Navajo/Scottish/English/German filmmaker Cassie Goodluck-Johnson has been in love with moving images since childhood. A storyteller at heart, she started Goodluck Productions and Designs in 2013 to tell client and personal stories in a uniquely powerful way. She works in narrative and documentary films, as well as on promotional work.
This Q&A is just a dash of get-to-know-her. You're also invited to come have dinner at Citizen, and learn more about Cassie, her work as an educator and filmmaker, and her perspective on the Portland media landscape.
CC: What’s the story of how you became a filmmaker?
CDJ: When I was 8 years old, my mom went back to grad school for film and communications. So I spent a lot of time on set, seeing her direct, working with cameras, lighting and actors as well as working many hours in editing suites. I started taking acting classes and at first I thought that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I started making little movies on a camcorder with my best friend at the time, it was so fun. Then when we moved to Charlotte NC I met one of my best friends, Erin and we started making movies together on weekends or any free time we had. We had our friends and family play different parts and learned how to write scripts, plan shoots and some editing with software my mom had at her production job. Eventually we turned in our short narrative film to the National Children's Film Festival and won 2nd place - we were so excited. We got flown to the awards show in Indianapolis and HBO Family Channel was there interviewing us and asked us if they could air our short on their tv channel. We flew up to NYC and that's when I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker for the rest of my life. They commissioned us to do a 2nd film when we were 15. Then I went to College of Santa Fe for the moving image arts department and learned a lot about avant garde film as well as the philosophy, history and alternative filmmaking formats. It was very inspiring to be around so many creatives. I worked on several films and tv productions after college, traveling when I could to work on them. I had a video internship in NYC, then was a costume assistant on a period film in Norway, a broadcast / camera technician on a news channel in Olympia, and a post production assistant and art department assistant on reality tv shows and award ceremony shows in Los Angeles. Then I moved to Portland with my husband and started my own production company, Goodluck Productions, and have been working as an independent contractor for different clients, including yoga teachers, small business owners, medical conferences, and more. Most recently I began working with Native American tribes and schools to produce small PSA videos, and teach filmmaking to Native American youth from around the country at Superfly Filmmaking Experience in Seattle, Paper Rocket Productions' Program in Navajo country in NM, 2 years at Chemawa Indian School teaching narrative film and documentary film this year, as well as THRIVE conference, a creative camp for Native American Youth at PSU last summer. It has been a joy and privilege to work with youth, passing along my love and passion for film and seeing them learn and grow so much.
CCHow do you see film as a tool for social impact?
CGJ: Film is amazing. It inspires not only the people who watch it (hopefully), but has the power to deeply inspire the filmmakers behind the camera. It has the potential to touch lives, and souls at a very deep level. It encompasses so many different creative arts, including photography, imagery/visual, music, choreography, acting, storytelling, writing, art, and so much more. It is at its core a collaborative art, and for this reason, I believe it has the power to bring about amazing pieces of collaborative art that wouldn't have been possible with just one person. Filmmaking can be used as art therapy because the filmmaker is transformed by seeing something seemingly impossible become possible - the creative process is deeply healing and inspiring. Film can transform audiences, especially if made with soulfulness. Films have made me cry, laugh and everything in between. Some films have made me deeply question life or created a curiosity that wasn't there before - which I believe opens a person up to the amazing possibilities and magic which is an inherent part of being alive. Film is life!
CC: You've worked with Native youth-- how do you see film/making as a resource and mode of storytelling for Native communities?
CGJ: I think that filmmaking is particularly impactful with indigenous people for several reasons. First, when you look at the constructs of storytelling and wisdom and tradition and ceremony being passed down through generations in most tribal societies, you see the oral tradition over the written tradition in most western/anglo societies. The oral tradition is being lost all over the world due to dying off of cultures and populations and the modernization and assimilation of these peoples. That is why I believe film is so important as a way of cultural perseveration; especially through documentary film you can interview and document people in their elements, hear their stories and save that oral tradition from being lost hopefully. I also believe that many younger Native people see the merging of technology and traditional life. Although it certainly is a balance technology can be used for good - as a tool for preserving and sharing information, wisdom and a way of life with the larger world as well as educating the people within the tribe, who sometimes suffer from a lack of cultural initiation and education for many reasons (ie modernization, forced assimilation on BIA boarding schools, etc). I also believe film is a powerful way to educate the larger world about Native people, working to dispel many longhand myths and misconceptions and stereotypes about these people brought on by popular Hollywood film and television. By putting the power of the camera/filmmaker back into the hands of Native Americans, the world can see through their eyes - a very important tool to better our society through education, empathy, understanding and compassion. If people don't know and only see what is perpetuated in popular films, their is a likelihood their conceptions of these people and their way of life is very skewed at best, and down right racist at worst.
You’re about to head out on a big travel adventure-- where are you going, and how will film fit into your trip?
My husband and I are very excited about going location independent and traveling long term. We plan on starting near Merida, Mexico (in Yucatan Peninsula) for several months. We will be working with a local nonprofit that does native habitat restoration as well as eco tourism education and building. We will be starting with a 1 month certification while camping on the land and living simply. I plan to bring my Canon c300 and document different volunteering programs we will do along this 2 year adventure, interviewing people who are involved or impacted and hopefully learning a lot about these projects along the way. We will be working our way down through Central and South America over the course of 2 years, hoping to work on some volunteer projects in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Equador, Columbia, Peru and Brazil, maybe more! Since my husband is a native plant landscaper and wants to work closely with habitat restoration work, and I am a filmmaker and interested in humanitarian projects, as well as immersing with he local communities and working with indigenous communities, as well as animal sanctuaries - we plan to integrate both of our passions with a combination of different volunteering opportunities along the way and document them with short documentary style vignettes of different people and places that inspire us the most along the way. We are in the midst of building a travel blog/vlog featuring this video work along with writing and photography! The website is nativenomadlife.com - it will be up soon. Please follow us!
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Ladybird, Frances Ha, The Beach, The Revenant, Lion, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, Birdman, Captain Fantastic, Boyhood, Reality Bites, Little Women, Sister Act, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Monsoon Wedding, Kedi, Expedition Happiness, 13th, When They Awake, First Daughter and the Black Snake