The Film

What’s in the Heart

Brief Logline

What’s in the Heart is a documentary film that highlights the efforts of extraordinary Native Americans and their cutting edge programs that are working to provide health and hope in Indian country.

Summary of Topic

The suicide rate for Native Americans is 70% higher than all other Americans; their diabetes mortality rate is 231% higher. And, their death-from-alcoholism is 579% higher.

These health disparities are not genetic. They are caused by living conditions and circumstances that are directly related to social injustices that include the failed promises of the US government to American Indians when they relinquished their land and minerals. These promises include free healthcare, education and housing—and they are documented in the US Constitution. What’s in the Heart is a documentary that shares with its viewers remarkable health care initiatives that are making headway against these alarming statistics, initiatives developed and managed by Native Americans. The lessons we learn will benefit other Native American groups but also can benefit us all as we strive to meet the challenges of the 21st century for sustainability.

The film will review obvious current-day social injustices as manifested in the stark health disparities between today’s American Indians and their non-Indian counterparts across the land. For, in Indian Country, levels of alcoholism and drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, suicide, infant mortality, accidental death and depression are the highest in the nation.

Officials, historians, and scientists (such as former Surgeon General David Satcher, 2001, and Sarche & Spicer, 2008) have well documented connections between these tragic statistics and a centuries-long history of domination, of abuse, and of broken promises.

Given this history of cultural, political and social disenfranchisement, it is miraculous, then, as the film will demonstrate, that it is Native Americans themselves who, with fortitude, courage, and wisdom, are leading the way in finding antidotes.

The film will highlight the compelling, creative, and generative Native American programs which, using traditional ceremonies and teachings, coupled with more contemporary approaches, are making a dramatic difference for some of America’s most struggling people. It is a film that goes beyond exposing social injustices and their causes, and celebrates the triumph of culture and tradition in the face of ongoing trials. The ancient symbol of the Medicine Wheel as well as so-called, “circle teachings” that appear throughout North, Central and South America will be employed throughout the film as an over-arching symbol of time-honored Indian wisdom.

In these times of economic recession, when we can expect that government-funded health care programs for Native Americans will continue to be underfunded, this documentary takes on a special importance, for it teaches quality, replicable, and cost effective health care programming while it seeks to inform those in charge of public policy and law makers.

In addition, there are other broad goals for the film. What we’ve seen throughout the U.S. as a whole over the decades is a growing medical approach to healthcare, and it isn’t working. Although all American families can expect to confront growing health challenges, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and more, each individual or each small nuclear family, so it seems, is expected to resolve these preventable diseases on its own and through our fractionalized medical system. So, another important aim of this project—at this critical time for all people on earth—through looking at traditional Native American philosophies, involving holism and connectedness, is to inform all health care workers, officials and the population at large.

Film’s Origins

As a seasoned producer, until now primarily in publishing, and as the result of her personal commitment to the welfare of Native Americans, the conception of What’s in Heart came naturally to Kitty Farmer. The film was further planned through collaborations with long-term friend and colleague Donald Warne, MD, MPH, Oglala Lakota, with award winning director Jilann Spitzmiller and cinematographer Shana Hagan, all of whom will play important roles in the film’s production.

Narrative Synopsis

Throughout the film, we will learn more about the correlation between ill health and past trauma and grief, and about other programs that are addressing the need for deep healing and a road to a healthier future. The “Journey for Forgiveness” will be a main thread throughout the film and will act as a device to lead us around the country to look at other successful programs and to speak with experts about the enormous health disparities between Native Americans and the general American public. The journey will also lead us into the hearts and minds of the Native people we meet, as we see first hand the need and impact of programs such as these. A key interview with Don Warne, MD, MPH, Oglala Lakota, will be woven through the film to give pertinent medical statistics and information. Additionally, interviews with a select group of experts will explain the special historical circumstances that helped to create today’s health crises for American Indians. Experts such as Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, Oglala and Hunkpapa Lakota, renowned authority on historical trauma and intergenerational grief, will provide this historical context as the modern-day stories unfold. When appropriate, archival stills, graphics and art will be used to illustrate the past. We will also learn how this growing trend of tribally led programs began in the Nixon Administration with the passage of Public Law #93-638, the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 which made possible for tribes to regain sovereignty over health and education spending. Although progress has been made nationally, there is still such a long way to go. The occurrence of healing in Indian country is through both tribally controlled programs, but also with highly successful programs created by individuals that in turn work with tribes nationwide. The film will highlight both types of programs.

< With verite footage, we see how personal relationships and traditional values create an environment that supports infant and family health. We see how new mothers and their babies are surrounded by daily support and education of healthier lifestyles and traditional values. We learn that infant mortality rates are sharply lowered for infants involved in Healthy Start.

Nearby, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, we will visit with a program aimed at Native teens that reportedly have the highest suicide rate in the nation. Revered spiritual and traditional leader Birgil Kills Straight tells us about a program that he helped establish as the result of an inspiring dream. Future Generations Ride is a horseback ride across the Pine Ridge reservation, where young people see the natural beauty that exists on their land and, through rituals and reflections, regain a sense of hope and identity as Lakota people. The Ride has the power to turn around the lives of young people otherwise at high risk of suffering from a sense of hopelessness stemming from substance abuse, violence, depression, illiteracy, poverty and other ills. As we go along with the Ride for a short way, we see reservation kids, many of whom have never journeyed outside of cluster housing (government housing areas), on horseback, traveling through the magnificent landscape which has informed their culture for many hundreds of years.

We also travel to Mount Taylor in New Mexico, elevation, 11,301 feet—a mountain considered sacred to the Navajo, Zuni, Acoma and Laguna pueblo people – to visit the National Indian Youth Leadership Project camp, a highly successful, evidence-based program, founded over 20 years ago. Here, we find Native American kids, many of whom have experienced harsh circumstances, having fun, building trust, improving self-esteem and discovering healthy life options.

Under the brilliance and the clarity of the New Mexican summer sun, surrounded by Ponderosa pines, we see youth meeting challenges, such as the rope course and team activities, using critical thinking, collaboration and their bodies. Founder McClellan Hall says “stretching beyond self-imposed boundaries and seeing what you’re capable of” is the hallmark of NIYLP and it’s just that the activities of the camp will provide. But the glue that holds programs together comes from “the values that held Native communities together,” Hall says – service, generosity, respect for self, for others, for all of creation. And elders are on hand to share stories and teachings that emphasis these values—around campfires under unimaginably clear mountain summer skies where the sense of community is palpable.

Whenever possible, the film conveys information through cinema verite footage. Interviews with program participants will be done in a dynamic way, as a situation unfolds on the spot. Interviews with experts will be slightly more formal, but will also strive to have a dynamic look rather than resorting to the “talking head” convention. Graphics used in the film will use the motif of the Medicine Wheel, a time-honored symbol and guide representing balance, inclusion and well being, among many other positive ideals.

Status of Film

The development and research for this film is completed and all experts have been pre-interviewed. The filming schedule is set and filming will be completed by fall of 2009 and final completion of the project is early 2010.

Distribution and Marketing Studies

As a national issue, What’s In The Heart will have strong US distribution in specialized theatrical markets and in the educational and health sectors. We will aim to secure Public Television broadcast initially to reach as many viewers as possible. Secondary broadcast markets can include pay per view, VOD, on basic and premium cable channels. Screenings for members of Congress will be made available both on the state and national level. Interest groups to advocate for Native American issues in Congress and in the non-profit sector will also use it. In addition, special edition DVD’s will be available for home film release and at a discounted price to those groups working on behalf of Native American issues. Internationally, certain markets such as France and Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have a particular interest in Native American issues and these markets will be targeted as well. Securing a top quality foreign distributor is a part of this plan.

Key Creative Personnel

Kitty Farmer, Producer
Kitty Farmer has twenty-five years of experience in project management/production, with a focus on literary properties. She has been highly instrumental in the success of her author clients, all of who embrace a spiritually holistic worldview in their practice of medicine. Her current involvement is with the healthcare and justice for Native Americans. In late fall of 2006, she was invited by Dr. Warne to participate in the creation of the Medicine Wheel Foundation, an organization dedicated to eliminating the huge disparities in health and healthcare among American Indian people. It was shortly after this invitation that Ms. Farmer decided to create film that illustrated why there are such extreme health disparities in Indian country, as well a the hopeful things being done to heal from them. Ms. Farmer earned a BA degree in Psychology and Education and an MA degree in Child Development. In addition, she studied Instructional Media at the graduate level. After accepting an offer in publishing, she ran a small company, and later became a literary agent, selling her first book to a prominent New York publisher. Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, became both a New York Times bestseller, and the Oliver Stone film, JFK.

Shana Hagan, Cinematography
For the past 20 years, Shana Hagan has filmed Oscar and Emmy winning documentary and narrative works, shot countless hours of non-fiction and reality-based television, filmed a number of commercials and has worked with such distinguished filmmakers as Michael Apted and Jessica Yu. Ms. Hagan’s undertakings include Breathing Lessons, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short at the 1996 Academy Awards, an IDA award and an Emmy. Her recent work includes Walt and El Grupo. Shot in 5 countries on Super 16mm, this documentary feature film retraces the steps Walt Disney took on a trip to South America in 1941. Other projects include Michael Apted’s ongoing documentary project Married in America, shooting every 3 years following the same 9 married couples as their lives and relationships evolve over time. Ms. Hagan’s other credits include Shakespeare Behind Bars, documenting a year in the lives of an acting company comprised of inmates at a Kentucky prison. This film premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. Other recent work includes After Innocence, which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2005, Sunset Story, a film about two dynamic senior citizens living in a home for aging activists, which won Special Jury Mention at Tribeca 2003, Kirby Dick’s This Film is Not Yet Rated, filmmaker Tom Miller’s One Bad Cat, profiling Cleveland outsider artist Rev. Albert Wagner, and Kenner Films/

Native American Health Consultant/Narrator: Donald Warne, MD, MPH, Oglala Lakota
Dr. Donald Warne comes from a long line of traditional Lakota healers. In addition to a solid background in traditional healing, Dr. Warne holds an MD from Stanford University and a Master of Public Health from Harvard University. Dr. Warne’s traditional name is Pejuta Wicasa, which means Medicine Man. He is also a Diplomate of both the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Medical Acupuncture. He is founder and CEO of American Indian Health Policy Management, an Indian-owned company whose motto is: “Improving healthcare in Indian country.” Dr. Warne is an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University, Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, where he teaches classes on American Indian Health Law and Policy. He has recently accepted the position of Medical Director of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board where he oversees the healthcare of 18 of the poorest tribes in the nation and has been contacted by the Obama’s Transition Team for a possible position with the Indian Health Services.

Outreach & Engagement Director and Native Health Consultant:

Outreach and Engagement

What’s in the Heart should benefit all Indian people in our country by putting them in touch with the beneficial programs highlighted in the film. It is expected that Native American community leaders, policy advocates, legislators, lawmakers, health care workers, educators, activists and others will use the film as a potent illustration of both the despair and hope in Indian country when they advocate for their own initiatives or to replicate the ones exemplified in the film. The film will be used as a tool to increase the capacity of healthcare advocates, healthcare consumers, and other stakeholders to influence public debate, share public policy, and build effective alliances. Tribal leaders are overwhelmed with their governmental duties and often healthcare is not a subject they have time to focus on, so the film can provide them with a great deal of information in brief. More often than not, legislators are grossly misinformed as to the trust responsibility the US government has with all Indians.

But more: taking a look at the traditional cultural aspects of successful Native American solutions, the film will also help to inform healthcare workers, public officials, communities and families across the land who are also facing huge health, environmental and social challenges. So, we are hoping to open channels for collaboration between cultures and for helping medical professionals and officials to think out-of-the-box in terms of finding the answers. The film also, then, will utilize internet technology to help improve contact between those whose programs are succeeding and those who need new ideas for moving ahead. Social networks will be utilized to engage Indian youth that diabetes is not inevitable and that there is plenty to be proud of in being an American Indian.

The film will be used in Indian schools from 5th grade through post-graduate education. It will be a great tool for students to understand why their people are plagued with such horrible health disparities. In the end, students will feel a sense of pride as the truth of their beginnings is revealed in the film. There are many stereotypes and urban legends regarding why Indians have such high incidences of diabetes and alcoholism.

Screenings will be offered through various tribal and governmental offices such as department of health in states that have large Indian populations. Various venues such as the All Indian Pueblo Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico will be offered the film to show to visitors.

Educators in the fields of Indian studies, Indian law, public health and social work will be offered the film and the accompanying syllabus to educate students about important and replicable health care initiatives, to the truth of the trust responsibility that the US government has with all Indian nations in this country and how it is not operating as promised, a solid understanding of Indian rights and law, and to the severity of the health crisis.

Interactive Elements

We expect to create a What’s In The Heart website which will provide viewers with:

Access to appropriate links such as the National Indian Health Board, the National Congress of the American Indian, the Indian Health Service, the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, White Bison, National Indian Leadership Project and the various Indian communities visited in the film, and links to social networks.

An open chat room for commentary for viewers about their film experience, background information and other features,

A blog, which discusses current health-related programs on a regional basis, as well as ways to improve things, and how to gain attention of appropriate institutions.

To this end, we expect website development to begin in spring 2009 in order to be ready for the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness which begins on May 16, 2009 where we will uplink film from the day’s activities, so that Indian communities that cannot participate will feel a connection to the forgiveness ceremonies. The website will offer the full interviews.

© 2014   Created by Kitty Farmer.

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