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The Voices of Oyate

Official trailer for documentary, Oyate, by Irrelevant Media and Films With A Purpose

In 2016, filmmaker Brandon Jackson traveled to North Dakota. He joined thousands of protestors at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation defending against the threat of the Dakota Access Pipeline and wanted to hear from the voices of the #NoDAPL movement. Led by members of the Lakota and Dakota nations and joined by surrounding Indigenous communities, the protests went on for months. Many in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were exhausted by the lengthy fight. “Especially entering as an outsider, people were understandably wary of us. We needed to build trust,” explains Brandon. “Jen was really central to that trust.” Enter story supervisor and producer, Jennifer Martel.

An activist, community leader, educator, resident of Standing Rock, and member of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Jen shifted the perspective. These protests were not the main story, but rather, an inflection point. Beyond a call for human rights and environmental justice, they were a rally cry for Indigenous people everywhere to stand against centuries-long injustices. Bringing on director, Emil Benjamin and executive producer, Sandra Evers-Manly, Oyate highlights the voices of Indigenous activists, organizers, and politicians. As an audio team, Flavorlab Sound‘s job was to do the same.

“Often in documentary film making, the rule is: stay objective. In some ways it had to be the opposite for Oyate. Our subjects were also our source.”

Emil Benjamin, Director & Producer

The first step was making each subject sparkle. Beyond clarity, the goal was to create presence and give each voice a cinematic quality. A good example of this is the film’s opening monologue from former tribal council member at Standing Rock and current organizer for the Lakota People’s Law Project, activist, Phillis Young. “My intention was to make her voice pop out a little more and feel more in the room, closer to the audience,” explains re-recording mixer, Brian Quill. “I boosted some low end, added a little reverb, used some additional compression, and spread the voice across the front 3 speakers. That created a little more impact and intimacy.”

For others, like LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, historian, genealogist, and matriarch of the water protector movement, quality of voice took precedent over cleanliness. Her jarring monologue mid-film is surrounded by lots of background noise. While initially filtered out with noise reduction, the engineers pulled a little background back in to make her sound more natural and give her voice a little more setting.

“We put 13 interviews in the the film, but we talked to nearly 60 people. We had to to get an understanding we just do not have and cannot get online or in the news.”

Brandon Jackson, Director & Producer

With land a central issue in the film, emphasizing the atmosphere surrounding each featured voice was the next step. “We wanted the soundscape to give the viewer a sense of place. Sometimes that was beautiful, sometimes that was devastating,” explains Emil. “In general, we wanted the atmosphere to be as genuine as possible. We know most viewers have never set foot on a reservation. During more emotionally pointed moments, we had more honorary, curated, atmospheric sound design.” From Pine Ridge to Standing Rock, the far off barks of reservation dogs were a motif in the film. Other sounds like a chorus of crickets, or light wind across the landscape, gave the environment a surround, cinematic feel.

Finally, with Flavorlab’s music supervision team clearing additional cues, Chickasaw composer, Jared Impichchaachaaha’ Tate wrote themes for each voice. The theme for Chase Iron Eyes, an activist, politician, and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, was reminiscent of a Lakota song about Crazy Horse. Then congresswoman, now Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, was underscored by an interpolation of a Pueblo lullaby. Throughout the film, we also hear music from composer, Alexander Morgan, electronic group, The Halluci Nation, and we follow rapper Stuart James of the Spirit Lake nation. His track “Warrior” is featured in the trailer above.

“The best word is truly honored. We were very much in the presence of greatness, and the best part was just getting to meet folks and hang with them,” says Brandon. “We are talking about uplifting the people, protecting the community, saving the planet, and it’s all happening over a habitual morning cup of coffee.”

Take Action:

Lakota People’s Law Project

NDN Collective

Indigenous People’s Movement


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