Following Peter: An Interview with
By Michelle Svenson, Film and Video Specialist, NMAI
MS: Do you mind telling us your full name and tribal affiliation?
My name is Peter (Wyric) Bratt and my father is Anglo and
my mother is from Peru from the Quechua people. If you go to different
regions of Peru, instead of calling them tribes, they're like
communities, they call them ayllus. I feel like it's really
different there than it is in the US. There are tribes, tribus,
but for a large part of the population when colonization came
in, even though Quechua is spoken by 60% of the population, colonization
kind of destroyed tribal affiliation. In general, if you go into
the Amazon, or into the highlands of the Andes you'll find tribes,
communities that still maintain tribal identity.
But for the most part even full-blooded Indians moved to the
cities. Once they move to the city, they're no longer Indians,
they're campesinos, or they're peruanos. In Latin
America, I found that people try to distance themselves from being
Indian because of the stigma it carries. It's changing, but it's
nowhere near where it is in the United States or in Canada, where
people actually take pride and say, "I'm Native."
MS: You have a degree in political science, yes? Your
work seems to fuse your many disciplines and communities. Can
you speak about that?
PB: I have one Native friend who lives in L.A., an aspiring
and he's always telling me, "Yeah bro, it's
really tough living in two worlds. I got one foot over here and
one foot over here." And I said, "Well you know bro,
I used to say that too. Living in two worldsbut it's only
one world, you knowand it's got many dimensions, many different
aspects to it."
what I find about Follow Me Home, your politics, your worldview,
your spiritual outlook your family life, community life, I feel
like they're so interrelated. It's hard to be, "Now I'm this
person, I have this set of valuesand now I'm this person
and I have this set of values." For me, you have a certain
set of principles and you live by them no matter what sphere of
life you're in, no matter who you're interacting with.
You [can] belong to a community of filmmakers, a community of
writers, the Native community, a Latino community, a community
of people who are educated in a university so you could say middle
class community, a working class community, I mean, there's just
.a spiritual community.
MS: With Follow Me Home particularly, it seems
like you found a way to use filmmaking as a reflexive tool in
mirroring a marriage of several communities.
PB: Right. Part of it is the neighborhood where I grew
up. A lot of the characters and all the different cultures are
literally colliding, intermarrying and borrowing from one another,
day in and day out. And you really see it in art, in the young
people. And there's this, I won't say it's appropriation, it's
like adoption, where you have Vietnamese and Cambodian and Native
and Mexicanos and Brazilians and African-Americans and Afro-Haitians
and working-class whites and everyone is living in close proximity.
You have this restaurant and that restaurant and this cuisine
and this music and that music, and someone's sampling from this
and sampling from that. They are very distinct, but there's a
constant borrowing, I find. I grew up around that, I was influenced
by so much of that, even though I felt like I was grounded in
one [culture], I definitely felt like I was influenced.
MS: You also seem to belong to a number of organizations
like Wicapi Koyaka in Wanblee, do you mind talking about that
PB: Oh yeah, that's with Richard Movescamp, who is a spiritual
leader on Pine Ridge [Reservation]
he's trying to bring back
Lakota tradition to address and redress some of the issues that
are facing his people, mainly alcoholism, all the different substance
abuse, domestic violence, child molestationyou name it.
MS: And you also belong to the organization Peace Through
PB: Peace Through Strength. That's here in New York, Washington
Heights. I have a really good friend who was one of the investors
in Follow Me Home. I sold him a share. (Laugh) He's
been a social worker in San Francisco for over 30 years, and he's
a Buddhist. Part of his teaching is you're supposed to spend 20
minutes a day in nature and you're supposed to take up a martial
art to work on physical discipline, to train the mind. So, I've
been doing martial arts for over 15 years and he happened to join
my school, that's how I met him. He moved out here [New York]
and he started a meditation academy that's married with the martial
art program. He works with mostly Dominicans, Puerto Rican youth,
troubled youth. He asked me to be on the board. In fact, I'm going
over there tomorrow. I'm going to go train with the class. He's
doing some really great stuff.
On the Road
One of the things that I thought was really interesting and
different about your film, is that it's a road movie-obviously-but
that it has become another kind of road movie for you, right?
You've been traveling with the film for how many years now?
PB: Let's see, we had our official release in 1997, and
so it's literally been on the road up until right now.
MS: About how many times a year do you think you've screened
PB: I would say it's screened anywhere from 20 to 40 times
a year. I don't always accompany the film, I have a sister named
Lakota Harden who [also] does it. Or there will be other people
who go and lead the Q&A afterwards, or sometimes no one at
all, the film will just go out.
MS: It's created an almost cult-like status, through word
of mouth, because most of the people call Speak Out [a non-profit
artists and speakers bureau], it's not like you guys are still
going out there and advertising [the film].
PB: Yeah, well, that's the thing, it wasn't by design.
We didn't get a distribution deal so we started to do self-distribution.
We developed a strategy. The first few months the actors, the
lead actors, would get up there with me and we would tell people,
"Here, take a flyer. Tell your friends and relatives to come
see this film." We didn't have a budget to advertise on film,
TV, radio. And that would turn into, "Well, I have a question
about the film." And so this Q&A thing developed. We
would end up staying an hour after the film taking these question
and answers and sometimes three hours! If there was no other screening
following, sometimes people didn't want to leave.
helped spread this word-of-mouth. Pretty soon these discussions
became sometimes emotionally charged, race, you know, race and
class and just all these different issues would come up. The next
thing we knew, even though we got panned by mainstream reviewers,
cultural critics like Alice Walker and June Jordan started writing
about the film and we got this incredible article published in
Z magazine. Pretty soon we started getting invited to universities,
and fairly prestigious universities. We went to Harvard three
times. Right now the film primarily exists on campuses, but sometimes
community groups [have screenings]. So it developed into this,
kind of like you said, a road movie. We just followed the film
wherever it went.
MS: And it sounds like you love it too, for the community,
because it brings it all back around.
PB: Yeah, it's been great. Had it gotten picked up by
the distributor, my life would have been so different
Follow Me Home screened at the Sundance Film Festival I was really
shy, and, man, I could not get up in front of a crowd of people.
I was just terrified. But out of necessity, to get the word out,
get Follow Me Home out [I had to do it]. Now I can go before audiences
and speak. I find it developed this whole other aspect of my life.
It takes you down these roads that you have no idea of, and they're
really beautiful and [so are] the people you meet.
MS: And it's great too because it's become quite an educational
tool. An educator at the same time as a filmmaker.
PB: (Laugh) I just wanted to make movies! But you
know I never intended to get into the distribution game. That
wasn't my intention. I feel like distribution is more complex
of an animal than filmmaking. And I realize that it's not my niche,
it's not my forte. So, for me, once in a while I'll go out and
do something with Follow Me Home to promote it, but I really want
to make films. I'm kind of putting the distribution game on hold
for a while.
Chacras and Mom
MS: You spent some time on Alcatraz as a kid during the
PB: My mom was a single mother of five children. I was
four-and-a-half years old when she divorced my father. She had
no family here in the States. She was thinking of moving back
to Peru, and she turned on the TV and she saw this young Mohawk,
Richard Oakes, calling people of all tribes to come to Alcatraz
Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. She said something
about that just reached out and grabbed her. He happened to be
at this TV station. She called and actually got him, and she said,
"I'm Native you know, but I'm a Native from South America,"
and he said, "Sister, Indians of all tribes." So she
went down in the boat and all these brown hands reached up. And
she said it was the first time since she'd been in the States,
and she'd been here 13 years, that she felt like she was home.
She's an RN [registered nurse] and she got involved in the fishing
rights struggle, she was at Wounded Knee in '73, the occupation
on Alcatraz, and, somehow, like she said on the first day, she
was a movement lady. Wherever she went, she'd pack all her five
kids in her station wagon, Indian caravans, and we just went from
one thing to the next.
I feel like for all my brothers and sisters, that laid the foundation.
No matter what you do, you have to give something back, you have
to help your people. That was drilled [into us]. And, you know,
it wasn't like we resisted it, but as we grew up, we originally
wanted to pursue our own things. I feel you like become more and
more like your parents as you get older. I see that with all my
MS: So you guys traveled from different communities. Hence,
PB: Yeah, road trips, Hopi reservation, Navajo reservation,
Pima River, various tribes in Oregon, Canada, Nevada, all the
Four Corners area, the Dakotas. During the late 1960's and 1970's
there were just so many struggles. You would find that Indian
people would go and support [other Indians]. Even though they
weren't from that tribe, they would go and support that Indian
cause. My mom was one of those people.
MS: And what's she doing now?
PB: Now she's just chilling with her grandchildren. She's
pushing 70 and she has six grandkids. She still has a strong opinion,
but she kind of stands to the back now, and she says, "I've
paid my dues and I'm an elder." She says, "It's your
MS: Have you been back to visit the community where your
PB: Oh yeah. In fact, I took my fiancé and a couple
of relatives. We went down in December and we met with some traditional
medicine people down there. I try to go back at least about once
MS: I was just curious, you speak so highly of your mom,
I'm wondering what she thinks of Follow Me Home.
PB: When she read the script, she said, "Peter!some
of this language in here!" because there's a lot of street
vernacular. My mom worked on the set and we called her the executive,
executive producer. (Laugh). She was the set medic and
she was becoming everyone's mom. She came up with our film company's
name, Chacras, which is a Quechua word meaning that's the land
where you grow food, corn. At the Sundance Film Festival
hadn't seen any dailies, she didn't want to see anything, and
just when the music comes up and says "Chacras Filmworks,"
she just started sobbing, she just started crying.
If she's in the audience, she'll come up on the stage with me
and start taking questions. You'll see this old activist come
out in her. She gets really fired up
she sees new things
in it every time. Course she says, "Does your next film have
to be so heavy?"(Laugh) And it will be heavy! It doesn't
have a title yet, but they'll probably rate it R.
MS: That's "The Four Mary's" right? And is it
a contemporary story?
PB: I'm not going to tell you, you have to see it at the
Having a Vision
MS: So how did you go about making Follow Me Home?
I had the script and then I found some actors. My brother had
made a few films. He wasn't a very successful actor at the time,
but he had made some B films, and he knew some other B actors.
So we went down to Los Angeles, and we staged a reading of the
script and pretty much hired everyone on the spot. Steve Reevis
had just finished Geronimo. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, they
would say, "Steve Reevis, who's that? Benjamin Bratt? Who's
that?" because they'd been in small films. But in the Indian
community they'd be like, "Wow, Steve Reevis, wow, superstar,"
you know what I mean? So when we'd have fundraisers Steve would
come and Jesse [Borrego] and Benjamin [Bratt] and they'd be like,
"Wow, these guys have made films."
We started raising funds and prayed a lot. Next thing you know
we had $50,000, and that was enough to get it going. If I were
talking to a young filmmaker I'd say, "Get your budget first."
But that's not what we did. We went in with like $50,000 and we
were going to run out of money in a week, and we would have to
send everyone home, the crew and the cast.
But luckily we'd go back to the office, and we'd get on the phone
and we'd raise more money. In hindsight I wouldn't do that today,
and I would probably discourage a young filmmaker from doing that.
But there's something about naiveté and just pure faith
that makes magical things happen. It's like that saying, "You've
got to jump off the cliff and you may fall and die, but the only
way to grow wings is if you jump off the cliff. You're not going
to grow them standing here or debating. You have to take a leap
MS: And you've worked on a couple of shorts?
My brother and I produced a short documentary that we hope to
develop into a feature-length documentary on the Afro-Brazilian
art called capoeira, which is the martial art that I've
been doing for a number of years. I have one script that's for
a three-hour epic. But we need a large sum of money, so as a means
to an end, I'm going to do a smaller film with probably some Hollywood
MS: Is it a smaller film of that film?
PB: No it's a smaller film, like Follow Me Home
was a low-budget, no-budget movie. This film will be mid-range
an urban epic, contemporary film piece. It's got multiple locations
and takes place in the heart of a city. And so the budget's a
little more than moderate.
MS: And you're just going to take that around and do the
PB: Because the structure of the film is a little unconventional,
I'm probably going to have to raise the money outside
I can take that next step. From what I've found from talking to
investors, I need to make a film that's accessible and that gets
a distribution deal. Since Follow Me Home didn't get distribution,
in order to make people feel comfortable who are investing, I
have to produce something that actually gets a distribution deal.
MS: Have you watched or do you view much Native cinema?
PB: I try to watch everything
films from the silent
era, German films, French films, Indian films from India. There's
some incredible films coming out of India and Latin America. I
try to watch everything.
Where I get my fill of Native film is at the American Indian
Film Fest every November in San Francisco. And I find that the
majority of films are coming from Canada. The Canadian government
seems to be really supportive of Native filmmakers. I think they
even helped fund The Fast Runner, which is an incredible
film. I love that film, I study that film. I consider the Whale
Rider, which is about the Maori [though not directed by a
Maori], I [still] consider that a Native film. And there's another
[Moari] film that I actually took a few Lakota spiritual leaders
to see a couple of years ago called Once Were Warriors.
And they were just like, "Man, this is a straight up Indian
movie. We have to get this to the reservation." That was
one that [made it] into the theatres.
I find that a lot of Native filmmakers, because of the financial
restrictions, tend to go more into documentary. Right now, I think,
in the United States there's basically like one Native filmmaker
that everyone is aware of, that's Chris Eyre. And then Sherman
[Alexie] made The Business of Fancydancing. He's a writer
and a filmmaker. I feel like there are so many young filmmakers
out there but because of lack of funding they're doing shorts,
or documentaries or short documentaries, and so you don't really
hear of them too much. It seems like Canada has a lot more in
terms of feature materials.
There's [also] this film, I think it was made in 1973 in Mexico.
It's called Chac. The entire film is in Teltzal and it
is a powerful story. It's a traditional story, it's all Native
people, I think the director is Chilean. I saw it for the first
time a year ago and I thought 'Wow! Why haven't I heard of this
MS: Out of all the different arts, do you feel like filmmaking
is definitely your medium?
PB: Truth be told, if God had granted me a voice, I would
have been a singer because I love music. But I find that I can
bring my love for music to film. And film seems to incorporate
it, I mean, it's the ultimate collaborative art, because you are
working with so many different people from so many different areas
of life, so many different kinds of artists. And you are constantly
learning from one another. You cannot make a film by yourself,
it's like multifaceted collaboration. And I feel that's what makes
it so exciting. You have a script that's like a blueprint, but
you never know what the final outcome is going to be. Things happen
magically on the set and in postproduction when you bring music
into it and stuff.
What I always say to filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers,
is, "You have to love it." You know, for oneyou
might not get rich. And when you're making your film, you're begging
and you're borrowing and you're stealing and you're living with
your reels in your house and you're living with this material
for a couple of years, night and day. So you know you should love
it. Because it can burn you out if you don't.
MS: Do you have any advice for young Native filmmakers?
PB: My advice is to take in all advice and sometimes you
have to discard it. All of it. Because, for instance, in my case,
I had no experience with filmmaking, whatsoever. And I said,
Peter: "You know what? I want to make a film."
Advisor: "Make a short film."
Peter: "I'm going to make a motion picture."
Advisor: "But you have no experience."
Peter: "I know but I want to make one."
Advisor: "But you have no money."
Peter: "I know, but I want to make one."
Advisor: "You're crazy, you're dreaming."
I feel that if you really have something that you believe strongly
in, you find a way. You find people who can help and support you.
The money, that's a small part of it. You can raise the money,
that's doable. The hard part is getting people to believe in whatever
that vision is; to come along with you for the ride. And once
you have that, really any door, any avenue is open.
with the camera equipment that's available. Ever shoot in digital?
You can really be creative and inventive and shoot a low-budget
film, a well-made film, a well-crafted film, if that's what you
really want to do. So, I would say take in all the advice, but
if you find that the advice is overwhelming, discouraging, saying
[then discard it]. That's my belief. But
at the same time you'll also hear some good things that will help
you, so you take it all in and use what you can.
I feel like [we're] storytellers, I mean, that's what filmmakers
are, they're storytellers, whether they're making documentary
or features. I feel that storytellers have always had an important
role in, but in most indigenous societies, storytellers man, that's
where a lot of it comes together. That's where things are passed
on, knowledge, ethics,
Today I feel what governs the industry
[as] someone told
me, "This is the entertainment business, small e, capital
B." A lot of young filmmakers feel like they have to make
a certain kind of film if they're going to make it. I really encourage
Native filmmakers, or all filmmakers, to answer to and follow
their personal vision. If it's something that's really from the
heart and sincere, it's going to appeal to people.
And I feel that's what we need todaywe need an infusion
of new blood, new vision
a lot of the material out there,
I don't find that exciting, or original. I love all films, but
[in] different eras of cinema, like the 70's or the 60's in France,
or like the 50's in India, or even right now in Mexicothere's
just really exciting things that happen in film during those times.
I feel that happened because people were thinking outside of the
I went to this film bookstore and there are all these how-to-make-film
books and how-to-write-screenplay booksthere's like this
formula that you plug into. A lot of traditional Native story
telling, it definitely doesn't fit into the model, like the Western
paradigm, the linear structure and times. It's good to borrow
from everything, but I really think it's important today to think
outside of the box. I think we need it.
Image credits: Peter
Bratt - courtesy of Speak Out; Poster for Follow Me Home
- courtesy of Speak Out; Peter Bratt at the College of Wooster
- courtesy of Speak Out; Peter Bratt at a screening of Follow
Me Home - photograph by Roy Kaltschmidt; Peter Bratt &
Benjamin Bratt on the set of Follow Me Home - courtesy
of Speak Out; Peter Bratt and Benjamin Bratt - courtesy of Speak
Out; Peter Bratt during Q&A after a screening of Follow
Me Home at NMAI