MATTHEWS – Members of Silent Images have spent the last several months working to make a difference both domestically and internationally through two efforts from different worlds.
The Matthews-based nonprofit seeks to use photography and video footage to empower impoverished and oppressed people by capturing and sharing their stories. And founder David Johnson has dedicated the organization’s latest project to shedding light on what he calls “a forgotten place” – the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
“The Dakota Project” is a two-part film series focused on the Native American community, which Johnson said is the poorest county in the United States. The first part of the series was filmed in August 2013, and Johnson returned with videographer Hunter Buchanan in December to work on the second part.
“From the very beginning, our goal with this film wasn’t to make another documentary or film that shames or embarrasses the Native Americans; it’s about finding beauty in the ashes,” said Buchanan, who joined the Silent Images team shortly before the first footage for “The Dakota Project” was shot.
The Dakota film series will shed light on some of the violence, alcoholism and high suicide rates that have plagued the
reservation for decades, making life difficult for those living in the community. But the series also will focus on some of the residents who are fatigued by the suicide and destructive behavior – those residents who are ready for a change.
“I hope there will be a softening in people’s hearts” when they view the film, Johnson said, “and that people can see beyond the alcohol and gambling and have a renewed perspective of the reservation, spiritually and materially.”
Johnson plans to begin promoting “The Dakota Project” by showing the film in churches – the most appropriate venues, he said, as the greatest request he received from residents of the reservation was prayer.
“There’s a spiritual battle there … they feel like God needs to intervene for hope to be restored,” Johnson said.
Empowering an oppressed people
Silent Images also recently reached across the Pacific Ocean to help build a better world for the people of a historically oppressed nation.
Johnson spent 10 days in Myanmar, widely known as Burma, last month, training 32 Burmese leaders interested in starting or heading up a business, nonprofit or political organization.
It was Johnson’s third trip to Myanmar – his first was two years ago when he documented human rights violations in the northern region of the nation. Johnson teamed up with Kansas-based organization DeBoer Fellowship for the most recent visit, joining several other instructors for the seminar. He and the other speakers took turns teaching different ways of being a successful leader, as well as how to make a business or organization flourish.
“Instead of doing a traditional aid-relief trip, where you’re going in and bringing in material needs, (this trip) really invested into human capital,” he said. “You say, ‘Hey, who are the leaders here (in Myanmar)? Let’s really empower them to help their own people.’”
Johnson’s main point was teaching people how to tell their story. Silent Images provided cameras for the 32 attendees and taught them how to tell their own story through video footage and photography. Johnson plans to return to Myanmar in April to help the individuals produce a short video telling the story of their business or organization.
“To help them (find their) voice and tell their own story was pretty powerful to be a part of,” Johnson said. “I hope this will have an impact on generations in Burma … (that it will) lead this country in a new direction, to open up doors for the children of the next generation so they can have access to accomplish their dreams and goals.”
Find more information and view excerpts from Silent Images projects at www.silentimages.org.