‘Malni - Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore’ explores a Chinook myth
- Written by Diane Carson
With Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier as our Chinook guides, “Malni - Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore” explores rich rain forest and expansive coastal terrain. The external exploration overlaps with thoughtful interrogation of the omnipresent spirit world. Describing his work as “ethnopoetic,” director Sky Hopinka, of Ho-Chunk and Pechanga ancestry, offers an artistic contemplation of the Chinook death myth.
Hopinka follows two individuals but also documents community gatherings with Chinook songs and drumming enticing ceremonial dancers. In another scene, Chinook paddle a twelve-person canoe against an industrial backdrop and carry their massive canoe onto a beach. Visits to a museum recur. Periodically, Sweetwater and Jordan speak candidly to the camera of their knowledge and love of the lush natural environment as they observe waterfalls, dense fern-lined paths, distant mountains, the very blue ocean merging with the sky. Jordan describes his decision to let his hair grow long so “people know who I am. It makes me stronger, makes me feel good.” Identity matters, legacy is essential.
In her third trimester of pregnancy, Sweetwater speaks of her grandmother passing and her belief in reincarnation as the spirit world flows in evocative images across the screen. Intermittently, a voiceover narrator explains the Death Myth from the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, recorded in 1932. Will people who die come back the fifth day or, as the Indian myth holds, is it true that “when people die, they are dead for always?” And, hearing that Vincent, five weeks old, has changed his family, is it true that “infants know everything. As they grow up, then they forget.” How do we carry our heritage forward? Will Vincent hearing his grandfather’s song cherish it in his heart forever?
The questions and commentary take a back seat to the mesmerizing immersion in the Colombia River basin landscapes interpreted by Thad Kellstadt’s haunting music and sound. Hopinka creates an all-enveloping, multilayered confluence. I found this hypnotic invitation to that mystical world irresistible. In Chinuk Wawa with English subtitles and with Chinuk Wawa subtitles for the English, “Malni - Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore” is available through Grasshopper Film, with a direct link to the Webster University Film Series website.