“First and foremost, I made this documentary for my community and for my family,” Reaghan Tarbell tells SFR, speaking of her film Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back.
Tarbell organizes film festivals for the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, which, in conjunction with Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Arts and the Southwest Association for American Indian Arts (which produces Indian Market), is presenting this year’s Eighth Annual Native Cinema Showcase. Though Tarbell has attended the Showcase for the past four years, Little Caughnawaga, which will be shown Saturday at 2 pm, is her first film. “I’m just so glad I get to experience the Showcase as a filmmaker as well,” Tarbell says.
Little Caughnawaga draws its title from the extinct Brooklyn community of Mohawks who migrated there in the early and middle 20th century from the Kanhawake reserve (Caughnawaga is the anglicized pronunciation of Kanhawake), which is situated near Quebéc, Canada. Mohawk men were renowned steel workers and came to New York for employment during the building boom. Many of the men seen in those iconic black-and-white images of New York skyscraper construction—eating lunch while perched on a narrow steel beam, legs dangling dozens of stories above the streets—were Mohawks.
Several documentaries have been made about these Mohawk steel workers, whose work was exceptionally dangerous. But Tarbell, who is from Kanhawake and whose grandmother migrated to Little Caughnawaga, wanted to switch the focus and to tell the stories of the women. They held the little Brooklyn community together by taking in boarders, running households during the Great Depression and caring for each other when one of their men fell to his death—which happened all too often.
In making this interesting and beautifully-constructed documentary, Tarbell discovered a lot about her own family’s history. She also provided a rare gift to her community, which, she recalls, mobbed her with thanks after she premiered her film on the reservation. “But the greatest praise,” Tarbell says, “because it’s a very personal story, was when I showed an early cut to my mother and she called me, crying, and thanked me for giving her mother a voice.”
Little Caughnawaga is just one of more than 25 films presented by Native filmmakers. It, along with a handful of workshops and panel discussions, will make up the Showcase’s rich, cinematically-centered
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