2017, HD video, color, sound, 16’57”
Dislocation Blues sketches a loose and highly personal reflection on the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota—a historic gathering of Indigenous communities and allies that stood in solidarity to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016–17. Anchored in the voices of participants Terry Running Wild and Cleo Keahna, the films draws in contemporaneous and retrospective thoughts on what participation in this diverse community felt like and meant.
Carly Whitefield: Dislocation Blues weaves together an audio interview with Terry Running Wild recorded at Standing Rock, your subsequent video conversation with Cleo Keahna, and fragments of the footage that you shot at camp. Can you talk about the decision to structure the film around three perspectives and these two moments in time?
Sky Hopinka: It began as a reaction to the number of cameras and documentary crews that were at camp, and how documentaries are often structured to be authoritative of an event or experience, interviewing numerous people to gain a wider perspective. I wanted to be accountable for my own perspective about my experience and to give a place for Cleo and Terry to do the same, without the burden of representation falling on any of our shoulders, as is often the case for anyone that’s historically been Othered.
Listening to what Cleo says in the past tense, what Terry says in the present, and how the images and settings that you see affect and respond to both, I attempted to represent the difficulty and fluidity of what it was like to process the whole thing, both during and after. As it was happening it was easy to get caught up in the moment, but then you couldn’t help but think about what the future would be like and what you would become. It’s the same now after the evacuation, where it’s easy to reminisce, but it’s also difficult and tender, like a punctum. There’s a lot more, and these are esoteric concerns from a movement on a reservation in the plains of North Dakota. I expect that an audience that is not Indigenous or didn't participate in Standing Rock would feel a bit lost in this work, but I hope that by displaying depth beyond the spectacle of violence against Indigenous People an audience that isn’t from or of these communities will recognize a place for empathy beyond horror and pity.
CW: Language has been a prominent consideration in your work over the last few years. In Dislocation Blues, the focus seems to have shifted from language acquisition and preservation to how we process experience and memory through language, and the stakes and pressures on the act of speaking itself. Could you elaborate on this aspect of the film in relation to previous works?
SH: I believe it functions in the same way, where the acquisition and preservation of language is best engaged through its utility rather than as an abstracted idea. How are people speaking in ways that are just as much about resistance as they are acts of asserting their presence? The through-line between previous works and this one is that the focus is on the stories that people tell and on allowing a place for those stories to be told. The voice of the oppressed is always weighted and burdened by the expectations of the oppressor, and I’m always interested in hearing those who wish to speak without regard for those expectations; thoughtfully, deliberately, and without shame.
CW: Your films often use digital video tools to create radiant and hyperreal images. In this work, the effects we see primarily appear at cuts: a quick shaking effect, a pan up to a pixelated blue frame, or black, soft-edged forms eclipsing the transition between shots. Can you discuss these minimal and more overt effects and manipulations?
SH: I wanted to take a step back from those affected techniques, but I also didn’t feel that the footage needed it. I’m also interested in the errata of an edit and at the beginning and end of a cut. Many of those effects are from the rolling shutter of the camera as I was being jostled and moving and trying to set up a shot, or from trying to use image stabilization on a shot that is too erratic to be leveled. I also try to find small ways to include my own body, which could be seen passing behind the laptop and in the dark upper corner of the screen, and more abstractly as the black, soft edged form working as a transition, or a wipe, between shots. That specifically came from my shadow as I was passing between the light and the chairs draped with the green-screen cloth.
CW: This is a perfect lead-in to discussing the last sequence of the film, which skillfully transitions from a scene leaving Standing Rock to a studio where two different projections of this shot can be seen. The room seems here to represent not only the space of production but the space of reception as well, with the final seconds of the sequence tracking back to reveal this draped group of chairs. One year after the forced evacuation of the camp, what can we take as the film’s proposition for the viewer?
SH: I had a difficult time ending the video. I had the last shot of the car driving away from the camp as the placeholder for a long time, but always felt that it was too neat and tidy. By adding that extra layer of a screen within a screen in a constructed setting it follows this line of pointing at mediated media, and it bookends the opening shot that showed Cleo on the laptop and me walking across the screen. All of this to ask, where are we getting our information from, and how does that affect our participation in all these social and cultural events that surround us? I don’t want it to vacate any responsibility for the viewer or myself in continuing to act and investigate, or in offering voiced and unvoiced support for those who need it. There’s going to be plenty of documentaries about this movement that will teach and rally. You’re not going to learn anything that you don’t already know about Standing Rock watching this video, and that’s okay. This one’s for us, but you can come along.
Interviews: Cleo Keahna and Terry Running WildCamera, sound and edit: Sky HopinkaAdditional camera: Leslie OrihelProduced by: Sky Hopinka, Jonathan Klett and Crystal MatinMusic: Hant Drum performed by Jen C. Elliot; “Not For Me” by Bobby Darrin and performed by Nicole Wallace