Session 19
Tuesday April 20, 5:30pm – 7:30pm
AMC/LOEWS Boston Common: 175 Tremont St. Boston
Language of America                         81min

Three Native American families from different New England
tribes journey back into nature and into a dream of a time
when words had meanings so big they could not be
translated into English. As they unravel the secret of the
survival of their 9,000-year-old cultures, they confront the
power of a lie that Americans have yet to question. Theirs is
not an isolated situation, for the world’s languages are
disappearing; 90% could be gone by mid-century. But why
would the Passamaquoddy living in an isolated part of
eastern Maine suddenly stop speaking it to their children,
after 9,000 years? Why are they committing suicide?

Language of America explores native language as the
primary vehicle of native American worldview, spirituality, and
a self-sustaining relation with the natural world that made the
Passamaquoddy one of the healthiest, joyful people on the
planet. It dissects Indian words to reveal a way of thinking
that physicists believe describes the dynamics of sub-atomic
particle physics more accurately than English can. The film
unfolds as a chronicle told from inside the struggles of a
family trying against all odds to teach Passamaquoddy to
their children as a first language even as English closes in
from all sides. We see two totally different world views
competing for the mind of a child who must learn to balance
within him the two worlds each represents, an oral world of
spirit and nature and a written, linear world of materialism
and work.

When the filmmaker discovers a related tribe with another
family that is bringing their extinct language back into use
after it had been extinct for 200 years, suddenly the tables
are turned, and all bets are off about the future of native
American language as a still mysterious force that continues
to shape America. In the end, what is at stake is not “only”
language, culture and the wellbeing of a small community of
speakers. If we overlay a map of endangered languages
across the world over a map of disappearing species, we see
the two coincide almost exactly …where languages
disappear….biological life and diversity also disappears. The
struggle to teach a child a native language captures our
imagination and takes our thinking about sustainability
beyond headlines and slogans to an ancient image of
relatedness that English does not have a word for.

Writer, Producer; Ben Levine
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