As some in the United States struggle to come to terms with its rather complicated origins, they sometimes unearth cultural relics that can actually bring us closer to our tapestry of roots. For the focus of the new documentary film, Gather, these roots are sometimes literal, as they explore their culinary connections to the past.
Gather, directed by Sanjay Rawal, observes groups of Native Americans seeking to reclaim the sovereignty of their food sources tied deeply to their ancestry and identity. And while it may not have the sugar-rush draw of some of Netflix’s more tawdry docs of murder and hillbilly tiger trainers, Rawal’s movie offers a fascinating, visually striking glimpse of just how the seeds of oppression and racism can thrive for generations. Through its brisk runtime, we meet a number of Native Americans seeking to make a living off of their ancestral practices of fishing, farming, and raising livestock. For it is through these that they can not only reclaim their legacy but give them an opportunity to share their practices (and pride) with the masses.
“…observes groups of Native Americans seeking to reclaim the sovereignty of their food sources tied deeply to their ancestry…”
Rawal also takes detours to tell us how the effects of colonialism took its toll through the various nutritional habits of the tribes. This led many to live off pre-packaged gas-station food, which turned some towards drugs and all related health issues that accompany such terrible habits. One particular heartbreaking storyline follows a group of young men (from the Northern California Yurok tribe) whose salmon source was cut off decades ago by a federal government-built dam. The men bond by fishing, as it ties directly to their forefathers, but the supply has been choked off, and they often return empty-handed.
The story of the colonizer treatment of Native Americans is not new but also not as known as it perhaps should be. Gather shows its effects in ways that are often not considered in the widespread atrocities they faced. More importantly, it shows how many are taking matters into their own hands by creating healthier dietary habits that also connects them to their past. Director of Photography Renan Ozturk, a National Geographic photographer, equally captures epic, sweeping shots of the untamed vistas and the stark realities of sickly landscapes from which they must work to reconstruct their new reality.
Throughout Gather, Rawal refrains from placing blame and portraying his subjects as victims but focuses instead on their resolve and resilience. He keeps the cameras on his subjects, allowing them to be the drivers of their own narrative, instead of relying on voiceovers or talking heads. He also shows that, through education, we can simultaneously come to grips with our past while planting fruits for our future.
"…refrains from placing blame and portraying his subjects as victims but focuses instead on their resolve..."