Magazine article American Cinematographer

Saga of the Yavapai Indians

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Saga of the Yavapai Indians

Article excerpt

In April of this year, a group of documentary filmmakers pitted their skills against Arizona's high desert mountains to tell the tale of an Indian massacre in one of the most inaccessible natural fortresses known to man. For director Kathy Fredricks, the trek to the Skeleton Cave massacre site was the gateway to a larger project: investigating the history and culture of the Yavapai Indians. "The Yavapai Project" documents a unique transformation, showing how, through courage and determination, one of America's most ferocious Indian tribes turned their white enemies into friends.

In 1872, seventy-six Yavapai men, women and children died at Skeleton Cave rather than surrender to the Fifth Cavalry. To reach the site, the film crew had to drive the Apache trail, boat eight miles up the Salt River, and face a nearly vertical climb over boulders, cactus and sheer-faced rock. There was no trail, just a steep incline covered with gravel that rolled underfoot hike ball bearings.

Safety was the first priority, both for crew members and equipment. The crew took standard precautions of protecting gear by wrapping camera, lenses and sound equipment in bubble wrap and foam.

Experience proved that internal frame packs are superior for hauling equipment up a 50-90 degree incline with bad footing. According to cinematographer Wayne De La Roche, "It's important to carry a pack that becomes an integral part of your body when you're wedged in a crevice or hanging out over a cliff. External frames sway more, and have a higher center of gravity, so they can throw you off balance. Carrying 60 pounds of gear, you don't want to fight any harder than you have to, especially when you're going to be filming at the end of the hike. I've tried a lot of packs, and Lowe puts out a series of really high-quality internal frame support systems that are ideal for climbing with film gear."

Weight was especially critical, since each crew member also had to carry two liters of water. As the Aoril ternperatures soared to 95 degrees, this was barely enough. Says director Fredricks, "In trie desert, water is life. I grew up hiking in Arizona, and people die here from dehydration every year. With too little water, you wiU lose your judgment and your endurance. You can live for several days without food, but just one day of dehydration can kill you."

Scouting for expedition filmmaking can be tricky. Kathy had scouted the cave in January, carrying only a ten pound daypack. "I figured the hike with the crew would take twice as long with a full load, and that was about right. But I didn't count on the extra time needed to rope the packs up. We spent at least two hours just babying the equipment up crevices where I had been able to carry a daypack."

After reaching Skeleton Cave, filming began with a CP16, a Canon 7-56 and an Angenieux 12-120. "From Kathy's accounts of the cave," explained De La Roche, "I knew we would need a lens that could handle extremely tight spaces. The Canon was a blessing because it allowed coverage at the wide end which other zooms would have missed. It was perfect for giving a sense of the size of the cave, while placing it within the context of the surrounding landscape."

Setting exposure was especially challenging, because light values in the same scene typically ranged from T2 to TIl, and it was critical to hold detail both in the shadows of the cave and the brilliant daylight exteriors. Generally De La Roche chose his exposures favoring shadow detail when shooting into the cave, and favoring daylight when looking out at the battlefield through a silhouette of the cave's mouth. "The credit really goes to Kodak," says De La Roche. "Initially we considered Fuji, for the pastels of the Arizona desert and for capturing Indian skin tones. But after extensive testing, we chose to shoot our outdoor scenes with Kodak 7248. Ideally, we would have chosen 7245, but working on a limited budget we needed a stock that could also be used for interior interviews, and that would intercut flawlessly. …

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