Fire is medicine
Our relationship with fire is out of balance, leading to catastrophic wildfires. FIRELIGHTERS follows Yurok and Karuk burning rights activists as they share their knowledge and provide solutions to this global problem.
Between lightning strikes and Indigenous burns, most landscapes in North America were shaped by fire for centuries. Indigenous people had, and still have, deep knowledge of the art of using fire. For most of the 20th century, U.S. federal fire policy was guided by a strategy of fire suppression, which has been one of the main causes of current catastrophic fires. Native Americans face persecution and penalty when they try to use fire in line with their traditions—even on public lands where they often hold treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather.
A follow-up to the successful film Apache 8, produced in 2011, FIRELIGHTERS follows the transformative work of women leaders from the Yurok and Karuk Tribes who are building educational resources to share indigenous practices and create policies to take back indigenous burning rights.
Elizabeth Azzuz (Yurok/Karuk) grew up and lives in the traditional Yurok village of Weitchpec. She is a cultural practitioner, gathering and propagating traditional food and medicine plants. She is the board secretary of the Cultural Fire Management Council, responsible for logistics and permitting. She is an active community member.
“Fire is a tool left by the Creator to restore our environment and the health of our people. Fire is life for us.”
- Elizabeth Azzuz (Yurok/Karuk)
Margo Robbins (Yurok) is the co-founder and president of the Cultural Fire Management Council; a key planner and organizer of the Cultural Burn Training Exchange on the Yurok Reservation; a co-lead and advisor for the Indigenous People Burn Network; and the Indian Education Director for the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School district. She gathers and prepares traditional food and medicine, is a basket weaver and regalia maker.
“There's good fire and bad fire. And the good fire prevents the bad.”
- Margo Robbins (Yurok)
Dawn Blake, a member of the Hoopa Tribe and a Yurok decedent, is the Forestry Director for the Yurok Tribe, and is responsible for Timber Sales. Dawn worked for nearly two decades in the Hoopa Tribe’s Forestry Department as a Wildlife Biologist working closely with her Tribe’s timber sale process. Dawn completed a BS in Wildlife Management, and then an MS in Natural Resources with an emphasis on Wildlife. Her thesis work focused on the movements and habitat of Pileated Woodpeckers on the Hoopa Valley Reservation in response to timber management practices. Dawn is also the chairperson of the Hoopa Tribe’s Education Association Board of Directors. Dawn participates actively in the sacred ceremonies still practiced by her people. This, in addition to her work in related fields, gives her a unique perspective in her current job as Forestry Director to help to institute a balance that is also paramount in cultural ceremonies.
Sande Zeig- Director & Producer
Sande Zeig has directed and produced six films, including the short Central Park, which premiered at the Sundance, 1994; a feature The Girl, based on a short story by French writer Monique Wittig, 2001, which premiered at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals; the documentary Soul Masters, 2008; Apache 8, broadcast widely on PBS, 2011; Sister Jaguar’s Journey, 2015, which tells the story of a Dominican nun who finds peace and forgiveness through plant medicine in the Amazon rainforest, and The Living Saint of Thailand, 2019, a short film about Venerable Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta.
In 2019, Zeig co-founded Artistic License Creative, a new media and digital marketing company. She has received a Vision Maker Media Research & Development Grant, 2020 and a Production Grant in 2021, Native American Public Telecommunications Production Grant, 2010, Art Matters Grant, NY 1995, MacDowell Colony Artist’s Fellowship, 1990, Astraea Foundation Grant, 1984 and California Arts Council Artist in Residence, 1979-1980.
Heather Rae (Cherokee), Executive Producer
Heather Rae has produced such films as Academy Award nominated Frozen River, Netflix Originals Tallulah and Dude, festival darling I Believe in Unicorns, award-winning The Dry Landand Bull which premiered in Cannes. Rae directed and produced feature documentary Trudellwhich tells the story of Native activist and orator John Trudell, and First Circle, a Showtime Premiere documentary about the foster care system in the American West. Rae’s work is mainly framed around advocacy for voices and she has worked for years as a mentor for organizations such as the Sundance Institute and Film Independent. As a narrative change activist Rae has worked to deepen the dialogue of reconciliation and responsibility in the Americas.
Katy Aday (Apache), Producer
As one of eleven girls in her family, Katy Aday was sent from the White Mountain Apache reservation by her parents to live with a white Mormon family in California when she was 8-years-old. Her father, a veteran, was determined that Katy learn English, become educated and able to “walk in both worlds”, so that she could return to the reservation to be “the voice of the people”. After high school, Katy attended Highlands University in Las Vegas and received a BSW then an MSW. Before moving back to the White Mountains, she enlisted in the military with ROTC. Katy became the first WMAT woman, Officer in the Army. In 1994 she transferred to the US Commission Corp, as the Army and served as Medical Health Officer for 16 years and retired. Katy is currently a Medical Social Worker for Accord Hospice. She was featured in the documentary Apache 8.
Nina Mistry, Producer
Nina Mistry started her career in 1999 in London with producing Online E-learning courses for the brands like Microsoft and Glaxo Smith Kline. In 2004 Nina was part of a pioneering team in India that founded and launched interactive TV in India. Nina has conceptualized more than a hundred revenue generating formats for TV and has been the executive producer for Interactive TV Shows telecasted on all major networks in India. Since 2012, Nina has lived and worked in Canada as Director Interactive with USSC. She has conceptualized and built an innovative online TV Channel with live and recorded content, a VOD platform for revenue generation, and an online Academy to serve e-learning content. She produces and directs films and documentaries for learning and promotion.
Victoria Westover, Producer
Victoria Westover is a producer and director of films and film events and a film programmer. Victoria served as the Co-Producer of the US/Belgian feature film The Wall (in post-production); Executive Producer for the documentary The Music Never Ends; Executive Producer for the documentary Almost An Island, which was broadcast on PBS stations in 2021; and Executive Producer of the documentary Hippie Family Values. Victoria was a Producer for the 2011 documentary Apache 8 and she was the Arizona Unit Producer for the US/Mexico feature film 600 Miles, which won Best First Feature at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 and was Mexico’s entry to the U.S. Academy Awards. Victoria is currently Producer/Director for the documentary Fina Vows
Sofia Oggioni, Director of Photography
Sofia is a Colombian cinematographer with an educational background in fine arts and documentary filmmaking. Her fascination with the aesthetic properties of light ultimately led to her career in cinema where she worked her way up from the lighting department to assistant camera and finally DoP and camera operator. She is one of the first female cinematographers in Colombia, shooting both documentaries and narrative features. For Sofia, light is a powerful narrative tool that needs to be devised according to each story being told, so she closely collaborates with a film’s Director, developing a unique lighting design that can best bring the story to life.
Eren McGinnis, Location Sound Recordist
Mexican American filmmaker and location sound recordist, Eren Isabella McGinnis has over 20 credits including POV’s Tobacco Blues, The Girl Next Door (shortlisted for an Oscar), Beyond the Border, The Spirituals, and IL’s Precious Knowledge. As a Fulbright scholar, she spent a year writing and filmmaking in Juchitán, México, while her film works shine a light on social justice and culture. McGinnis is one of the co-founders of Café Sisters Productions, an all-woman filmmaking collective dedicated to bringing a feminist edge to their creations and also to the creative Dos Vatos Productions team. Recent projects have brought her to Poland, Germany, South Korea, and Spain.
Shepherd Tsosie (Diné), Writer
Shepherd Tsosie is a 4th gendered Diné from Ganado, Arizona. Shepherd holds advanced degrees in Library/Information Science and History from the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. They have worked in the library and archival fields for more than a decade, with prior museum experience. Additionally, they’ve been involved in providing forums for Indigenous film in Arizona since 2008 and co-directed the Inaugural Red Screen Film Festival in 2019. They live with their wife and cats in North Carolina on the territories of the Saponi, Lumbee, and Occhneechi.
Jeanna French, Editor
Jeanna French is a documentary and video editor whose work has aired on PBS, HBO, and selected for film festivals such as New York Film Festival, AFI Docs, Aspen Film ShortFest, LA Film Festival, and Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Jeanna edited Oscar Shortlisted documentary, Brillo Box (3¢ off) that is currently available on all HBO platforms. She was the editor on the short film, “A Few Things About Robert Irwin,” commissioned for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s inaugural Art + Film Gala. Additionally, Jeanna is an editor and Associate Producer on the PBS travel documentary series, In the Americas with David Yetman, currently on their 9th season.Recently, she cut feature length documentary, Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman, that was picked up by First Run Features
and set to premiere in 2021.