Posted: February 5, 2024 12:04 pm
Michael McDermit and Jacob Koestler, who grew up in Johnstown, are bringing their latest, award-winning film to the Johnstown Flood Museum.
Since its premiere in March 2023, the 94-minute film ᏓᏗᏬᏂᏏ (We Will Speak) has screened at more than 30 film festivals in three countries. It tells the story of the fight to save the Cherokee language, which is deeply tied to Cherokee identity. Generations of assimilation efforts by the U.S. government and anti-Indigenous stigmas have forced the Tri-Council of Cherokee tribes to declare a State of Emergency for the language in 2019. While there are 430,000 Cherokee citizens, fewer than an estimated 1,500 fluent speakers remain.
Director Michael McDermit and Cinematographer/Editor Jacob Koestler will be in attendance with Producer ᎨᎳᏗ/Keli Gonzales for a Q&A following the screening, which will begin at 7:00 pm.
“Michael and I have such vivid memories of experiencing our hometown’s history at the Johnstown Flood Museum. We went on to make so much music and art in and about the region. We’re excited to share this work for the first time with so many of our friends and family members who supported this project early on during our crowd funding campaign,” Jacob Koestler said. “I’m especially excited to show Keli our town after spending so much time at her home working on the film.”
The feature-length documentary was shot on location in Oklahoma and North Carolina from 2019-2022. Through intimate interviews, vérité footage of community gatherings, and extensive archival materials, the film follows various Cherokee community members as they continue the long fight to help save the language.
In addition to being presented at multiple film festivals in three countries, the film has also recently traveled on its first of three college and museum tours. This screening at the Johnstown Flood Museum is part of the second tour that also includes the Smithsonian Museum. The film will also travel again in April as part of Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers and is available to license for educational and institutional collections through Video Project. Plans are currently being made for broadcast distribution.
The film will be presented at 7:00 pm on Feb. 22 in the Johnstown Flood Museum’s theater, which has 77 seats. Advance tickets are $5 and on sale at jaha.org.
“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to present this fascinating film and discussion,” said Shelley Johansson of JAHA. “We encourage people to buy their tickets in advance, because we anticipate a sellout.”
About the filmmakers:
Keli Gonzales is a Cherokee artist from Welling, Oklahoma. Drawing on her experiences as a Cherokee woman, Gonzales creates paintings and drawings portraying the Cherokee people in a way that is true to life. She is the producer Dadiwonisi, and of the documentary What They’ve Been Taught, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Jacob Koestler is an artist and musician from Johnstown, Pennsylvania whose practice includes photography, film and multimedia installation. He is a co-founder of Blurry Pictures, and his artwork has been exhibited and published throughout the United States and internationally. He is currently a lecturer at Oberlin College in Ohio.
Michael McDermit is a writer and filmmaker originally from Western Pennsylvania. He makes and produces documentary films and books under an independent creative imprint, Blurry Pictures, which he co-founded. McDermit earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon and is currently an English and Writing Professor in South Los Angeles.