Word For the World is Fire

In development / feature length documentary / in collaboration with Elizabeth Azzuz and Yurok people

For centuries, the indigenous peoples of Northern California have used fire to protect and maintain their land. However, the US government outlawed this practice for 150 years, causing traditional ecological knowledge to erode and vegetation to choke the land. Today, the Yurok people are leading the way in reinstating their ecological rights and changing the global perception of fire, armed with the latest scientific research. Their fight is more important than ever in the face of our ongoing environmental crises.

This film will focus on the intricate interplay between indigenous ecological knowledge and science through the work of Elizabeth Azzuz, a Yurok fire-lighter, storyteller, grandmother and the film’s protagonist. Elizabeth learned to burn when she was just four, during a time when cultural burning was heavily persecuted. Recently, her work has taken on a new-found sense of urgency as the world grapples with rising temperatures and a growing number of wildfires. The film will visually and conceptually weave together Yurok fire myths, cultural practices, and contemporary narratives on the climate crisis to explore the deep sense of kinship and love that underlies the Yurok’s use of fire as a tool. It will follow Elizabeth as she relays her knowledge to her grandchildren, scientists, and firefighters. The film will also shed light on the fact that the stories of those who preceded scientific discoveries were often unacknowledged and demonstrate how science can enrich the Yurok's ecological knowledge, rather than the other way around, which is often the case.

The character of fire will offer a fresh perspective on our relationship with nature, showcasing its duality as a destructive and transformative force capable of both violence and healing. This film is grounded in my relationship as an artist with Elizabeth Azzuz. My goal is to empower her and her community to tell their story, using technologies and narratives of cinema to amplify their voices. I strongly believe that our collective survival depends on this kind of collective, ecological storytelling.