First Nations have interested me since I was a boy. I imagined how great it would be to ride with them through the prairie on the back of my pony, to sit at the campfire with them and listen to the stories of the wise old women and men. And I was bitterly disappointed when I found out that the Winnetou films had been shot in Yugoslavia and that Pierre Brice is French. After that, I tried reading Karl May but his books were too tedious and wordy for me – and then, when I learned that Karl May had never even been with the First Nations, I was terribly shocked.
One day my mother, who worked at the Union Printers in Solothurn, brought me „The red silk Scarf“ by Federica De Cesco and that was when I found a new access into the world of the First Nations. As a boy, I was relatively lonely: my school colleagues preferred to play soccer. So I began to dream: about a film with real First Nations, taken in their homeland.
During my work on the documentary film „Federica de Cesco, mein Leben, meine Welten“ (2008) the idea came to me that I should film one of the novels written by Federica de Cesco. There were only two possible considerations for my film: „Shana das Wolfsmädchen“ as well as „Aischa or the Sun of Life“. My daughter, who was ten years old at the time, tipped the scales: she absolutely wanted to go to the First Nations.
I set forth with a good friend who lives in Switzerland but comes from the tribe of the Onondaga to look for Shana’s village in Canada. In the Nicola Valley we not only found a village and a location to film that looked like what I had imagined. We also met the Scw’exmx, people of the creeks. Now we just had to find someone to play Shana. But the search dragged on for quite some time until Leona Rabbitt, culture mediator and Shaman, offered to help us. One morning before sunrise, in a special ceremony, we prayed that we would find our Shana – and by the afternoon of the same day, Sunshine O‘Donovan was standing in our casting office.
For as long as I can remember, in all my film work it was the interfaces that interested me: the point where fiction and reality merge and something new is created. Also, making films means to me the building of bridges: between people but also between cultures. In all my other films I developed the plot together with the persons who later also stood in front of the camera. And that is how it happened with „Shana“: I worked together with the actors, who all belonged to the tribe of the Scw’exmx on the story of „Shana“ until the story became a part of their own cultural reality.
In „Shana,“ an old “wolf’s head”-violin plays an important role. And what I did not know before the film was that this kind of violin is known and loved by the southern First Nations tribes. Its four strings symbolize not only the four heavenly or cardinal (wind) directions but also the four ages of man: Childhood, Youth, Adulthood and Old Age. Different from the Shana in De Cesco’s book, who plays classical music, the Shana in the film plays “her” music, the music she has received from her ancestors and from Nature. Music and song serve as direct communication with the Hereafter.
Towards the end of the film, when Shana goes into the forest, she encounters her First Mother (her primordial mother) and is taunted by her. Our primordial mothers want us to be strong in our earthly life, to fight for what we want, not hide behind the skirts of our earthly mothers. The Scw'exmx call this the "Vision Quest". For three days and three nights, young people go into the forest to encounter their ancestors and return as young adults.
With „Shana – The Wolf’s Music“ a long cherished dream of mine came true: I have made a film about real First Nations in their homeland. The Scw’exmx had given me, the film and the viewers a part of their soul and I have never been happier than in the moment when, after the screening of „Shana“, they Elders told me that our film was now a part of their culture. Afterwards, I went to the mountain with the Shaman Leona Rabbitt a second time and, in a ceremony, we asked for a blessing on the release of our common project.
Nino Jacusso, November 2013