Adrian Baker on Animating Native American Oral History

By Rebecca Huval
Posted on March 13, 2013

Originally posted on the Independent Lens Blog

Sometimes, the shameful chapters of our past deserve to be excavated through an animated short, the form du jour for oral history projects such as StoryCorps. From the PBS Online Film Festival, the short documentary Injunuity: Buried features the story of a Native American burial ground and shellmound recently built over by a Bay Area mall.

Adrian Baker, director of Injunuity, one of 25 short videos in the PBS 2013 Online Film Festival
Adrian Baker, director of Injunuity, one of 25 short videos in the PBS 2013 Online Film Festival. Buried will be available on the PBS Online Film Festival webpage and the rest of the shorts will soon be available on the Injunuity website

The series captures field recordings of Native Americans who dissect issues such as Native American language preservation and education, remixed as three-minute animations in a variety of styles. The 25 films in the overall festival will be available between March 4 to 22. Director Adrian Baker shared with us the inspiration for his cinematic collages and animations that capture modern-day Native American issues, as well as the stories of our shared past. 

1. Why did you structure these stories in three-minute shorts? 

There are so many issues to talk about and discuss, so many problems that need our attention. So rather than setting out to solve all of these issues or come to hard and fast conclusions, instead, I wanted to create starting points for discussions more than anything else. In three minutes you can create that foundation that's necessary to begin meaningful dialog, but where it goes from there is up to the viewer, or the teacher who watches it with their classroom, or the parent who watches it with their child. 

I also wanted to create pieces that fit into today's quick twitch lifestyle where more media is being consumed in shorter amounts of time. The fixed running time model that we have for television is being replaced by the free form of the web, where time length isn't dictated by commercial concerns or by what comes on before or after. And really, all you have to do is take a look at anyone's Facebook feed to see that there are more and more shorter pieces of content being passed around and shared. Today's viewer is on the go, watching a smart phone for ten minutes on BART [the Bay Area's commuter rail service]. So there is a growing market for shorter content. But what may be the best thing about the three-minute short is that, even if the viewer doesn't like it that much, no matter where you are in the piece, even if it's just beginning, it's almost over.

Injunuity by Adrian Baker 
An animation from Injunuity by Adrian Baker

2. How did you meet the community organizer featured in Buried, Corrina Gould? 

Corrina is a pretty well-known activist and educator in the Northern California Native community who is always out on the front lines. She and I had met in passing since we're both connected to the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, where I worked as a tutor/mentor in their after-school program and where Corinna is now the Title VII Coordinator. At the beginning of our production, our crew went down to Santa Clara to the California Conference on American Indian Education to conduct our first round of interviews. It was at the suggestion of co-producer Manny Lieras that we interview Corinna, and it turned out to be an amazing interview. 

3. Has Corrina's group, Indian People Organizing for Change, received any responses from the Emeryville mall, Bay Street, about the Native American burial ground since the documentary? Or have they had any other recent victories? 

As far as I know, nothing has changed and its just business-as-usual at the Bay Street Mall. But the Black Friday protests have continued, and will continue. On other fronts, there have been victories. In Santa Cruz, there was a home development project that was halted due to the discovery of an Ohlone burial site. After months of wrangling between the developers (KB Home), the city of Santa Cruz, and Ohlone elders, a positive agreement was reached. The site will remain untouched by development and the Ohlone will have access to it for ceremonial purposes. The sacred site that was discovered was dated at approximately 6,000 years old, so it's good that KB and the city of Santa Cruz showed respect for the original inhabitants and did the right thing.

Animation from Injunuity 
Animation from Injunuity

4. Right now, I can only watch Buried on your website. What is your plan for rolling out the other videos? 

There are nine pieces, and the plan is to roll them out one by one over time leading up to the November television broadcast of the Injunuity show, which will be a half hour program in which all of the pieces will be shown together. 

5. Do you have advice for other filmmakers interested in creating short, online-friendly documentaries, either production- or promotion-wise? 

Find a story that interests you and go after it. Figure out a way to tell it and get it out there. Be less concerned with production money and expensive equipment, and more focused on storytelling and figuring out how to creatively maximize the tools you do have. Nowadays technology has been democratized to the point where something can even be shot on a smartphone, edited on a laptop, and pumped out into the real world via the web, all with relative ease. Look at the presidential election we just endured. The most damaging piece of footage that came out of that whole process (Romney's remarks about the 47%) was [likely] captured on someone's smartphone. So, the Revenge of Little Brother is in effect. We're now able to turn the cameras back on Big Brother. Everybody's got one, and we like to use them. That's why something like crowd-sourcing is now a viable way to use multiple points of view in order to build and tell a story about a singular event without needing an expensive production budget behind it.

Animation from Injunuity

As far as promotion goes, all the social media tools make it easier for filmmakers to get the word out about their projects, and it makes it easier for something to catch fire and go viral, which happens all the time. But as good as social networking and word of mouth can be, nothing beats having an entity behind you like Vision Maker Media or ITVS to help with something like promotion, which is definitely not my forte. 

6. What do you hope to accomplish for Injunuity by participating in the PBS Online Film Festival? 

I hope the online film festival will help create more awareness about issues like the protection of sacred sites and about places like the Bay Street Mall. I also hope it brings some much-needed attention to groups like IPOC [Indian People Organizing for Change] that are struggling to make positive changes in the community. People should know about the ground they're walking on and what has been done to a sacred place just so they can go shopping. In a broader sense, I hope Buried encourages viewers to seek out and watch the other Injunuity pieces. There are a lot of problems out there that need solving. But there are also solutions out there, solutions that have been right in front of us the entire time, and we, as a nation, need to stop ignoring the people who have the knowledge that could lead us to those possible solutions, and we need to start listening.


From our blog

  1. ITVS Welcomes Brandii Rice as Head of Business and Legal Affairs

    August 10, 2023

    ITVS is pleased to welcome Brandii Rice as our new Head of Business and Legal Affairs. In her role Rice will oversee business and legal affairs across the ITVS brand portfolio. In addition, she will guide licensing and business strategies to support ITVS’ content development, production, distribution and audience development goals. She will join ITVS

  2. Carrie Lozano Will Lead ITVS as President & CEO, Succeeding Sally Jo Fifer

    June 7, 2023

    Carrie Lozano joins ITVS from the Sundance Institute, where she served as director of Documentary Film and Artist Programs, supporting boundary-breaking filmmakers across the globe. At ITVS, she will continue to protect independent artists’ voices, editorial control and copyright while elevating nonfiction storytelling as an essential strategy

  3. Lisa Tawil Joins the International Board of INPUT

    June 1, 2023

    Discover how Lisa Tawil's appointment to the International Board of INPUT strengthens worldwide collaboration in public media.