Editor’s note: Local filmmaker Brice Habeger sat down with 'Smokin' Fish' co-director and producer Luke Griswold-Tergis to find out more about the film and the film making process. Here’s part of their conversation.
Brice Habeger: How did you and Cory Mann meet?
Luke Griswold-Tergis: 10 years ago, I was hitchhiking through Southeast Alaska on a boat and Cory was running his bus company at the time. He gave me a job selling trolley tickets: ‘Free glacier trip, $10.’
Habeger: You share directing credit with Cory. Whose idea was it to run around with a camera, smoke fish, and make the whole thing into a doc?
Griswold-Tergis: Originally we talked about doing an oral history project rather then a documentary. I’d just graduated college with an anthropology degree and I was excited about the idea of indigenous people producing their own media and documents. Cory was really worried about elders dying and the loss of that unwritten history.
That idea seemed a little ambitious so Cory suggested we do a more bite-sized chunk about traditional fish smoking.
Habeger: From a filmmaking perspective, what was the most difficult part of the process? How long did it take to make this film?
Griswold-Tergis: We are in our sixth year of working on this project. When we started we thought we’d film it over the summer, edit in the fall, and be partying at Sundance by winter. Neither one of us went to film school or ever worked on a film so we were a little naive. Sticking it out has probably been the hardest thing. We were tempted to quit a lot.
Habeger: Knowing what you now know about filmmaking, what is the one thing you wished you’d done differently?
Griswold-Tergis: We could have started seriously fund-raising at the very beginning, but I don’t think we would have been successful at that point because we really, obviously didn’t have our act together. As much as I complain about fund-raising and jumping through all those hoops, it really did make us focus the story and our plan on how to make that story happen.
Habeger: Cory stated the film is about: 'forgetting about the whole dollar concept'. Did you at anytime say to yourself, 'Where is the dollars to pay for this film?'
Griswold-Tergis: Yeh! I think I have spent more time grant writing then film making. Not really but it feels like it sometimes.
Habeger: What were the pressures that you placed upon yourself to make the film into something an audience would connect with?
Griswold-Tergis: We really wanted to do something that was funny and entertaining and unexpected. There are a lot of Native films out there that are very serious and tell the same story. Cory was really adamant from the beginning that it needed to be a comedy. We shot like 80 hours of fishing and another 80 of oral history with elders. We used maybe 5 minutes of each.
Habeger: What did you discover the first time you edited the film?
Griswold-Tergis: We discovered that we still had a lot of shooting to do. We were really lucky to work with Maureen Gosling, a very talented and experienced editor. I learned a ton from her. Really goofy stuff I shot that I thought had no place in the film she managed to weave in and make work. She did a really good job of getting in the animals and the nature and the feeling of living close to the land in a way that wasn’t gratuitous or cheesy.
Habeger: Is this story just about local Southeastern Native culture? Or does it have bigger, global implications?
Griswold-Tergis: No, it has bigger implications. We all come from somewhere and we all have a history. Cory always says that Americans don’t have any history, which I think is kinda silly, but it’s true that Tlingits take history more seriously than most Americans. Like really, really seriously. I also think Cory’s business is a commentary on globalization that is quite different than the one we are used to hearing.
Habeger: How have audiences responded to the film so far?
Griswold-Tergis: So far very positive. It’s just starting to get out there so only some test audiences have seen it as a 'work in progress' and at sneak peek screenings.