People of the Salish Sea was one of the projects Washington Filmworks (WF) committed funding assistance to as part of our Innovation Cycle of the Filmworks Innovation Lab. The Lab is a groundbreaking program offering funding assistance to Washington filmmakers and filmmakers using emerging technologies.

People of the Salish Sea is the first documentary-based project to receive funding assistance through any of WF’s programs. The interactive project is made up of new media, including underwater mapping, online environments documenting the Canoe Journey, and community-produced storytelling. At the center of this project is Clearwater, a feature length documentary about the health of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) and the unique relationship of tribal people to the water.

Longhouse Media, producers of Clearwater, documented the 2013 Paddle to Quinalt this summer. The Canoe Journey creates opportunities for tribal members to re-learn, strengthen and reinforce their canoe traditions. As many as 90 US tribes participate each year, as well as Canadian First Nations and New Zealand tribes.

WF has been privy to their journey through “production diaries” and photos they’ve shared with us along the way. Get a feel for Clearwater through the entry below, penned by Melissa Woodrow, who serves as both Location Manager and Production Assistant on the project. You can also follow their journey through the Clearwater Facebook Page.


No Ked Jak canoe heads for the ocean. Photo courtesy of Longhouse Media.

Saturday afternoon in the Makah Community Gym. Part of our team, Tracy Rector (Co-Director with Lou Karsen), Curtis Enlow (Audio Engineer), Jacob Bearchum (Digital Media Manager) and I, Melissa Woodrow (Location Manager/PA), soak up wifi as we play catch up with our e-mails, label footage and map out a plan for the remaining days. Our DP, Daniel Mimura, is out capturing footage during protocol. So far, we’ve traveled from: Seattle to Squaxin Island, Nisqually, Puyallup, Suquamish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Port Townsend, Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha and today we sit in the Makah Indian Nation at Neah Bay. It’s been a journey since July 15th when we first began transitioning from pre-production work into full-scale production for this segment of our film CLEARWATER. Our final destination will come August 1st, when all families and canoes have landed at the Quinault Nation.

It’s been an adventure trying to create a rough schedule and call sheet per day as there are barely viable wifi and cell connections. Also, we have had to be adaptable as the winds have picked up and waters are too rough for canoes to travel. We’ve had to cancel at least two departures so far, spending an extra few days camping. Although the work may be tiring and the production needs ever changing, it’s a humbling reminder knowing this tradition has carried on since 1989. Families and tribes have hosted and traveled for years. I think what amazes me most is the endurance each person has throughout this journey. Pullers taking canoes out sometimes 3 am for a 4 to almost 8 hour day on the water. Returning to land, grabbing some food and later that night participating in protocol (sharing of culture), where many sing, dance and drum while ground crew, break down and set up camp, prep food and snacks and ensure every member of the crew is well taken care of. Each new landing a different tribe preparing camp and meals for the hundreds and I’m sure now, thousands of people who enjoy this journey. And this cycle repeats it self the next day and the next.


The canoes leave Port Townsend. Photo courtesy of Marc Saran.

As a beginning filmmaker and aspiring documentarian, I’ve learned more about the importance of respect, humility and appreciation these past few weeks than ever in college. Many of these families were skeptical until we had a formal introduction and community approval during a recent drum circle. Granted, it’s near impossible to introduce ourselves to every person and give them a detailed explanation of our intentions and film, but we’ve provided a respectful atmosphere when filming and hope it only leaves the door open for more to approach us and welcome our film. To imagine that this portion of production may only take 15% of the film length is astounding. The amount of day to day work, early foggy mornings, late nights with mosquitos and continuous struggle for electricity and wifi is only just the beginning.

This journey, thus far, as reminded me to appreciate every moment. There are rumors of close to 20,000 people joining the festivities at Quinault and they hope to surpass 100 canoes. I cannot recall an event I’ve ever attended in such high numbers. And to think, these people, families, tribes, nations, community are participating in indigenous tradition. We’ve been grateful for the generosity of many. Many who have told us their stories, let us hear their songs and welcome us into their traditions.


Crew films the canoes taking off. Photo courtesy of Sophie Gergaud.