Jane Wells on Native Silence, sex trafficking and human-rights documentary filmmaking
Jane Wells has devoted a decade to documenting human rights abuses throughout the world. She served as producer on The Devil Came on Horseback, a chronicle of the genocide in Darfur, and most recently directed the feature documentary Tricked, about sex trafficking in the United States. While working on the film, she learned of the plight of native women who, as children, had been forced into foster care and stripped of their cultural origins. Moved by their stories, Wells directed Native Silence, which will show at the Aspen Shortsfest tonight. In advance of that screening, Westword spoke with Wells about her documentary and her approach to human rights film-making.
Native Silence Native Silence tells the story of two Native American grandmothers who were ripped from their families as children.
Westword: Talk about Native Silence.
Jane Wells: It's the story of two Native American grandmothers who were taken away from their families when they were very young. One was removed from her mother at the age of eighteen months, because somebody decided that her mother wasn't a suitable mother for the child. She went through a series of foster homes, from one to another, until she ran away, hit the streets and became involved in prostitution and drug addiction.
The other woman was dropped off at a boarding school by her mother when she was five or six and never saw her mother again. She actually thought that her mother had abandoned her, but in truth, she was taken away and not returned to her mother because her mother wasn't viewed as a suitable mother.
Those are the two main stories, and they are pretty typical of things that happened to women who are now grandmothers. That was one of the ways that we colonized the native American population and broke it up in the twentieth century -- through forced adoptions and boarding schools. The impact of that was to separate children from their families and to separate them from their culture.
The film points at the larger story through the experiences of these two grandmothers and their children and grandchildren, who are trying to break the cycle. The daughters of the grandmothers are breaking the cycle by introducing their children back to the native culture and their history.
Talk about how you connected to the issue of trafficking in native communities.
Initially, I had heard that 10,000 young American girls were being trafficked. I was so staggered by the figure that I just didn't believe it. I went on to research it and created the feature documentary Tricked. One of the things that I did in my research on sex trafficking was to go up to the North Country, to Minnesota, to spend some time with the social workers who were working with Native American girls who were being trafficked and learn more about what was happening with these very, very young girls. What I came to realize was that this story was so much more complex and so distressing that I felt that it needed its own film, and I chose not to incorporate it into the bigger story or the other story of trafficking in America. It wasn't just about trafficking and prostitution. It was also about fostering, forced adoption and young native girls being taken away from their families and put into boarding schools and the cultural decimation of the families of native people in the twentieth century.
Read on for more from Jane Wells.