hopes the Sundance crowd goes 'Barking' mad for his Wewoka
Harjo vividly remembers riding in an ambulance with his grandmother,
of thinking that she might not live much longer, of her stuffing
a note into his hand that begged, Don't let them hook me up to any
machines, I want to die at home.
the young Tulsa filmmaker, whose work embraces the concepts of home,
family and the American Indian experience in Oklahoma, this emergency
was the life experience Harjo needed to finish writing his script
for "Barking Water."
(which means "barking water" in the Muscogee language)
goes Hollywood next week when Harjo's film has its world premiere
at the Sundance Film Festival. Thousands submit their films to the
renowned annual festival; this is Harjo's third film to premiere
there since 2005.
had wanted to make a film about an older couple, to explore that
relationship and show that it is just as complicated as those of
younger people," Harjo, 29, said. "It was sort of this
idea that as we grow older, we realize we're the same people, but
we just get more worn down, I guess. I didn't really know in what
context that story would come about.
dropped it for a while. I didn't know where it was going, and I
just felt very disconnected from it. But when my grandmother went
to the hospital, it personalized things for me. I picked up the
result of three years of on-again, off-again writing is "Barking
Water," a road movie involving an older, estranged couple with
a stormy history. But now, Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman, an Oklahoma
artist) is dying and looking to make amends with family members,
and he'll need a favor from Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) to complete
idea clicked," Harjo said, "of a hospital being like a
prison for someone who wants to go home to die, and (my grandmother's
experience) started forming this idea of someone breaking a person
out of a hospital, so I merged that idea with my idea of an older
couple with a tumultuous past."
low-budget independent film was shot in less than three weeks in
Ponca City, White Eagle, Pawhuska, Holdenville and Wewoka last March,
using four actors with various degrees of training and "a lot
of people I plucked from my life and put in my film," he said.
Employing a "guerilla style" of filmmaking kept the process
fresh and fast.
was a road movie for which I wanted to make the trip with the characters,
so we shot it in sequence," Harjo said. "It was a style
that was right for this film."
Holdenville native and member of the Seminole-Creek tribe, Harjo's
concentration in film and video studies at the University of Oklahoma
led to a film fellowship at the Sundance Institute.
13-minute short film, "Goodnight Irene," about three people
who come to know one another in a day spent in the waiting room
of an Indian health clinic, was an honoree at the 2005 Sundance
first feature film, "Four Sheets to the Wind," followed
with a world premiere at the 2007 festival in Park City, Utah. Shot
largely in Tulsa and some southeastern Oklahoma towns, the story
of a young Indian man leaving the reservation received an acting
award in the drama competition.
critically well-received and embracing universal themes among its
Indian characters, "Four Sheets" was not released in theaters
(a Tulsa premiere was held at Circle Cinema), but did receive a
DVD distribution deal and has screened at film festivals around
Harjo introduces "Barking Water" to an audience of 600-plus
on Jan. 17 at Sundance, he hopes to attract the kind of financial
investment that allows the next step: "Barking Water,"
coming soon to a theater near you.
was really nervous about 'Four Sheets' when I got up on stage to
introduce it, but I'm not so nervous this time," he said. "I
think the film really works well, and I think people are going to
enjoy it. It's a more accomplished film, I think. If people really
like the film, that's important."
realizes that the financial side of filmmaking creates a symbiotic
bottom-line for him as an artist.
want the film to do well because I've got other stories I want to
tell," he said.