New film chronicles the voices of frontier women

"Film screeningHow Can I Keep on Singing? Voices of Frontier Women, a new film about Women in Washington 100 Years ago, will be shown on Saturday, Dec. 2, 4 p.m. at The Clyde Theatre in Langley. The public is invited to the free screening and to meet the filmmakers, actors, readers and writer Jana Harris. Donation requested.We walked, of course. Omaha to Walla Walla: 5 months, 3 days.--From Cattle-Killing Winter, 1889-90, in a collection of poems by Jana Harris, titled Oh How Can I Keep on Singing? Voices of Pioneer Women.Those are the haunting words in a new film produced and directed by Melissa Young of Clinton.How Can I Keep on Singing? Voices of Frontier Women, chronicles the daily lives of women in the West more than a century ago. Women who settled in central Washington and British Columbia in the late 1800s. Women who were teachers, cooks and laundresses. Women who were indigenous.Young said the movie was inspired by a poetry reading of Jana Harris and her award-winning book, How Can I Keep On Singing? Voices of Pioneer Women. The reading included music and slides, and it touched a nerve in Young. It was very evocative, said Young. My mother always told me those stories. Young's family came out west in 1859, when her great-great grandmother Melissa settled in Port Gamble, Wash. She gave birth to the first white child in that community. This movie was a real experiment, said Young, who collaborated with photographer/editor Mark Dworkin on How Can I Keep On Singing? It was also a departure from the film duo's past productions, which have included PBS specials dealing with such timely topics as AIDS and peacetime alternatives for defense-dependent communities. Most recently, the two completed Islas Hermanas (Sister Islands), broadcast on KCTS/9 in April 2000. The film celebrates the unique relationship between Bainbridge Island and the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua.How Can I Keep on Singing? was five years in the making, involving more than two dozen trips to eastern Washington. We wanted to convey a sense of place, said Young, who said the film was made piece by piece. We took a documentary approach, and went looking for people who could do things, she explained. When they needed somebody who worked with horses, they went to the Okanogan and found the right person. When they needed a scene with ripened wild hay, they headed east of the mountains at just the right time. The end result is a powerful film woven together with the words of Jana Harris, poems and stories by Jeannette Armstrong of the Penticton Indian Band and Colville writer Mourning Dove. Dworkin's photography includes moving visuals, whether shots of winter snowstorms or a robin resting in an apple tree. The film's score of folk and contemporary music is well chosen, and original compositions by cellist Jamie Sieber add to the overall feeling of another time and place. Other collaborators on the film include Georgene Fitzgerald, an eastern Washington farmer and granddaughter of pioneers, and Tracy Jack of the Penticton Indian Band.Numerous South Whidbey residents participated in the film's making, whether as readers, actors, production crew or financial contributors. Nearly $70,000 has been raised to date, from both individual donors and foundation grants. Marj and Fred Dente were involved in the early development and filming of How Can I Keep on Singing?, while Dan and Emily Baker not only loaned their Langley log home for filming, they also appear on screen.The late Jackie Shafer's powerful voice may be heard in a stirring reading of Cattle-Killing Winter, and accomplished actor Shelley Hartle re-enacts the story of an early schoolteacher in Lights in the Firmament. Other local voices include Natasha Dworkin reading Haying on the Similkameen, Aleah Chapin in Monday, Kate Wright in Avalanche and Jean Shaw in This New Life. Bonnie Mejia appears on screen, along with the South Whidbey Historical Society's McLeod Cabin at the Island County Fairgrounds. Martha Murphy donated costumes for the production.To date, the film has been screened in Winthrop, Wash., where a scene was shot featuring Hartle and Methow Valley students. There will also be a screening in Bainbridge Island in February 2001.So far, response to the film has been positive. Mary Murphy, Associate Professor of History at Montana State University, writes: I've never seen such a good portrayal of women's work, and thought it was presented very effectively...The use of women's voices of different ages was very appealing, too. The music, reenactments and lushly portrayed landscapes were wonderful. 'How Can I Keep on Singing?' is a terrific accomplishment; the stories are very evocative and the film itself is beautiful.With the film in the can, what's next for Young? She'll be looking for an educational distributor, so the film can be shown on television, in schools, at museums and film festivals. In the meantime, she's pleased with the end result. And fittingly, the movie is dedicated to two strong women: Phyllis Young and Jeanette Dworkin, the late mothers of Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin. Mothers who would be proud of their daughter and son. "

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