Victor, NY—A chance visit by a local filmmaker with Asperger’s Syndrome to Ganondagan State Historic Site in 2010 became the inspiration for a feature film which examines cultural values, judgment, and acceptance of differences and disabilities. The official Rochester premiere of Adrian Esposito’s Bury My Heart with Tonawanda, the film inspired by his visit, takes place on Thursday, June 27, presented by Friends of Ganondagan at the Memorial Art Gallery Auditorium at 7:00 pm.
The film tells the fictional story of John Harrison, a developmentally disabled boy rejected by his family and shunned by 19th century society, but accepted and nurtured to adulthood by the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. Written, edited, and produced by Esposito, Bury My Heart with Tonawanda is directed by Gary Sundown (Seneca) and stars many individuals—including elders—from the Tonawanda Indian Nation. Not only does the film serve to educate about Seneca culture, beliefs and myths, it also reveals the positive effects of love and respect while challenging the stereotypes often applied both to Native Americans and people with disabilities.
This film presentation by Friends of Ganondagan closes the circle begun with Esposito’s 2010 visit to Ganondagan, when he spoke with Site Interpreter Ronnie Reitter (Seneca). In response to Esposito’s query about how the Seneca people—the original inhabitants of this area—would have treated a child with developmental disabilities, Ms. Reitter told him that Seneca culture recognized that everyone has special gifts and talents, including people with disabilities.
To illustrate her point, Reitter also shared the faceless cornhusk doll story. Legend tells that a beautiful young woman was consumed by her looks. The Creator gave her numerous warnings about her vanity, but to no avail. To teach her a lesson about the value of all people—no matter how they look—the Creator took away her face. Reitter, a well-known artisan and creator of traditional Iroquois cornhusk dolls, notes that the lesson’s message is “to show that we all are equal and that no one is better than anyone else.” As a personal thank you, Esposito cast Reitter in a small role in the film: a mother whose daughter is playing with a cornhusk doll.
Esposito’s films tend to focus on social issues and subjects who have faced significant life challenges. He already has made five films including the award-winning documentary, We Can Shine: From Institutions to Independence. Bury My Heart with Tonawanda is his fifth film and first narrative feature, and it already has won Best Western New York Film and the Audience Award at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival at last month’s world premiere.
The Memorial Art Gallery Auditorium doors open at 6:30 pm. Immediately following the film, the audience is invited to stay for a Q&A with Esposito, Reitter, Executive Producer Kristina Nomeika, and Director of Photography Thom Marini. Tapas and wine are available for purchase beginning at 5:00 pm at the MAG.
What: Bury My Heart with Tonawanda, official Rochester film premiere presented by the Friends of Ganondagan
When: Thursday, June 27; 7-9 pm
Where: Memorial Art Gallery Auditorium, 500 University Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607
Admission: FREE, although donations to Friends of Ganondagan are welcome. For more information, visit ganondagan.org/events.html or call (585) 742-1690.