“O’odham Dances”
a Moving Rural Verse Poem-Film

O’odham Dances is a lyrical film adaptation of a Tohono O’odham ritual in which people join with not only the animals of the desert but all the important elements necessary for rain, including winds, clouds, and the heat off the desert. Desert images and sounds convey the powerful sense of place and sacred space Ofelia Zepeda’s poem evokes. Poem by Ofelia Zepeda. Film by Jonathan VanBallenberghe and Ofelia Zepeda. Produced by the Western Folklife Center.

About theTohono O'odham:

The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally-recognized tribe, with ancestral lands located primarily in the Mexican state of Sonora and the U.S. State of Arizona. Formerly known as Papago, the tribe’s name was officially changed in the 1980s to the Tohono O’odham, meaning “Desert People.”  The Tohono O’odham of today live on four separate land bases totaling more than 2.7 million acres in southwestern Arizona.

Courtesy of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Courtesy of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

About the Artists:

 
Ofelia Zepeda  is a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation of southern Arizona, born and raised in Stanfield, Arizona. She is a Regent's Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in American Indian language education, maintenance and recovery. She has published works in the Tohono O’odham language and in English including  A Papago Grammar  and three collections of poetry,  Where Clouds Are Formed ,  Ocean Power: Poems from the Deser t and  Jewed I-hoi / Earth Movements.  Photo by Tony Celentano.

Ofelia Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation of southern Arizona, born and raised in Stanfield, Arizona. She is a Regent's Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in American Indian language education, maintenance and recovery. She has published works in the Tohono O’odham language and in English including A Papago Grammar and three collections of poetry, Where Clouds Are Formed, Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert and Jewed I-hoi / Earth Movements. Photo by Tony Celentano.

Jonathan VanBallenberghe  is a documentary filmmaker with a lifelong interest in wildlife and the environment. Raised in Juneau, Alaska, he now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he runs Open Lens Productions. Jonathan's films include  In the Company of Moose  and  River of Bears . He is currently at work on  Almost An Island , a documentary about an Inupiaq family living in Kotzebue, Alaska.

Jonathan VanBallenberghe is a documentary filmmaker with a lifelong interest in wildlife and the environment. Raised in Juneau, Alaska, he now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he runs Open Lens Productions. Jonathan's films include In the Company of Moose and River of Bears. He is currently at work on Almost An Island, a documentary about an Inupiaq family living in Kotzebue, Alaska.

 

Ofelia Zepeda on the process of marrying poetry and film:

“The “Moving Rural Verse” project was a wonderful experience in collaborative work using film and poetry.  I was very happy with the seamlessness of this collaboration and the openness it allowed not only for my poem but also my voice throughout the development of the film. The images of the Sonoran desert and audio of the poem created an aesthetic piece of work. “

Jonathan VanBallenberghe on filming:

“The poem film experience has had a definite creative impact on my filmmaking.  It has made me more interested in bringing a lyrical/poetic style to my documentary film projects. I'm currently working on a documentary about the Inupiaq village of Kotzebue, Alaska, and I'm consciously trying to implement some storytelling techniques that I learned from the poem film, like combining dialogue with landscape cinematography, creating visual patterns for lyrical structure and tension, and using silence for dramatic effects.”

Additional Resources:

http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/history-culture/

http://www.sanxaviermission.org/Tohono.html

Moving Rural Verse was also funded by Jeff Tant and Briana Tiberti.