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An Indigenous woman confronts a mysterious predator in parallel worlds of colonial America and a dystopian future.
By Writer/Director Jeremy Charles
“Achievement in Film” by Los Angeles Skins Festival 2020
“Best Short” by Dead Center Film Festival 2021
“Best Indigenous Short” by Dead Center Film Festival 2021
“Bronze Phoenix Award” by Phoenix Film Festival 2021
The victimization of Native American women began the moment settlers set foot on the continent in 1492. Though we think of our society as evolved, this cycle of abuse still continues today. The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is always at the front of my mind.
This short sci-fi film began as a fleeting thought based on this premise. Native women continue to be victimized - in the past, by settler men. But what does this cycle of injustice look like…in the future?
Totsuwah, ᏙᏧᏩ, or Totsu (Redbird) is a headstrong young Cherokee woman who exists in two dimensions simultaneously. In a traditionally matriarchal society, Cherokee women have always forged their own path. Totsu sets off on a journey that begins placidly, but soon turns ominous as it becomes apparent that someone, or something is on her trail. In the old times, she sneaks away from the village. In the future, she leaves her paramilitary encampment. Notably, we see that Cherokee is the language of the rebellion in future times, signaling to the audience that the future is Native led.
We switch back and forth between dimensions as Totsu enacts her parallel destiny through an unspoiled wilderness/ apocalyptic wasteland. Once she realizes she is being followed, Totsu’s pace ramps up, anticipation building. Culminating in an open run, she spills out of the crosstimbers/junkyard onto the ground. Flight has failed, now it’s time to fight. A grisly settler strides out of the woods, flashing rapidly in a match cut with an ominous cyborg warrior. Totsu is no weakling, however.
The film ends on a cliffhanger as fierce Totsu branishes her weapon and challenges her enemy with a valiant lunge crying “Disgigtiluga!” or “Come at me!”. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions, but we are certainly rooting for Totsu.
The Making of Totsu
As a passion project and proof-of-concept exercise, Totsu was constrained by a shoestring budget. However, writer/director Jeremy Charles knew that it had to look expensive in order to sell the world. Charles Elmore was brought on as Director of Photography to create a signature look achieved by anamorphic lenses and a vivid color palette. Art Director Zach Litwack created a distinctive dystopian future in his design of Totsu, the rebel characters, and sets. An authentic early colonial Cherokee world was achieved by filming on location at Diligwa village at the Cherokee Heritage Center, with costumes by Tonia Weavel a treasured Cherokee wardrobe designer. We enlisted the immense talents of Special Effects designer Tate Steinsiek to bring the striking cyborg of the future to life, whose work is undoubtedly the showstopper of the film.
Being a film with sparse dialog, driven by action and settings, it was imperative to find the perfect actors. In fact, there was only one actor meant to play Totsu. The film was written with Nathalie Standingcloud (Cherokee/Creek/Salish/Wenatchi) in mind. Nathalie won the Rising Phoenix Award from Los Angeles Skinsfest for her gripping performance. Veteran character actor, the late Mark Ward, was the perfect villain to embody both the lascivious settler, and the epic cyborg. Composers Mark and Lindsey Kuykendall met the challenge by deftly melding the split worlds of ancient and future with organic and processed soundscapes. The film was brought to the next level in post by the vision of Editor Ty Clark.
The film was well received on its festival run, earning top honors at several film festivals. Most satisfying for Director Jeremy Charles was how the message of the film was received. “I was pleasantly surprised that critics and audience members heard the message of Totsu. It was a conscious decision to comment on MMIW, and Native Futurism by performing the film in the Cherokee language, but those themes were not telegraphed.”
Truvy "The Cherokee Fox Dog" Hamilton
Dylan Brodie - Producer
Matt Leach - Producer
Chelsea Polumbus - Producer
Blake Brown - Associate producer
Charles E. Elmore - Cinematographer
Tyler Clark - Editor
Zach Litwack - Production Design
Sean P. Egan - Set Decoration
Stephen J. Hanan - Assistant Director
Ryan Weaver - Sound Mixer, Post Sound Mastering
Tate Steinsiek - Creature Design & Fabrication / Special Effects Makeup
Kyle Bell - Camera Operator
Jake Lurvey - First Assistant Camera
Nick Buttram - Second Assistant Camera
Joshua Morris - Gaffer
Austin Davis Gill - Key Grip
Colby Luper - G&E Swing
Mark and Lindsey Kuykendall, Wild Mountain Studios - Composer
George Miller - Key Hair and Makeup
Mia Riddle - Production Assistant, Production Stills
Robert Bogert - Production Assistant
Toni Charles - Security
Cherokee Heritage Center
Jamie Duckett Sill
Rory and Christie Crittenden
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