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Completed Films

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Gifts From The Elders (2013)

PBS Premiere February 2014
TRT 60 Minutes

“Gifts From the Elders” is a one-hour documentary that follows five young adults from two Ojibway First Nation communities hired as summer field researchers for a comprehensive land and health study. Under the direction of Western Ontario University Assistant Professor Chantelle Richmond, Ph.D. (Pic River First Nation), the five youth (3 from Pic River First Nation, and 2 from Batchewana Fist Nation) are flown to Western Ontario University in London, Ontario in the summer of 2011. They spend a week in workshops focusing on the interrelated issues of historical environmental dispossession, indigenous knowledge transference, and chronic health issues in First Nation communities along Lake Superior’s north shore.  They then return to their communities and begin their assignment: to interview and record their elder’s stories and knowledge of traditional land use, health, and the passing down of Anishinaabe teachings from one generation to the next.

“Gifts From the Elders” captures their journey back to proceeding generations that lived a healthy lifestyle off of the land, and then chronicles the devastating impact that environmental and cultural dispossession had on the flow of knowledge from elder to youth, and ultimately on the health of their communities. As their summer comes to an end, the youth emerge with “gifts” of knowledge and teachings from their elders, inspiring a renewed determination to forge a hopeful and healthy future for the next generation. Vist for more information.

"Bad Sugar"
PBS Documentary (2008)
Distributor: California Newsreel

PBS Premiere May 2008
Running Time 26 Min

Turtle Island Productions's James Fortier was tapped to produce and direct "Bad Sugar," episode five, of the national PBS health documentary series "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality making Us Sick?", distributed by California Newsreel.  "Bad Sugar" explores connections between the staggering rates of Type II Diabetes among two Native American tribes in Arizona and the political, social, economic, and environmental structures which have drastically changesd their lives over the past century. Visit the Screening Room to watch a trailer of this duPont Columbia Award winning program. Press Release

Documentary (2007)
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Distributor: Contact TIP
Festival Premiere 2007
Running Time 60 Min

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe of Auburn, WA selected Turtle Island Productions Producer/Director James M. Fortier to produce a sequel to their 2003 documentary "Pulling Together."
  "Gathering Together" chronicles the behind the scenes activities as the Muckleshoot tribe  preparaes to  host Tribal Journeys for the first time and follows the Muckleshoot canoe family and community members as they fulfill this honored and historic achievement, marking the first traditional Potlatch at Muckleshoot in over a century. Press Release Back To Top

Songs From Tribal Journey
Gathering Together Bonus Features DVD (
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Distributor: Contact TIP

Running Time -  2:07

Hosting the great canoe gathering Tribal Journeys in 2006 was an historical event, renewing the Muckleshoot tribe’s commitment to tradition, family, and community through the Potlatch. After more than two generations, the Potlatch has returned to Muckleshoot. The respect, pride, honor and joy of Tribal Journeys are echoed in Songs From Tribal Journey 2006, which features extended scenes and outtakes from the feature documentary Gathering Together. While it was not possible to film songs from every tribal canoe family who came to Muckleshoot, this extended DVD features songs and dances from over 20 tribes. In addition, the DVD includes the arrival of canoes at Sand Point in Seattle, as well as the inspirational story of the Pink Paddle Canoe pulling for breast cancer survivors. Back To Top

Pulling Together
Documentary (2004)
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Distributor: Contact TIP
Festival Premiere 2004
Running Time 96 Min

Reflecting the traditions of their ancestors, the Muckleshoot canoe "family" learns to put the group before the individual in order to survive. Chronicling their 14-day odyssey during Tribal Journey 2003, filmmaker James M. Fortier (Metis-Ojibway) captures the heart and the heartache of one tribe's determined effort to revive their traditional canoe culture. This is a story of unity, of a group of people representing their tribal community learning to work together in order to overcome physical challenges, cultural differences, and personal obstacles on a journey of self-discovery and cultural renewal. As canoe family member Les Nelson Jr. said it, “the strongest person in the world cannot pull the canoe alone, you have to pull together.”


In Emmy Award winning filmmaker James M. Fortier's fascinating new film, the beauty and power of the Puget Sound waters of Northwestern Washington state take a decided backseat to the physical and emotional challenges faced by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe as they journey through the dangerous waters traveled by their migrating ancestors centuries before.

Fortier gained nearly unlimited access and shot over 64 hours of cinema verit← style footage to piece together the action with all the twists and turns, the let downs and successes of the rough, fourteen day canoe odyssey. While the filmメs exciting action and intense pace are never to be questioned, it is, above all, the celebration of the rebirth of cultural traditions and heritage within the new generation of Pacific Northwestern canoe families that really ignites this film.

Fortier immaculately captures the most breathtaking resurgence of self-awareness, self-worth and pride in those who are pulling together as they reconnect with the spirit of their ancient Native canoe cultures within their traditional pilgrimage. Fortier's film provides a terrific physical journey that eventually blossoms into a more impressive internalized understanding of the importance of one's heritage.
   - Thomas Ethan Harris, Palm Springs Festival of Native Film & Culture Press Release Back To Top

Green Green Water
Documentary (2007)
Emergence Pictures (Formerly Aquaries Media)
Co-Producer/Director Of Photography
Distributor: Emergence Pictures, Minneapolis, MN
Festival Premiere 2007, Broadcast Premiere 2009
Running Time 56 Min

Turtle Island Productions was  tapped by Aquaries Media of Minneapolis to co-produce the independent documentary Green Green Water. TIP owner James M. Fortier (Métis-Ojibway) also provided Director of Photography services equipped with a complete Panasonic AG DVX-100A camera package. Aquaries Media Producer/Director Dawn Mikleson initially approached Fortier because of his extensive background working in American Indian and First Nation communities as well as his abilities as an award-winning filmmaker and DP.

Green Green Water is about power. In a time when battles over energy consumption get fierce and rolling blackouts happen with more frequency, American consumers demand environmentally friendly or "green" energy. But what makes energy "green"? Xcel Energy, a U.S. based utilities company says they have the answer: hydroelectric dams in northern Manitoba run by Manitoba Hydro.
The problem: This type of "green" energy (as opposed to solar or wind power) comes with a controversial history. Many Cree say that Manitoba Hydro has not kept its promises, misleading Aboriginal leaders, and irreversibly ending a way of life for thousands of Cree people.

Fortier and filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson, journey to the subzero forests of northern Manitoba to witness firsthand the impact of her electricity-dependent life. There she is introduced to the people of the Pimicikamak and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nations who share their struggle to survive after their communities were flooded by large- scale hydroelectric dams owned by Manitoba Hydro. Now the Nisichawayasihk Cree are being asked to join Manitoba Hydro in a new dam project, which some say is the start of an effort to double Manitoba Hydro's current dam capacity.
Press Release Back To Top

Playing Pastime: American Indians, Softball & Survival
Distributor: Contact TIP

Festival Premiere 2006
Running Time -  30 Min

This verité style documentary work in progrress chronicles the story of American Indians and their long history of playing fast-pitch softball. When most people think of baseball or fast-pitch softball, the last thing that comes to mind are American Indians. And when most people think of American Indians they imagine the whoop 'em up, war bonnet-wearing, hatchet-wielding stereotypes popular for generations in movies, and on television. Contrasting these misperceptions, this film is an insightful and entertaining look at Native American families playing America's favorite pastime sport. The 30 minute short version is now available and has been featured at several film festivals and academic conferences focusing on issues of American Indian identity, stereotypes, and mascots.

Co-producer and writer LeAnne Howe (Pictured at the right) is an enrolled citizen in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. She is an author, professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, department of American Indian Studies and filmmaker. Her film credits include: creator and producer for Life in the USA, as Told To My Video Camera; producer, writer, and director for a three-part series, Handfuls of Earth, and producer, writer, and director of A Look at Minorities in Education in Iowa for Iowa Public Television, as well as writer and on-camera narrator for the PBS documentary Indian Country Diaries: Spiral Fof Fire. Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, she brings a vast amount of knowledge, experience, and personal relationships to this production. Press Release
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Indian Country Diaries: Spiral of Fire
PBS Documentary
Location Director/Director of Photography
Distributor: Vision Maker Video (NAPT)

Festival Premiere 2007, PBS  Premiere 2006
Running Time -  86 Min

Indian Country Diaries is a two-part series of documentaries that, for the first time, explore the challenges facing Native Americans in the 21st Century, in both urban and reservation settings. In each program, a Native American writer reveals his or her personal struggle with many of these issues and invites you to come along as they seek answers. Part Two, “Spiral of Fire”, author LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) journeys to the North Carolina homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and discovers how their fusion of tourism, cultural preservation, and spirituality is working to insure their tribe's vitality in the 21st Century.

This documentary series, produced by an all-Native American crew, offers unique insights into contemporary Indian life. Carol Cornsilk of Adanvdo Vision and Frank Blythe of Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) are executive producers.
Turtle Island Production's James Fortier was the Director on location and the Director of Photography for Spiral of Fire. Press Release  Back To Top

Waasa Inaabidaa "We Look In All Directions"
PBS Documentary Series (2002)
Writer/Associate Producer
Distributor: WDSE, PBS Eight - Duluth, MN

Festival Premiere 2002, PBS  Premiere 2002, APTN Premiere 2003
Running Time -  Six - 56 Min Episodes

Writer/Associate Producer James Fortier completed work on this groundbreaking, historical, PBS 6-hour Ojibwe documentary series for WDSE, PBS-Eight in Duluth, MN. “Waasa Inaabidaa--We Look In All Directions” is the most comprehensive historical and dynamic contemporary portrayal of the Anishinaabe-Ojibwe (Chippewa) nation ever produced for television. The Ojibwe, the second-largest tribe in North America live in the upper Great Lakes region, are blessed with a rich culture and history. This beautiful documentary series showcases the vibrant Ojibwe culture in six hour-long episodes. Each episode spans nearly five hundred years of history, from pre-contact to contemporary times. The six programs focus on Ojibwe language, leadership, economic development, education, health, and the Ojibwe relationship to the environment.

Visit the companion website, also produced by Turtle Island Productions.Press Release Back To Top

Voices for the Land
PBS Documentary (2000)
Distributor: 1000 Friends of Minnesota

PBS  Premiere 2000
Running Time -  26 Min
Produced in cooperation with PBS-Eight Television in Duluth. Premiered on PBS in Minnesota, in November of 2000. It is the based on the Milkweed Publications book, "Voices for the Land," which is a collection of essays written by Minnesotans about the places they love. The volume is the product of an essay contest sponsored by 1000 Friends of Minnesota in 1999, which attracted over 750 essays. Those collected in this volume represent the winners from various regions of the state. In the video you will meet some of the winners as they discuss their personal connections to the landscape. Back To Top

Alcatraz Is Not An Island
PBS Documentary (2002)
Distributor: Contact TIP

Festival Premiere 1999, PBS  Premiere 2002
Running Time -  56 Min

For thousands of Native Americas, the infamous Alcatraz is not an island . . . it is an inspiration.  After generations of oppression, assimilation, and near genocide, a small group of Native American students and “Urban Indians” began the occupation of Alcatraz Island in November 1969.  They were eventually joined by thousands of Native Americans, retaking “Indian land” for the first time since the 1880s.  ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND is the story of how this historic event altered U.S. Government Indian policy and programs, and how it forever changed the way Native Americans viewed themselves, their culture and their sovereign rights. 

The story of the occupation of Alcatraz is as complex and rich as the history of Native Americans.  This documentary examines the personal sacrifices, tragedies, social battles and political injustices many Native Americans experienced under the United States Government’s policies of assimilation, termination and relocation –– all eventually leading to Alcatraz.  Out of Alcatraz came the “Red Power” movement of the 1970s, which has been called the lost chapter of the Civil Rights era.  Thirty years after the take over of Alcatraz, ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND provides the first in-depth look at the history, politics, personalities and cultural reawakening behind this historic event, which sparked a new era of Native American political empowerment, and a cultural renaissance.

Among the many people interviewed for the production of ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND are occupation leaders John Trudell, Dr. LaNada Boyer and Adam Fortunate Eagle, along with several other prominent participants, including Wilma Mankiller, Grace Thorpe, Leonard Garment and Brad Patterson.  Associate Producer and Historical Consultant Dr. Troy Johnson and Native American author/historian Robert Warrior provide much of the historical commentary in the film.  Also included in the documentary is an abundance of historical photos by Michelle Vignes and Ilka Hartmann and archival 16 mm footage –– much of which has never been seen by the public.

For more information about how to sponsor a  screening of this award-winning documentary on your reservation, in your community, Tribal school, Tribal college or University AIS Department, contact TIP. Community outreach screenings have taken place at the American Indian Studies Professors Conference at ASU, Brown University Native Students Convocation Week, the Wisconsin Indian Education Association Conference, Oneida Nation/Syracuse, and more, University of Illinois, Urnbana-Champaign, UC Santa Cruz and more. Press Release
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Waswagoning Dance Theater
Marketing Video
Distributor: Waswagoning Ojibwe Village

Running Time -  10 Min

Marketing video for the Waswagoning Ojibwe DanceTheater. To find out more about Waswagoning, located on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation in Northern Wisconsin and to order a copy of the video contact Waswagoning Ojibwe Village.
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