PBCI ‘Trail’ doc to be aired soon

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional information on the search of the film at Alabama A&M University.

In the near future, the public will be able to view the “Trail of Tears” documentary of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Producer Jim Robinson spoke about the filmmaking process during the Society of Alabama Archivists’ annual meeting on Oct. 6 at Wind Creek Casino and Hotel.

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The Trail of Tears was the forced extraction of the Cherokee people from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, according to the National Park Service’s website.

Present day Creek Indians are the descendants of those who were not removed.

Robinson said the film came as a result of having an idea to do a small documentary on Native Americans in the state of Alabama. He found out about the PBCI a short time later.

Robinson said he talked with a member of the PBCI, and requested to do a documentary on the Tribe.

The Tribal Council approved the request, and he filmed over a year and a half from 1978-1979.

The filming included interviews, conferences and the 1979 PBCI Pow Wow. Used newspaper articles were also utilized for the film’s documentation.

Robinson said he shot day-to-day life of the Indians, and included two historical reenactments. The reenactments included the Trail of Tears and the Creek War of 1836.

“A lot of history was preserved,” Robinson said about the film. “Information was recaptured.”

Robinson said members of the PBCI took part in the reenactments, and did well.

Once the filming was complete, the reels went back to Alabama A&M University in north Alabama. Alabama A&M helped fund the documentary.

However, the film became lost, and for almost 40 years, the film remained lost except in the memory of those who participated in the documentary, according to the Poarch Creek News.

From there, Dr. Deidra Dees and team at the PBCI Office of Archives and Records Management set out to find the film. They traveled to Alabama A&M University twice within a six-month period, and worked closely with university officials, including Veronica Henderson, Mary Hawthorne, Erica Fox Washington, Elvin Jenkins, Michael Burns and Michael Morns.

After 42 years, the team found the reel-to-reel soundtracks in a cabinet in what was the old Telecommunications Center at the university. With audio in hand, digitization was the next step.

Dees then escorted the film, which was described as a quad tape (2-inches wide), to Tennessee for digitization.

Since then, virtual showings and events were held to show those interested footage of the documentary.

Dees said it took several months to digitize the film.

As for when the documentary will be released to the public, Robinson said they’re working on putting the final cut of the film together. He added that editing will take place once the script is finalized.

Other sessions at the meeting included sharing best practices, cautionary tales and ideas for facilities and operations; reframing narratives of African American Female Landownership in Alabama’s Black Belt; digitizing the University of Alabama Theses and Dissertations; and documentation on an indigenous waterway of the Gulf Shores Ancient Canoe Canal, to name a few.