Film About Little People Brings Mohegan Culture into High-tech Age
by Ann Baldelli writer for The Day
photo credit: Tim Martin/The Day
Anita Fowler, director of arts and research for the Mohegan Tribe,
holds characters Flying Bird, left, and Weegun from the children's film ''The Gift of the Little Poeple.'' Fowler is the film's producer.
— There wasn't a peep in the room when some of the Mohegan Tribe's youngest members watched a film version of the
Indians' revered story of the Little People.
For generations, the Mohegans have been passing on stories of magical little folks who dwell underground in the woods and are the source of good spirits.
According to tribal lore, the late Chief Little Hatchet, who died in 1989, was the last known Mohegan to see the Little People, in the summer of 1984. It happened at a tribal wedding, when the temperature was hovering near 100 degrees.
Usually, the Mohegans don't speak about the Little People in the summertime.
“In warm weather they're everywhere, and you don't want to say something that might insult them,” said Melissa Fawcett, the tribe's historian.
But this summer is an exception. The Mohegans are all talking about the Little People. This week, the tribe received the completed 22-minute film version of “The Gift of the Little People,” a claymation version of one story of the tiny woodlands dwellers.
“I'm thrilled. Very, very excited,” said Anita Fowler, the film's producer and the great-granddaughter of the late Courtland Fowler, or Chief Little Hatchet.
This week, Anita Fowler has been showing the film to Mohegans. On Monday, the tribal council saw it. On Tuesday, Mohegan children at a summer camp watched it.
“What did you think?” Fowler asked the campers afterward. “Did you like it?” In unison, the kids answered yes.
Mary Chapman, the mother of four campers and a counselor, said she was waiting all day to see the film.
“It's the history of my husband and children,” said Chapman, who is married to Mohegan Curt Chapman.
The film is an adaptation of the book, “Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People,” written by Melissa Fawcett and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by David Wagner. Wreckless Abandon Studios in East Granby produced the film of animated clay figures for the tribe.
“It's just great to see it come to life after nearly a year of work,” said Mark A. Bannon, chief executive officer at Wreckless Abandon. “Nearly 40,000 individual pictures were used in the process and strung all together.”
Wreckless Abandon sculptors created the film's characters, animals and sets –– all from clay –– then manipulated them into action. For each second of film, a figure would be moved 30 or more times.
“I've watched it so many times now, but at one point, it almost made me cry,” said Anita Fowler. “It was the part about the celebration powwow, and it just got to me.”
Fowler's job now is to meet with agents and see if the tribe can sell the film to a distributor or a network, possibly HBO or Nickelodeon
“Maybe we could do it as a one-time special, or this could be the pilot for a series,” she said.
In the film, the Little People call upon medicine woman Martha Uncas to help restore the health of the much-loved and respected elder, Granny Squannit. Martha braves a storm to travel to the underground home of the Little People, where her medicine and kindness heal Granny. Martha is then rewarded. The story's moral is that honoring the Little People and what they represent promotes the health of the earth and the well-being of all creatures.
“We picked clay, because clay is from the earth,” Fowler said.
Melissa Fawcett, the tribal historian, said the film is a good thing for the Mohegans.
“You can spend all the time you want telling stories, but this is the audiovisual age,” she said. “You have to have things to show young people if you want to teach them about a culture. If your stories are just told through the traditional medium –– storytelling –– you won't reach a broad audience. To educate the world about your culture, there's no better way than film.”
At the tribal camp, the youngsters, ages 6 to 15, sat in the darkened room and attentively watched the film. Later, they asked questions about how it was made and whether they could get their own copies.
“It's nice to see this story come to life,” said Mary Chapman, the mom and counselor.
Fowler explained that the tribe now owns all the clay figures and the sets, including small wigwams and a longhouse. The figurines will be set up in the Trading Cove store at Mohegan Sun sometime this fall.
The tribe also plans to have dolls made from the film's characters, and offer them for sale.
“We'd like to get this story out,” said Fowler. “We hope we'll sell the film.”
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