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  • Nov 3-5

Smokin’ Fish

smokin fish movie at friday harbor film festival

Cory Mann is a quirky Tlin­git busi­ness­man hus­tling to make a dol­lar in Juneau, Alas­ka. Smokin’ Fish relates his efforts to nego­ti­ate between sur­vival in the world’s econ­o­my as an entre­pre­neur, and reten­tion of his cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty as a mem­ber of the Thun­der­bird Clan. His busi­ness trav­els take him across the Pacif­ic to var­i­ous Asian coun­tries, but the lure of smok­ing fish and nos­tal­gia for his child­hood draws him to spend a sum­mer smok­ing fish among rel­a­tives near Kluk­wan, Alas­ka. The unusu­al sto­ry of Mann’s life and the untold his­to­ry of his peo­ple inter­weave with the process of prepar­ing tra­di­tion­al food as he strug­gles to pay his bills and keep his busi­ness (mass pro­duc­ing and import­ing Tlin­git art­work and whole­sal­ing it to the tourism indus­try) afloat. Mann’s casu­al style makes him very effec­tive as the cul­tur­al bro­ker, bring­ing the var­ied scenes of Tlin­git cul­tur­al life to those of us who know lit­tle, if any­thing, about it.

Mann – a young, mod­ern Tlin­git guy – tells the sto­ry of his life and cul­ture with­out pre­tense in a thor­ough­ly fresh, fun­ny, wise, and sweet way.  He is seen par­tic­i­pat­ing in the tra­di­tion­al life of his clan – fish­ing, padding a canoe, cut­ting up the fish so they can be hung on poles and placed in the smoke house, repair­ing and recon­struct­ing the smoke house, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in cer­e­mo­ni­al danc­ing.  Mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, includ­ing the sev­en women who helped raise him, fea­ture promi­nent­ly in the film. His Aunt Sal­ly Burat­tin anchors the nar­ra­tive about the his­to­ry and cul­ture of an ancient civ­i­liza­tion, while Mann’s var­i­ous busi­ness exploits car­ry him hel­ter-skel­ter through the 21st cen­tu­ry, as he tries to nav­i­gate the messy zone of the mod­ern world as it col­lides with tra­di­tion­al cul­ture. “For a while,” he says, “I didn’t real­ly like it. I didn’t want to be Indi­an. I felt like I was being pun­ished for some­thing I didn’t do. All I could think of was I just want to be away from it.”

Although Mann was born in Juneau, his moth­er took him to live in San Diego when he was an infant, until his two aunts, unhap­py with the sit­u­a­tion, decid­ed to bring him back to Alas­ka to live under the care of his extend­ed fam­i­ly. His child­hood was cen­tered on life with his great grand­moth­er, who was born and raised in a time when Tlin­git cul­ture was still dom­i­nant. She ded­i­cat­ed her­self to smok­ing salmon in the tra­di­tion­al man­ner on an almost indus­tri­al scale, pro­vid­ing food, and a cul­tur­al con­nec­tion, to a wide net­work of peo­ple.  “Smokin’ Fish is more than prepar­ing tra­di­tion­al smoked salmon,” explains Luke Gris­wold-Ter­gis, the film’s pro­duc­er, co-direc­tor and writer. “We see tra­di­tion­al food as a con­nec­tion with his­to­ry and with the land, as well as a pil­lar that sup­ports liv­ing Indige­nous culture.”

Run­ning time:  57 minutes