Virtual Women Filmmakers Festival: Screening with Sasha Wortzel

Date
  • On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) hosted a virtual screening and conversation with artist and filmmaker Sasha Wortzel about community and environmental stewardship. The program includes discussion about Wortzel’s early film "Paint It Again" (2010), as well as the in-progress documentary “River of Grass.” Inspired by Marjory Stoneman Douglas's 1947 book, “The Everglades: River of Grass,” this film ties Florida’s current vulnerability to climate change to ongoing legacies of settler colonialism and waves of displacement. All artwork clips have been removed from this event recording. Wortzel was joined by Houston Cypress (Otter Clan of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida), artist and founder of Love the Everglades Movement and consulting producer on “River of Grass”; and Saisha Grayson, time-based media curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This program was part of SAAM’s fourth annual Virtual Women Filmmakers Festival, which was presented completely online and ran from March 1-23, 2022, in honor of Women’s History Month. In 2022, the festival focused on the theme of “(Re)Making Space,” and featured the following artists: Sasha Wortzel, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and Shirin Neshat. Through their artistic choices, the conventions they overturn, and the visionary insights they bring to each frame, each artist uses their cameras and imaginations to reshape how we see the world. Through powerful and experimental artworks, they invite us to examine our relationships to and deeper understandings of chosen landscapes.

    This program was made possible by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Hello everyone out there. Thank you for joining. I'm Saisha Grayson. I'm curator of time-based media at Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C. and I'm so excited to be kicking off the 2022 Women Filmmakers Festival at SAAM, with tonight’s program featuring artist-filmmaker Sasha Wortzel. Sasha has invited fellow artist activist Houston Cypress who is also consulting producer on her next film to join and I'm thrilled to welcome them along with all of you to a robust discussion we'll have following a short screening to start. And now if you're coming off a busy day like me, I would like to invite everyone to take a deep breath and settle into where you are. Feel the space and find comfort to focus. As we gather tonight in cyberspace tuning in from different locations please join me in acknowledging the Native peoples on whose ancestral homelands we sit including the diverse and vibrant native communities who make their home in D.C. where SAAM's building reside and where I am, in the Lenapehoking, also known as the New York City, or in the Everglades, which we will learn more about tonight where the Miccosukee tribe of Indians continue to moderate right relations with others. For more on the Lenape, otherwise known as the Delaware tribe or the Miccosukee tribe, visit their official websites linked in the chat. And if you want to know more about the Native people where you are, you can begin by cross-referencing the digital map of Native Lands, and the National Congress of American Indian’s list of current tribal representation, which are also in the chat. While this recognition of place and land acknowledgment is always so important, it is particularly resonant with the program tonight and in fact the entire theme of this year's festival namely “(Re)Making Space.” After I found another year of just being hyper-attentive to how the experiences we were each going through were drastically different based on different localities, one zip code to the next could feel safe or not and what kind of space you had to move through affected how you felt, what kinds of living environments what kind of person space you needed. This really made me think about how we're both shaping the spaces and being shaped by places we live and move through. And I wanted to invite artists who inspire me and could inspire all of us to come together and guide us as we consider this dance, this relationship between where you are and who you are and how both evolve. Across decades, this year's featured artist Sasha Wortzel, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz and Shirin Neshat have produced incredible works that deepen and nuance and reframe these questions for me and I'm so grateful they have all agreed to share their work and thoughts. Speaking to this point our artist tonight once noted, quote, “one cannot separate themselves from land or larger communities in which we are embedded especially those of us who are made marginal by dominant social political structures.” In this one quote, Wortzel zooms in on entanglement as the crux of both the challenges we faced and our possible solutions. The interlocking systems of oppression that can only be countered by nurturing the interconnectedness of human and non-human kin, ecologies and legacies that stretch from ancestors to heirs. When I first encountered Wortzel’s films they were focused on legacies of queer activism and place-making, asserting, in her words, quote, “ we've always been powerful in making communities and changing the world in large and small acts.” Reflecting that we'll start our screening with a short video in this vein from 2010, an early work called “Paint It Again” which focuses on personal spaces and how those are resonant with relationships and care. That will be followed by a 7-minute sneak preview of what Wortzel is working on today, her first feature-length film an experimental documentary titled “River of Grass.” This title borrows from the remarkably prescient 1947 book by Marjory Stoneman Douglas “The Everglades: River of Grass.” And it is Douglas's written words you'll hear in disembodied voiceovers in this excerpt. Having returned to Florida, where they grew up, Wortzel is following Douglas's historic insights as well as new visionary activists to consider through this film the interlocking legacies and futures of colonialism, extractive capitalism, tribal sovereignty, self-emancipation, resistance and precarity as they all coexist in the Everglades. And I'm again very honored to allow us to see and discuss this work while it's in progress, a discussion that will be very much enriched by the perspective of Cypress, her co-producer, themselves an artist and activist and co-founder of Love The Everglades and a member of the panther clan of the Miccosukee tribe, which is, as we speak defending against further incursions into the ecosystem. In addition to tonight's special guest before we start the screening I want to sincerely thank the team at SAAM and the American Women’s History Initiative for supporting the festival in its fourth year and the folks at the Smithsonian AV for bringing the Zoom to your screen.
    I see a note that I've misstated the clan, I'm sorry, Cypress, a member of the Otter Clan of the Miccosukee tribe. I also want to note another unfortunate shift, we had hoped that Dr. Tony Perry, curator of the environmental history from the Smithsonian American History Museum would be able to join but COVID scheduling shifts meant that he had to change plans. I just have some final housekeeping and then we'll watch the films. As noted in the chat we have live captioning which you can access along the bottom of your screen and you can submit questions throughout in the Q&A box and we'll gather them up later for the discussion. Our screenings are through Zoom so sometimes that means resolution can be impacted at points along the way, so if you see anything that looks funny just assume it's your platform and not the piece. And we encourage you to watch on bigger screens and put your phones away so we can actually all stay in virtual space and focus together. So thanks and enjoy. Let's play the first video.


    - (Saisha Grayson) Hello. Thank you. I invite Sasha and Houston to join me on screen. And I just want to say I'm very excited to see the rest of River of Grass. Every time I see sections of it, I just want to feel the whole piece. I know that that's coming. But -- so, hi, so good to all be here in this space. And thank you for sharing. Those are both -- it's interesting, they're in some way, they're both very personal, even though one is literally this kind of interior domestic personal story, and the other expands almost endlessly, wildly into every possible interlinking system we can imagine. And one of the things that I've just really appreciated, thinking through your work Sasha and sort of getting to know more of it, is that there are these kind of two themes as I laid out in the intro, let’s say queer placemaking and this question of sort of systems and systems of oppression but also systems of care.And they don't always get foregrounded together but in your work they sort of take different percentages or might come to the fore more than the other, but the more I think and sit with it the more I see how they're there all the time. So it gives a different perspective looking back at “Paint It Again” now seeing what you're focused on. But -- so I want to have an opportunity to kind of talk about both those aspects and maybe we can do that by starting by talking about “Paint It Again,” which was grounded more in that first consideration or showed more obviously about this relationship these two women and 40 years in the house, and then sort of how that art really very sensically sort of moves through a number of projects, to a place where ecology is really foregrounded. And maybe if we can do that by starting to talk about how you came to focus on this couple and the house, and maybe even that story about the funny anecdote of the paint job as the way in.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Sure. Well first thank you so much for having me, it's such an honor to be here and pleasure, thank you Saisha and thank you Shantelle and Gloria and all the Smithsonian staff behind the scenes for making this possible and also a very special thank you to Houston Cypress, my colleague for joining the conversation and to everyone who is tuning in tonight. I know we're a little fatigued on the Zoom but also it's a pleasure that it can -- so many people from so many different places can be here tonight. So “Paint It Again,” thank you so much for starting with that film. It's very special for me and I know I have family members joining tonight, but the main participant and the voice that you hear is actually a family member of mine, Eileen, and her partner Florence, who she's speaking about was my dad's first cousin, so these are queer family members, part of the family I was born into, I have other families. And they were, I would say, kind of some of the first queer adults or elders, you know, that I met. And I got to know them growing up and it was a really -- I think really important for me to see them and -- as sort of models for queer possibilities for the future and living -- living their lives and being -- also being artists or having artistic sensibilities and not concerned necessarily with following the normative expectation of someone of that time. They also, you know, fascinated me and gave me -- told me lots of stories about queer life in New York, pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall and gave me access to a kind of lineage that I -- I'm often searching for in my work and so I -- when I moved to New York, in my early 20s, I started taking the train out to their home in Bridgehampton they're part of a wave of lesbians who moved out there in the 60s and 70s. And spending time with them and taking out my camera and then, unfortunately, my cousin Florence passed away shortly after I started filming with them. But in a kind of beautiful organic way my visits to Eileen-- and I also started bringing friends and she was a great storyteller-- But the process of making the film became a really interesting vehicle for us, for me to get to know my cousin Florence, to get access to these stories and histories which live so much orally in bodies and not necessarily in books or archives and it was a way for us to both play and to work through our own sense of loss or grief. Eileen confided in me that she had wished she been an actor so we kind of took on a more intentional collaboration. where we would move through the house and she would tell memories and read stories she had been writing about her life with Florence, who she shared this space with for 40 years and I would direct her. And the house also itself was just a beautiful space to film because they -- Eileen had been an art director and they together with Florence had started an antique business in American folk art. So it was just a lot of fascinating objects in that house and also photos and letters and books and things that I enjoyed exploring and getting close to these people in my family.

    - (Saisha Grayson) That's so interesting to think about art direction because such a form of agency over -- over space-shaping, and sort of how one gets to think about the expressivity of an aesthetic or what that red does for example in a room. And I thought that was such an interesting anecdote, because it has something to do both with control and with letting go or being in relationship that is -- in which you trust somebody else to kind of step in.And help you co-create space. Which is where this sense of sort of communal spaces also the Bridgehampton the idea that you moved together to find a community and being able to kind of create a place in the world that feels safe and has -- has resources and reinforcement. So I really thought that was an interesting choice, did that kind of come -- was that apparent as you are moving through the materials and editing or was that something you came to sort of towards the end? I know this is sort of part of a larger piece too if you want to talk about that.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of other work I have -- I -- a lot of other stuff I had been working on or sort of media that I’d seen about queer life frequently was focusing on a form of queer life in the streets, or in public spaces or in clubs, which are so critical and important, and so much happening there and my work goes to some of those places, and -- but with them it was definitely I was interested in the kind of -- this cocreation of space. This sort of interior more private space, the power of queer domesticity and forming home with another person was definitely a part of that, and became just more apparent as I started to explore the house and all the materials and objects that were in there, I think another thing that interests me is this idea that places or even buildings hold memory and have borne witness to the events that have unfolded there and carried their energies and hold culture or traditions, I felt this was one of those spaces for a larger narrative about queer home-making, place-making. And also a more personal thing for me that I was trying to trace in exploring everything from these textures of the wallpaper and --

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yeah.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah a really incredible texture and tactility to actually a lot of your work it's interesting because it comes through both in things you've shot and in things you edit together of found footage. So I think it's something in your eye but it's also a sense of maybe embodiment or really wanting to bring you sort of sensorily into a space with - that is resonant, as you’re saying, but has these historical layers. And that was the kind of work that I had seen you know when you talk about club life I think I first encountered your work in relationship to a project that you did with Tourmaline “Happy Birthday, Marsha!,” that’s sort of a celebration of Marsha P. Johnson, who is this incredible trans activist and icon. And really her key participation in the Stonewall Uprising is really important but you also shift the focus so that it’s her wit and sparkle and sort of creative practice that really came through. And that was this very -- yeah, it was a very glittery and upbeat presentation and the next work that I encountered which is “This Is An Address I,” which I think came out of that same body of archival research this moments, you know, both pre- and post- Stonewall but kind of that community that first came into the streets and had this level of activism and organization to self-assert. That that was coming out of archival research and you found different ways of pulling the imaginary out of that, we talk about the archives, the imaginary, a lot, and I wanted to both ask you to maybe talk about what -- what your relationship with archival research is to get to those places and then whether you want to set up a little clip of “This Is An Address ” Because we have that available if you registered for this talk you have password access, but we realize that not everybody will have seen that so it's a sort of a way to bring you into that if you want to talk about that a little bit, too.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Sure. So my relationship with archives, I think, you know, some of the questions that I'm often exploring in my work are -- you know, it definitely stems from a place of being a younger person, also again searching for elders, queer elders, ancestors, people who came before, and -- and knowing that oftentimes those stories haven't been archived or written down-valued. And thinking about, you know, what narratives do archives produce, celebrate and maintain, which ones do they, again, not archive and write down, which ones are actually systematically erased and then what new narratives can -- can we imagine or create within those kind of gaps and elisions, which very much, I think, have to name the work of Saidiya Hartman a critical fabulation as a big influence on me and also on particularly the approach taken in “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” So I'm often thinking, also, about how can the very production process and this sort of aesthetics, visual and soundscape also kind of call attention to these questions and sort of intervene in these kind of ways that these stories of resistance get erased. And then how -- how to do that, how to tell these stories without just reproducing those same violences, and that's where I think oftentimes the imaginary comes in and that the goal is not to necessarily correct something in the past that hasn't been made part of the official record but actually just to create new -- our own new records and narratives altogether.

    - (Saisha Grayson) yeah, that's great. And I -- I guess I should add “This Is An Address” was the piece that I saw where when I started to think about this film program and think about placemaking and our relationship, it was -- and it brought together, you know, the kind of queer archival work you were doing and this sense of kind of pondering environment pondering real estate pondering the forces that are both personal but also hugely systemic and capitalistic that are battling over what happens to these histories as they are layered into these spaces so “This Is An Address” is looking at Sylvia Rivera who is Marsha P. Johnson’s partner in activist and organizing and the community that she's living with on the Hudson Piers and the kind of constant threat of removal and surveillance, but also even as they're making a home there being told that by not having an address with a number they can't even access the resources of a city that's A) activated by them and sort of full of cultural energy that comes from that.But also that is supposedly there to respond to these communities. So it's very important sort of for me in thinking about these, like the flow between something like “Paint It Again” and “River of Grass.” So Cal can we play that, I think it's a three-minute clip that comes from “This Is An Address I.”


    - (Saisha Grayson) That sound is so remarkable. Yeah Houston is clapping, I don’t know everybody can see…

    - (Houston Cypress) So powerful.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah it really it is, and it feels screeching, yeah.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) It's a very intense part of that, the most intense part of that film, for sure.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Do you want to talk about how you use sound a little bit? Because that's one example that's really powerful.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Sure. Sure. Sound is definitely another really important element always of filmmaking and storytelling. I, you know, tend to use -- do a lot of field recordings in the sites that I'm working in so even with “Paint It Again” or-- so I'll do field recordings and sometimes I'll take those sounds and I’ll work with them to abstract them to manipulate or change them or maybe to place a sound that's recorded in another moment alongside a moment where it's not actually taking place, but it was something that was happening in that location, this idea that you know, many things like just a haunting -- a haunting of the past, a haunting of the archives, kind of a world off screen that is unknown or maybe can't quite be visualized, with “Paint It Again” for instance the sound that's in there is a sound of a record player that was in their home. We were listening to an old Yiddish record and it got to the end and it was just skipping. And there is something about the repetition and rhythm that it created a sense of time stopping but time also ongoing, cyclical nature to history and unfolding and with “This Is An Address” a lot of that sound also I have to acknowledge two fantastic collaborators, Archival Feedback, a sound artist in Miami, and then Geo Wyeth, who also I worked with on “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” score helped bring in the voices but there was really an intentional idea to take some of the recordings of the demolition process, the footage you see of that building being dismantled, that's shot in the present and the archival is the interview footage. And there was a sense of really wanting to capture like this moment of things kind of breaking down, of rupture, of anger, of all kind of – all the different emotions and feelings I think that flow through that space. And that was a particular, like, heated, kind of, escalation of the sound. It's all --

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Field recordings that were done on that site today.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah you feel the violence of that act through the sound, I think, even as you're seeing it and the building is being ripped apart, it's sort of the sound that is the -- kind of takes you viscerally through what it means to these kind of removals, because what that building is, is less important than what that space has meant and as it's sort of being replaced by more corporate or more moneyed interests, I think is really -- for those of us who know that space in New York, what that signal means.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) And I'll just say that was a – you know, that's a particularly more maybe abrasive or like loud moment and then there's also moments of quiet and silence and in particular I worked with Geo to bring in this really beautiful Synth music that adds softness and wanting to kind of use sound to also underscore some of the conceptual thinking under the piece which is that, you know, I'm interested in bearing witness to these really terrible violences and injustices. And also simultaneously attending to and sort of lifting up strategies for recuperation, reconciliation, healing, highlighting the beautiful forms of care and community-building and solidarity that Sylvia is cultivating with the folks living there, even in the face of so much violence in a system that deems some people worthy and some disposable, there's just still a world being made. So I feel like there's this idea of both the importance of world-building and what world we want to actively un -- unmake and pull apart.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Well that sounds like the perfect moment, maybe, to shift, then, to sort of, you know, as I said, like so much of this with this New York archive and moment that I was aware of in your practice, so that when I heard you were working on the Everglades, where those questions are both personal and community-level and -- and planetary-level and, you know, philosophical, like I wanted to know what you were going to do with that so very much. So I would love to hear like at what point you realized that that was where your next project was going to be and your calling to it and then of course how you met Houston and how you came to collaborate and work together.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yes. So “River of Grass,” I -- I'll start by saying I was born and raised in southwest Florida which is an area that is -- is the Everglades though it's been changed radically, many parts of it, but I think similarly to my sort of interest in how stories and histories get embedded in place, and thinking about geographies of resistance whether that be a moment in downtown life in New York around the Stonewall riots, and this kind of like community-building that was happening between Sylvia and Marsha at that time or the Community-building that Sylvia was doing on the piers in “This Is An Address” and connecting that to a present moment, similarly, kind of taking those questions south back to a place that’s really shaped me, and thinking about land as ancestor, land as my relative in the same – in the same way. And trying really actually to, I would say around in 2016, there was -- and then following that over several years there were these really intense toxic algal blooms. There’s something that’s happening actually globally but on the West Coast of Florida we -- one -- in 2016, and then again really terribly in 2018, I was home and the – the – it just devastated marine life, it killed all local businesses, it made it – it makes it hard to breathe and there’s all these health consequences and it’s very much tied to how the Everglades were drained, reclaimed and replumbed for – I believe for industry, for agriculture and for development, and how that place was really – has been really Wetland in general in the Everglades were undervalued, misunderstood, maligned as worthless when in fact the Everglades, we couldn't live in south Florida without them. That’s where we get all of our drinking water. They sustain so much life. Without them it would be a desert. So I was really trying to understand why are these events happening that are impacting me, impacting my family, communities, and then realizing oh, it's part of this larger narrative of how we change this place, of legacy of settler colonialism, ongoing, and wanting to understand like what happened to create these conditions. Not to mention that, you know, Florida is like many coastal places but particularly Florida is very vulnerable to sea level rise and climate change and the Everglades are one of the things that helps sort of counter that, helps buffer us from storms, helps mitigate sea level rise and again provides us clean drinking water. So I was kind of coming at wanting to understand how did we get there, what unfolded historically and how are these sort of urgent ecological issues that we're facing today really rooted in legacies of settler colonialism, extraction and misunderstanding of the land and particularly wetlands which I feel you can kind of draw some parallels between you know extraction and marginalization of queer and trans life as well. So moving from “This Is An Address” which also does focus more on kind of the experience of that community and displacement, but is very much highlighting how this space is alongside the water and waterways.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) And other kinds of non-human life that we coexist with, so that's sort of the short rambly version of how I got there. And in particularly the town I was born in and raised in was formed from a former Fort that was established during the Seminole Wars, a series of wars that were intentionally the United States trying to remove indigenous people and indigenous life from the state of Florida and I was really seeing the connections between that, and what's happening ecologically today. And so started investigating through an artist residency in the Everglades National Park in 2017.

    - (Saisha Grayson) That's where you met Houston, right?

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yes. So before I went down to the residency, I was just, you know, doing research and figuring out like who do I want to talk to, and Houston's name kept popping up and I was reading these fabulous interviews, learning about this organization that Houston founded Love The Everglades Movement, which I'm sure we'll talk about shortly, but yeah, one of the things I did was just to reach out to Houston, and also He's a fellow artist. We're interested in also telling stories about queer life, and so I just reached out and we had a first meeting right at the very beginning of the project, and we just sort of clicked and over time. Houston's been such an amazing generous resource, connecting me, helping answer questions, and then more formally came on board as a consulting producer and is consulting on that -- on the narration in particular on the film yeah.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Houston, do you want to jump in? We know now a little bit about Sasha's connection to this space and the project and this land, you also have incredible history there, will you share?

    - (Houston Cypress) Sure.

    Thank you. Yeah. Again I want to say “shonabish,” which is the Miccosukee word for “thank you,” it is an honor to be with you here, and I'm a part of the Miccosukee tribe of Indians of Florida which is one of the indigenous communities that are making their home in the Everglades, so having grown up in Everglades is like I benefited from the plant medicines that are still available there as I was growing up and so now that I was the capacity to be able to advocate for conserving and protecting these areas, ultimately I want the next generation of indigenous folks to be able to still benefit from the plant medicines that I benefited from. But when Sasha came to the residency, in 2017, I was really fascinated by how this very talented artist could portray the Everglades to me in such a way that it was new to me. Sasha showed me some clips they were filming at a particular day the Everglades and I was blown away. Is this the place I call home? I don't recognize it but I'm blown away by how beautiful that you portrayed it. It was a real honor when Sasha reached out to me and asked me to collaborate on this project, it's been a beautiful journey to dive into the text that Marjory has made, to have more forays and research excursions on the land and then just to kind of think about how this place is already such a queer landscape. The Everglades is already such a queer refuge, a utopia and also still a very contested piece of landscape, a contested mosaic of landscapes. So it’s been an honor to kind of think through, to contemplate and meditate on these places and also see what we can do to, I don't know, we're filling in the gaps or if we are shining a light on unspoken or unrecorded histories, however we want to frame that, but like Sasha was referring to some of the elisions, what has been left out, and what remains. And what will return again. So it's been a really beautiful journey so far and I'm happy to be on this journey with Sasha.

    - (Saisha Grayson) That's so interesting to hear you speak about, both of you about, the queer aspect of the landscape. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about what you each see as sort of meaningful in that, as well as I think Sasha you mentioned that you felt like even in Marjory Stoneman Douglas's language from the 1940s that there was something there that you thought in and of itself had a kind of queer angle and I think everybody would love to hear more about that.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Sure. So -- so in -- so in the “Everglades: River of Grass,” the book written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, that this film sort of takes up and sort of reimagines, one of the things that really struck me in reading this text, I mean many things, it's a really special book, but Douglas specifically refers the Everglades as they and intentionally uses this pronoun they, which for me, you know-. of course I am making these connections, but you know on the one hand it was a way for her to very explicitly say this is not just one thing, this place, it's not singular. The Everglades are a network of interdependent ecosystems, different types of wetlands from the pine rock lands, to the cypress habitat, to the sawgrass, that all work together as one holistic system. And so there’s something very – so there’s that. But also, of course, they has ties for me the Everglades to gender neutral, gender expansiveness or gender neutral pronouns, queerness, to -- to spirits, to alternate types of kinship structures, this idea of cultivating relationships with non-human life, as well, and then just also Douglas, herself, though, she never -- I don't believe ever identified as queer or said so, but there's something very queer in the decisions that she made in her life. She was married briefly, she actually wound up in Florida because she was going there to get a legal divorce. And she refused to ever marry again and then interviews I've been watching with her, she -- she very explicitly talks about, you know, people say, why didn't you ever remarry and she said why would I? Why bother? I didn't mean to be bothered with a man, my life was very full, I had more energy for my writing, my organizing, activism, my friends, dancing, swimming, there's something beautiful about that too. It's very queer to me. So both of those things have definitely been very -- yeah, to answer your question. I would love to hear what Houston has to say.

    - (Houston Cypress) Yeah, most definitely I'm inspired by the opportunities for chosen family, and that's so much of what people like Betty Osceola in the film had been talking about, and reminding us that the Everglades is yearning to reestablish and reconcile with us. And so people like Betty are always reminding us, you can claim these places as your family and that this is a survival strategy that will benefit so many other peoples, because once we embrace and love and get to know and affirm these places as our friends and family, it -- it makes it that much more difficult for us to -- to damage or hurt these places. And then I think it also reminds us of the joy that's inherent in these places. And I think overall, queerness is about, for me, an alternate set of values, an alternate set of joys, pleasures, and I think that's so much of what decoloniality is about, how can we honor the values of other systems. So I think queer people have led the way so much in that and our friends in the indigenous communities continue to remind us that we can claim these places as our friends and families. I think those are some of the queer aspects and values that the Everglades continues to shine and scintillate for us. And also how are we reclaiming what used to be epithets or considered bad words, for example, I'm looking at the clip that we just looked at from Sasha's film where the person is talking about “they” as if it is an oppressive force but how are we going to reclaim and invert that and find a sense of value and joy and worth and dignity in that beautiful gender neutral pronoun that is a way of embracing our family in the Everglades. These are some of the ways I appreciate the queerness of the land. And also as an environmentalist and an activist, I'm excited to bringing queer people out there because they have such a unique view. So what is the queer ecological knowledge that we can document and celebrate across the landscape?

    - (Saisha Grayson) That's such a beautiful prompt. Thank you. I mean and that makes me think of something that's swirling around, there's -- you have Marjory Stoneman Douglas as one narrator and you mentioned, Betty, can you pronounce her last name for me?

    - (Houston Cypress) Osceola

    - (Saisha Grayson: Osceola, who is a present-day narrator in the film you see her in the clip, we saw she is a boat captain but also an educator and an activist. She does I think you were talking about walking tours to understand the landscape, and I was thinking between all of you there's kind of a creative pedogogy, like this film was kind of a pedagogy and epistemology and a way of thinking about and moving through a landscape as a teaching tool, is and activism you do Houston. So maybe can we talk just a little bit before we open up to audience questions and this is a reminder, throw those in there, about what it means to sort of teach differently, understand differently, know differently, that this space kind of encourages and maybe needs.

    - (Houston Cypress) Yeah I would like to share briefly on that. When our colleague, our friend Betty Osceola had done these direct actions across the Everglades, she refers to them as prayer walks. And these prayer walks are opportunity for not only advocacy and to achieve political goals but also for ceremony. Also for deep listening, and I think that when we talk about pedagogy and how people learn and we instruct others, in some systems, it is as if we are waiting to be given knowledge but whereas in the indigenous worldview which Betty and others cultivate and promulgate, it is not necessarily that we wait for these gifts, we have to go out and search, we have to go out and ask, we have to go out and humble ourselves and open ourselves to these places. And Betty and her ancestors and her family that have done these prayer walks have been really great exemplars of some of these techniques. Intuition, even almost a clairvoyant sort of sensibility because we're listening deeply, we’re sharing our intuitions and interpreting them. And I think these ways of knowing, these ways of being and becoming, have either been abandoned by western civilization or have been forgotten or trampled and I think that's sort of things that Sasha's work has been pointing out. I'm really happy that Betty and others in the community have been reminding us of some of these different ways. of knowing and being and becoming that are vibrant and scintillating across the landscape.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yes and I mean I really critical part of, you know I just want to acknowledge how important Betty has been to this film, as a participant and also as -- as an elder and educator, you know, one of the first things that she said to me when we were getting to know each other, she talked about in order to heal the land you have to heal -- we have to heal ourselves, too. And that's been kind of a definitely a guiding kind of force of this work. And I've been grateful to be able to participate, to participate and at times document these -- these prayer walks. And also the many ways that Betty and others are -- these different strategies that people are using, whether that's this prayer walk and deep listening, organizing a protest rally on I-75 that runs through the Everglades to protest Burnett Oil exploration in the big cypress which is happening currently as a big threat. Whether it is people going on and removing invasives, some of those invasive snakes are there because we put them there. It's a form of kind of giving back and healing the land and it does something to us, it transforms us through doing that. I’ve been lucky to share moments of joy and celebration, so I wanted to share that, as well.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Yeah, I appreciate all of that. I think, you know, there's tonality to the film that feels like listening, it feels excited to be in relationship and commons with all of these different factors that are at play in that environment. So I really appreciate how it feels so differently than maybe a kind of climate awareness documentary that's main goal is, as Houston was saying, to tell you, to sort of feed information. There's a cultivation that needs to happen within the way you edit and gather, you know, an understanding of what this constellation of relationships is and that then doing the work is part of the practice. So I think you've figured out formally how to carry that through it's just really exciting to see and so as I said I can't wait to see the whole thing. We have some great questions, so I want to -- to turn to those.
    One of them is, you know, about continuing this notion of queer family and romance in the conversation. The phrase proposes that queer collecting whether objects or people or landscapes are element of nature enable us to constitute family as queer communities. Is that something that resonates with you, that comes up in different films, I think is the question there. The statement question.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Can you just repeat it one more time? About collecting --

    - (Saisha Grayson) The sort of how this might relate to queer collecting of objects or people or elements in a landscape, that enables a reconstitution of community or family.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Houston, do you want to take that, by any chance?

    - (Houston Cypress) Hmm, I'm not sure I understand the notion of queer collecting, but I think that -- I think that it's definitely, these landscapes are definitely not only home, they have the potential to be home for queer people, but also sites of innovations, sites of liberation, so I think that those are some important themes and initiatives that queer people have excelled at throughout the ages. I can offer that much in terms of like reflecting on that question, but I'm not too sure if I've understood the notion of queer collecting properly but thank you for asking us and help us to think through that a little bit more.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) I'm not totally sure either, but I mean in terms of I do think about, you know, forming our own other types of family networks, with friends or -- or again with landscapes and that maybe it's.. --collecting I mean has a lot of connotations, historically, but there is a way in which we actively collect or cultivate and bring together people to form -- form new understandings of queerness and family.

    - (Saisha Grayson) I have another one that I really like, this viewer says they really love that we brought together sort of the one that the “Paint It Again” that sort of intimate personal history and hauntings, and then the kind of haunting of a shared colonial history. And so have you thought about -- what are your thoughts about the difference between the haunting of personal memory and the haunting of these shared kind of colonial histories, how do they operate differently and maybe how do you represent them differently.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Such a good question. I mean, I think it's sometimes hard to tease out what is personal and what is collective, because the -- the personal forms the collective and again, I guess that's kind of what I'm trying -- often trying to figure out for myself in -- in these works is where those things kind of intersect and inform and shape one another. You know for “River of Grass,” in terms of the personal, I was thinking very much when I started that project, you know, about this question of like how do I make sense of the fact that this place that I'm from actually may not exist, it's actually predicted to potentially cease to exist in my lifetime and it already looks radically different. And that led me to, what is my role in this? You know, as somebody who grew up here, or grew up in Florida but maybe is no longer always there, what is solidarity look like complicity and accountability? How do we sort of – yeah, bear witness to these injustices but also finding the ways that people who are navigating precarious landscapes or colonial kind of residues in our lives. You know, how do we even in the face of those things how do we build community and care and what does that look like? And how are those struggles linked the personal to these bigger collective things and always you know I don't think we can solve one without the other. So I'm often just trying to identify and sort of make more visible oftentimes for myself like the very systems that are maybe upholding these things, so that we can kind of see them and hopefully understand what we want to -- to do away with and dismantle and -- and where are we able to, again, find joy and beauty and relationality with each other.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Houston, do you want to remark on that? I know it was sort of about the making of the films, but it's also, I think, resonant with these questions sort of how you work and -- and represent different kinds of -- if you don't call them hauntings, legacies, or layers in your work.

    - (Houston Cypress) Can you propose the question again, please.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Sure it was about sort of the difference between personal memories that might haunt a space and shared colonial histories, which again as -- as Sasha was pointing out might be one and the same in many cases.

    - (Houston Cypress) When I think about like personal memories or personal stories, in contrast to colonial sort of narratives, I think that’s so much of what my community is struggling to do is to -- to preserve and transmit our -- not only personal memories and values and knowledges, but the collective values and memories and knowledges that the entire tribe has, and in that struggle to transmit and preserve the cultural practices, we are being trampled by the inscription of settler colonial policies and institutions on the land itself. So much that we end up having to dig up and throw away the settler colonial imposition on the land itself, like for example, what I mean very literally is that when you travel the roads or when you go into the cities you have to dig, maybe 10, 12 feet or more to get to the actual soil, to get to the actual caprock, so so much has been imposed upon the land, and that is pointing to the value, importance and necessity to support indigenous communities and their history preservation, but also as well, the land itself. The land has so much to teach, so much to share, and as we degrade it or impose invasive species on the land, so much more is lost. So I think it's a beautiful struggle as we maintain a sense of joy, indigenous joys and queer joys on the land in the face of oppression, violence, and just ignorance, overall, but I think that joys remain, the plants remain, and whatever we can do as people and as queer people to enact new protocols of joy is what's going to help us create pathways forward.

    - (Saisha Grayson) That's a great answer and it inspires me sort of combine three questions so that you can sort of take what you want from them and answer them. So one is a statement that you're melting my queer Floridan heart. Are there any other films, books, art collectives about the Everglades indigeneity and queerness that you would recommend, that might be something that works into this answer, another one about what you might have learned from the prayer walks, anecdotes or highlights if you participated. And then one is a very specific question of the tree islands that are seen in there and whether they hold special significance to Native Americans today. So maybe you have an anecdote from tree islands and queerness, take it away, whatever in that you sort of feel like you can bring forward.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Houston would you like to start and speak to the tree islands? I think that's a really important thing to highlight.

    - (Houston Cypress) Sure. What's -- what's the aspects of the tree islands that was asked, because there's three components.

    - (Saisha Grayson) The question was both whether the tree islands hold special significance to Native Americans living in the Everglades today and are these unique landscapes being highlighted in your film Sasha.

    - (Houston Cypress) The tree islands themselves have been places of refuge for our ancestors when they were escaping the onslaught of the American wars against indigenous people. These tree islands kept us safe and these days they are not only refuge for the people, but refuge for the species that still remain, plant species, animal species. These tree islands are keeping so many life forms safe these days. And as they keep so many life forms safe, they're also in danger because of water mis-management, because of fires, and so we're losing acreage out there. So whatever we can do to make friends with these places, come out and visit and witness, is going to help us make progress in preserving these places for future generations. So that's your invitation to come out and visit these tree islands. Contact me at Love The Everglades Movement I would love to take you out and help you fall in love with these places.

    - (Saisha Grayson) What a beautiful invitation.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) And yes, the tree islands definitely are a part of the film, which you know the film is in -- in progress and taking shape and there are many things that weren't necessarily in the sample that are part of the story and yes, definitely the tree islands are in there and yeah, other things, there's so much. Actually I believe that Love The Everglades Movement, I think you have a resource list and also have a blog that does highlight a lot of other artists, collectives, organizations, literature, that highlights the Everglades so if folks are interested, I definitely recommend reading “River of Grass,” Zora Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is also like really special, there’s so many things, too many to name but I would recommend looking at Love The Everglades and Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE), the residency I participated in, Houston on the advisory board, I believe I would check out the work of many artists going through that residency.

    - (Houston Cypress) Yeah definitely look us up on Instagram and Facebook, we do have a recommended resources list available, so you'll --

    - (Saisha Grayson) Nice.

    - (Houston Cypress) community organizations much more for you to enjoy.

    - (Saisha Grayson) I think we can drop that link in the chat too if people want to go straight from here to there. And I'm going to ask a more formal question we're coming towards the end but I'm going to try to get through a few more of these, one person is asking I think this is for Sasha what you find the most efficient vehicle or medium for the presentation of your films, and thinking of this as a chance, this is on zoom, but how do you often show your films and what are some other ways that this might be experienced.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Yeah thank you so much for that question. You know, I really like showing my films in a cinema, where we get to sit in the dark and have a collective experience together, something that I'm missing and hasn't been happening as much over the last few years. Definitely that's really important. I also think a lot about accessibility and providing captions and audio description and I'm also frequently working in a way where I'm making a film that is intended for that kind of collective cinematic experience which I think is super transformative to be in a room. and feel the energy of other people and really being immersed in the world-building of cinema, but I'm also often thinking about how to show these films or repurpose elements for the gallery space or performance spaces, bringing in installations, sculpture, sound installation, and also performance. So often I'm creating different iterations of the work, there will be a film but also an installation, a performance and that to me is also a sort of aesthetic and political strategy to -- to maybe take limited source material or some stories that have not been valued or written down and to try to create many, many iterations and proliferate our psyche with those.

    - (Saisha Grayson) And Houston you make video, too, right? I think I saw a video of yours on ICA Miami [site], do you want to talk about how you like to share your work?

    - (Houston Cypress) Yeah, thank you very much. I'm open to sharing the work as widely as possible, so I'm open to showing them across many screens and many places, finding new ways to share with new communities, because some of the things that I have been working on in the past year have been short pieces, very poetic very experimental, in which we even include dance and choreography, so I think that whatever we can do to get these inspirations onto the most screens as possible. The ideal is that transformative experience in the dark, the flickering on the screen and how does that move and you transform you, how does that -- how does that impact you. So I think that I'm open to sharing them as widely as possible. So feel free to check out the work that's available online, and I would refer to you that link that we drop into that chat box, too.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) I would add also that the -- the parallel work or sort of interlocking work that Houston does through Love The Everglades of taking people into the Everglades, on walks, on airboat trips these very immersive experiences echo that as well to me. This experience of being together and being really immersed that's something that I feel like I've experienced so much in these other ways that you connect people to this place, the Everglades

    - (Saisha Grayson) Well, with that, I will put forward the wish that maybe next year Women Filmmakers Festival will be at least partially in person and we can have some of that screen sharing experience and some of that coming together, but in place of that, this has been an incredible conversation and we're going to wrap up, but I'm so thankful that we could share space and talk about these incredible works. And that incredible work that is being done in the Everglades to change the future that we might imagine for that space. So thank you very much. I want to thank all the team effort and all the wonderful work behind the scenes that made this possible, and I want to remind everybody that we're going to do this again next Wednesday, March 16th, at 5:30 with the lovely Beatriz Santiago Muñoz whose work also engages with colonial histories in Puerto Rico and how to kind of counter or nuance an anthropological or ethnographical gaze there with a different kind of being in common. I invite you to join us and register for that. And I remind to you watch “This Is An Address I and II” in your own time because you have that link and you can do that. Okay, with that everyone have a wonderful evening, goodbye thank you again Sasha and Houston and everyone who has joined us, good night.

    - (Houston Cypress) Until we meet an again have a good night.

    - (Saisha Grayson) Thank you.

    - (Sasha Wortzel) Thank you.