Life on the 'REZ': Film to honor Leech Lake friend
While attending Harvard University, Dominique DeLeon became close friends with his roommate Clarence D. "Duane" Meat.
Meat grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation and began his tenure at Harvard in 2005, with the intentions of gaining a major in economics.
While attending the university, Meat was deeply involved with the American Indian community, playing drums for the Intertribal Indian Dance Troupe and serving a term as president of Native American Students at Harvard.
On May 3, 2006, while taking time off from school to spend time at home, Meat was fatally shot in the chest.
He was 24 years old.
DeLeon went on to graduate from Harvard and to begin education at New York University film school.
During their time together at Harvard, DeLeon and Meat had talked about the possibility of one day creating a film about modern day life on the reservation.
While attending NYU, DeLeon decided to follow through with this idea and he wrote a script for the movie.
The story of the movie, titled "REZ," is that of main character Daniel Nightbird (Alfred Seaboy), a teen living on the Leech Lake reservation.
Struggling to find work when his home forecloses, Nightbird faces a decision to make - leaving the reservation with his girlfriend or making a home in the only place he's ever known, even if it means coming face to face with the local gang.
The acclaimed script was a hit as it won the Spike Lee Production Award at NYU film school.
"It's honoring my friend," DeLeon said.
What now ensues is a process to turn that script and that vision into something concrete.
"We want to make the best 30-minute film as possible," said Producer Christian McGuigan.
With a crew of 22 members from all over the United States, as well as outside the country, DeLeon started filming Wednesday morning in Cass Lake. The crew will film all over Cass County, going as far out as Walker, every day until wrapping Tuesday, Aug. 30.
This creation and final product film is special to DeLeon, just the way he thinks films should be.
"If you're going to make movies, you might as well make them about things that matter to you," DeLeon said. "And when you're telling a story with personal impact, you're telling the audience that your story matters."
To McGuigan, this film isn't intended to be a feel-good production.
"Most people seek out movies to find an escape;" McGuigan said. "This isn't one of those movies. This should wake people up."
"Hopefully this can evoke change in lives and the community," McGuigan said.
DeLeon has been staying in Cass Lake for nearly two months, finding places to shoot while gaining insight on the community.
"It's not like any other city I've been to," DeLeon said. "There's a lot of pain that people are dealing with."
"But there's a strong community here too," he continued. "It's sort of emblematic of what's going on in the country as a whole."
Dedicated to making the film authentic and true to its story, DeLeon recruited a large portion of the actors and actresses in the film are from the area.
"Ninety-percent of our actors are from the Leech Lake Reservation," McGuigan said.
In fact, DeLeon has kept Meat's family incorporated in the film, with his niece and nephew helping around the set.
"We're even using what I believe is Duane's brother's car," on-set assistant Nicole Smith said.
What is slated to be a short film has potential to someday be evolved into a feature-length production.
"Ultimately the goal is to make a feature-length film," McGuigan said.
If plans go accordingly, the rough cut of the film "REZ," should be done by the end of September, and a full-length feature script figured out in August 2012.