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On the front lines

Ashland moviemaker Aaron Moffatt, who just released a feature-length, virtual reality film on the Klamath Mountains, is now shooting a second film on the Native American women at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and their relationship with their natural environment.

Moffatt, 26, and his co-producer, Jeris JC Miller of Jacksonville, arrived at Standing Rock Nov. 20 just in time for the violent confrontation between protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline and law enforcement officers who used a water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them. Many of the protesters were treated at a local clinic with injuries from the confrontation.

In filming the clash at an embattled bridge, as temperatures dropped into the 20s, the filmmakers were gassed, leaving them with persistent coughs, hoarseness and burning eyes for days, Moffatt said.

“We arrived and heard reports of gunfire, so we rushed out there and joined a crowd that got up to a thousand,” said Moffatt, in a phone interview from Bismarck, North Dakota, north of the pipeline route and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

“Barricades and razor wire were laid at the bridge. Two vehicles blocking it were ignited by a small sector, not with the main camp, which was trying to tow them away. They (officers) gassed the crowd and shot rubber bullets and soaked many people with the water cannon.

“I was in a cloud of tear gas with Jeris. We escaped relatively easily. One medic guy near us wearing a big red cross was shot in the chest with a tear gas canister and the gas filled his mask, which must’ve felt like dying. We got 40 minutes of film.” 

The protesters, who call themselves "water protectors," are opposed to completion of the final link in a 1,200-mile oil line from North Dakota to Illinois. The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet issued the final permit that would allow drilling an underground route for the pipeline underneath the Missouri River. Native American tribes fear the pipeline will harm drinking water and cultural sites.

Moffatt said the movie springing from Standing Rock “will focus on the inspiring and positive side of this. We’re not sure if we’ll include the conflict. Lots of other people are capturing that. To us, it’s about uplifting people to come together peacefully and support each other.” 

Asked why he went to the Standing Rock confrontation, Moffatt said, “I believe this is one of, if not THE most important events of our time. It marks the point where all of us, as people, have the opportunity around the country and the world to stand in solidarity for our future and the future generations for the planet we live on and for the future of human rights.”

Moffatt and Miller are also on assignment writing a story about the protests for Yes! magazine (www.yesmagazine.org).

The filmmakers won a scholarship from Facebook for an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality camera to work on the film series. Oculus is the maker of the futuristic wrap-around headsets, which were invented earlier this year using $2.5 million raised on Kickstarter, its Wikipedia page says. It produces movies in 360 degrees that can be viewed by moving your head in any direction — and, Moffatt said, are viewable on smartphones.

“What’s truly astonishing is how peaceful and lawful these 10,000-plus protesters have been through months of provocation and infliction of terror,” Moffatt wrote in a Facebook post. “The people here and supporting from home uphold the true ‘war on terror.’ We bring peace and support for one another in the face of terror.”

Their first film, simply titled “Klamath,” premiered recently at the Oregon Coast Film Festival and the Klamath Falls Independent Film Festival, with more festivals under consideration. Film updates and filmmaker profiles can be found at shiftingpov.com.

Moffatt plans to make a third film, focusing on the Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan. 

Moffatt grew up in Ashland and is a graduate of Ashland High School. He plays violin with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His father, Alden Moffatt, is an Ashland artist who has been working for decades to create an Ancient Forest National Park, setting boundaries to preserve “the most intact and recoverable” plantlife and animals and their migrational corridors in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion for future generations.

The 55-minute film “Klamath” details the proposal and will be shown, free and for the public, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Southern Oregon Climate Action Now monthly meeting at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., Medford. For details, go to socan.info/event/socan-monthly-meeting-2-2016-11-29.

A number of other Ashland residents have traveled to North Dakota to support those resisting completion of the pipeline, and supported the protesters economically and on social media. Several local rallies have been held.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.



A protester near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation grimaces after being sprayed in the face by law enforcement with either tear gas or water in sub-freezing temperatures. Photo by Jeris JC Miller
Aaron Moffatt