Friday, April 23, 2010

Review of new documentary film "Written in Stone"

From James Gage:

Emerson College Professor, Daniel Gaucher's film "Written in Stone" premiered to a small but enthusiast crowd at the Boston International Film Festival last evening (Thursday April 22). This film chronicles the acrimonious debate between academia and amateur research organizations like NEARA over the many stone structures found throughout the northeast. In delves into how academic infighting and politics along with competing egos within amateur ranks came close to completely derailing all scientific research into the subject. At moments, you realize how close the field came to completely imploding upon itself and losing all creditable. The film also highlights the pioneering work of Mavor & Dix, and the work of current researchers (inside and outside of academia) who continue to push for scientific standards of research for the field, reestablish the creditability of stone structure studies, and seek the preservation of these sites. The film showcases, how against all odds, that a paradigm shift is truly underway.

The film puts the history of stone structures research into perspective. It shows where the field has been and its triumphs and failures along the way. It summarizes where the field is currently at including the impact of the Turner Falls Airport decision. It offers an optimist view of the future but emphasizes the need for NEARA, academia, and amateur researchers to capitalize on the shifting paradigm to preserve these sites, place the field on a solid scientific footing, engage in cooperation with each other, and give serious consideration to all the theories about these structures especially the Native American theory.

The film's producer Daniel Gaucher does a brilliant job of explaining the complexities of stone structure research and the competing theories about them. Gaucher offers a very balanced review of the history of the field and the many theories which have come and gone over the years. He does so in manner that is understandable to an audience not familiar with the subject. The real testament to the power of this documentary is that the audience "got it", they grasp the issues and came away with a solid understanding of the subject. For many of us who have spend many hours trying to explain what we do to the general public, we know from experience just how difficult a task it is to explain rock piles so that people understand them.

There will be a free public viewing of the film on Sunday May 16 @ 11am in Stuart Street Theater in Boston. See the website for details


pwax said...

Perhaps I'll add to some of the acrimony with this but: Gaucher is unlikely to have heard the history of the recent changes in the Native American's willingness to discuss these topics. At a recent NEARA conference, I listened as the Indians, themselves, started re-writing this history. Not mentioned was Carlisle or the actual sources of information that went into the first USET resolution naming 8 towns of Middlesex MA, as deserving special protection. All of that happened before events at the Turner's Falls airport. It is easy to get confused about this, since the Indians were in Turner's Falls before any of the relevant USET resolutions were adopted, but they were not looking at (or at least not talking about) stone structures then. So let me be as clear as possible:

Carlisle, MA and the battle over the Benfield land was the first time Indians and Anglo-Americans shared an extensive and public discussion. Go read the Carlisle "Mosquito" articles for some of the flavor of that time. Before then, Mavor and Dix had tried to get a public discussion between the two groups but they failed. How the Indians got to Carlisle and what they learned there is for another story but that was where the USET resolutions started. After that the Indians went (back) to Turner's Falls, but with a new perspective (or at least a new willingness to discuss). After that, events followed which seem to have become the official history. What is being ignored is that time between when the Indians were first in Turner's Falls [for reconciliation ceremonies related to the historic massacres there] and when they went again later [to review an airport expansion plan] armed with a new awareness (or new willingness to discuss) of the stone structures.

If anyone wants to know all the details that I know, I'll tell you offline. Meanwhile the topic of exactly what did the Indians know before and after Carlisle remains very much open. Opinions vary.

Norman said...

Interesting perspective on how the USET resolutions evolved.

Ted Timreck in his several new DVDs mentions some of the prehistory of stone pile investigations. Does Gaucher acknowledge any of this?

pwax said...

I don't know. Ted was part of the history himself back when Mavor and Dix were doing their initial research but Ted has not kept up with the story here in Massachusetts.