood (the art of the work) transforms the political into a feeling. (It was indeed the early-20th-century French novelist Marcel Proust who thought the function of a work of art is to connect the interior of one person with that of another.)
A prestigious grant from the Tribeca Film Institute in 2014 helped Rector and a team of excellent Longhouse Media filmmakers expand the themes of Our Home into a full-length documentary, Clearwater, about the 15,000-year relationship between regional tribes and Puget Sound. The strange thing about this work (which is not yet completed) is how it is at once angry (even outraged) yet deeply peaceful. It's angry about what capitalism has done (polluted our bodies of water, deprived people of their basic human rights, disrupted old and profound associations), but it's peaceful because the waters and land captured by Rector's camera are still and will always be alive with the ancestors. The peace in this work is respectful. And I think this is Rector's aesthetic and genius. You find it again in her short film Maiden of Deception Pass: Guardian of Her Samish People—this anger that never explodes, this peacefulness that's never untroubled.