In her film, “Belonging” local artist and director, Ruth Chase documents the stories of people living in Nevada County, including Shelly Covert, spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria, Nisenan Tribe.
The film is an initiative of Nevada County Art Council and funded in part by California Arts Council through its Artists in Communities Program. Chase and Covert are scheduled to show the film during this week’s 17th Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival comes to Nevada City and Grass Valley.
The pair are scheduled to participate in activities such as opening reception, art shows, fireside chats, coffee talks, workshops and film panels throughout the five-day environmental and adventure film festival that attracts filmmakers, change-makers and activists from around the globe.
The two sat down and answered a few questions. Chase had this to say:
What inspired you to make the film, “Belonging?”
“Belonging” is about how people find a sense of belonging through the land, the earth and the environment. I was initially interested in examining the unique connection people have with the land they were born on and if that connection changes when residing in a place other than their birthplace.
I started my research by interviewing two people — Shelly Covert of the Nisenan, a local tribe that has been here countless generations, and Rob Thompson, a rancher and land steward at Legacy Ranching who wasn’t born here. It was because of Shelly and Rob that the film evolved to be about people who are deeply connected to the land and how they view their own sense of belonging by the place where they live.
What is your hope with this project?
I hope that the film will inspire others to have a relationship with the land they reside on. That people consider the earth as having a history and soul of its own.
What have you learned along this filmmaking journey? What’s next?
Oh, I’ve learned so much. I am a visual artist and painter and this was my first film ever — no film school, no lessons, I learned along the way. Thankfully I worked with Radu Sava, the cinematographer of “Belonging” who patiently guided me, as well as the Nevada County Arts Council who gave me an opportunity to explore this medium by taking me on an Artist in Residence.
Now I am working on a short documentary with Will Edwards called “I AM HERE,” about how women find their sense of belonging. After this, I want to go back to my roots and make an art film that captures the nuance of belonging using the medium more abstractly.
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Wild & Scenic Film Fest?
I never go to Wild & Scenic with a plan, I allow the festival to wash over me, taking me where I need to be. I will leave the festival forever changed, and that is all I am looking forward to, my own transformation.
Here’s the conversation with Covert:
You are playing a very active role in this year’s Wild & Scenic. Talk about the significance of this to you personally and to the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe.
I am very happy to be involved at Wild & Scenic in many ways this year. It feels good to have Elders from the Tribal Council participating, too. The welcome ceremony is perhaps the most significant as it honors the indigenous people who were here before the gold rush and remain today. These opportunities to participate publicly continue to raise the visibility of the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe and to restore their story and history on this land. I’m glad the Wild & Scenic organizers find us of value to be involved at this level.
Tell us how the films you were involved with touched your life?
Participating in both “We Are Here” and “Belonging” was intimidating at first. I felt self-conscious and was worried that I wouldn’t find the words in front of the camera that I needed to express myself and tell our story well. But, after I saw the finished pieces, I found pride in my delivery and believe that I represented my Tribal community, the land, and my family in a way that will make them proud.
What do you want festival-goers to gain/ learn/ take home after they attend the opening reception, films, workshops and chats that you, your family and tribal council are involved with?
I truly hope that what I say in films, at the opening reception, workshops, and chats will impact the audience and move them to action. We need the public’s support to help us regain our Federal recognition. The Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe was almost completely erased from our memory here locally and we must reverse that. We have a long and beautiful cultural history here on these lands in need of protection before it is lost. It is my hope that people will learn who we are; come and hear stories about the Nisenan in this area; and take home some excitement in support of the local Tribe as it restores its nearly extinguished identity.
What does the year ahead look like? What are the next steps and how can people get involved?
We have started a letter writing campaign both locally and afar, we have a petition people can sign, and accept donations through our nonprofit, CHIRP (California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project). Look for our table during the festival and check out our website at http://www.nisenan.org. The coming year is going to be full throttle forward with building the capacity of our nonprofit, working on legislation for Federal recognition, continued building of our partnerships with environmental organizations, tending the land, and continuing to raise the visibility of the tribe through public speaking events and through the arts. We seek partnerships with our community and together we will solidify the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe here in our homelands now and into the future.
Learn more and purchase tickets to the Wild & Scenic Film Festival by visiting,