About Dance River Productions
Dance River Productions is an independent producer of documentary films, specializing in historical content that resonates today. Our films present compelling stories that explore history and memory, with original music and cinematography.
The Film Team
Dee Garceau, Director/Producer: I am an historian/filmmaker in Missoula, Montana, who teaches, writes, and makes documentary films. I grew up in Massachusetts, earned a college degree in Maine, researched in Montana, and worked in Tennessee, so all of those places became home. American writer William Kittredge once said, “We tell stories so we can inhabit them.” Through story, we make sense of our experience, explore our connections with each other, and reflect on our places in the larger community.
Filmmaking is collaborative, and I have been fortunate to work with talented people. Regular contributors to my films include Directors of Photography Eric Brice Swartz, Leigh Reagan, Charlie Craighead, and Phoebe Driscoll. Joann Self-Selvidge has been a mentor, Co-Producer, and Editor on four out of five films; and Sarah Christine Bolton‘s still photography and graphic design shaped this website and our posters. Editors Nick Jenkins, and Lynn-Wood Fields spent many hours with me, honing the stories. This talented group has been central to Dance River Productions.
Scholars and activists have lent valuable perspective to topics that bridge past and present. Professors of History Beverly Bond, Charles McKinney, Clyde Ellis, Anthony Siracusa, Derek Frisby, John Cimprich and Tim Huebner; Professors of Rhetoric and Religious Studies Andre Johnson and Luther Ivory; Professor of Ethnomusicology Melvin Butler; Jazz Pianist and Professor of Music Ellis Marsalis; and community activist Callie Herd have challenged us to think broadly and critically.
Student production team members Ethan Williford, Chassidy Wallace, Sarah Link, and Bonnie Whitehouse, on A Massacre in Memphis; Dale Hutcherson, Talor Paige, Emily Andrews, Annabeth Hayes, and Nicole Milani on Remember Fort Pillow; and Anthony Maples, Haley Smoot, and Joiceann Compton on Stepping: Beyond the Line brought their ‘A’ game to these projects. These student filmmakers left an indelible mark on Dance River Productions.
Stepping: Beyond the Line was a feature-length documentary, co-produced by Joann Self-Selvidge, with Eric Brice Swartz as DP and Trevor Campbell on Second Camera. “Stepping” explored the creative world of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO’s) and the percussive dance they invented. Special thanks to Marcus Williams and Trey Easter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for inspiration and making it happen. “Stepping” earned the Hometowner Documentary Award at the 2011 Indie Memphis Film Festival.
We Sing was a collaboration with Native American people in western Montana. Salish elders Johnny Arlee, Felicite Sapiel McDonald, Stephen Smallsalmon, Clara Charlo, and Violet Trahan shared their knowledge and experience about singing at the drum, dancing at the Arlee Celebration, and growing up Salish in the twentieth century. Blackfeet elders Kenny Eaglespeaker, Marie Gussman, Rick and Elsie Ground, and Kevin KickingWoman shared the history and culture of the Amskapi Pikuni, as well as personal stories about family and community. Spirit Horse Drum, an intertribal group in Idaho Falls hosted by Jack and Rose Barton opened our eyes to urban Indian life in the twenty-first century. Jack and Rose welcomed us into their home to film their drum practices with Art Jensen, Sally Fitzgerald, Kim Seaman, Vincent Joe, and Ramon Barton. Their generosity gave wings to this film. Historian Clyde Ellis provided invaluable advice, expertise, and encouragement. We Sing was broadcast on Montana PBS August 31, 2017 at 7:30pm; and remains under contract for PBS broadcast until 2023.
Remember Fort Pillow was produced with a team of 11 Rhodes College History students, who researched, wrote, directed, and edited the film through a one-semester course I taught. We coached amateur and volunteer actors on voiceovers using firsthand testimony from the historical record, directed local folk in reenactment scenes, and recruited Memphis musicians to create an original score. The Mike Curb Foundation and The Memphis Center at Rhodes College underwrote this project. The Sons of Confederate Veterans made it possible for us to shoot film at the historic Fort Pillow site, even as we disagreed with their interpretation of the massacre. Fort Pillow screened to a packed house at the Indie Memphis Film Festival in 2016.
Honor Song was serendipitous, discovered as we interviewed Amorette Ground, a Blackfeet high school student. As we listened to her story, we heard the echoes of a woman warrior, Running Eagle, from two centuries earlier. So we created a short film, barely seven minutes, intercutting Amorette’s narrative with that of Running Eagle, as told by her descendant Kenny Eaglespeaker. Without the kindness and hospitality of Rick and Elsie Ground, Marie and Andrew Gussman, Billy Maxwell, and Pam Lemelin, this story would not have emerged. Throughout, the spectacular Rocky Mountain front, “the Backbone of the World,” held this story; this land is a cradle of Blackfeet culture.
A Massacre in Memphis explores a three-day outburst of white mob violence against African-Americans during the first year of Reconstruction. Testimony from survivors comes from a Congressional investigation launched in 1866; and like the Fort Pillow Massacre, this incident was erased from public memory for over a century. “Why do you focus on these things?” asked a retired Army Colonel who sat next to me on a flight from Memphis to Missoula, “don’t you think it will just stir up bad feeling?” I responded that denial is more damaging than hearing truths. By facing what happened, we value the lives of innocent African-American people who died at the hands of a violent mob. By listening to witnesses and survivors, we reject the racism that swept murder under the rug, and that allowed mob killing in the first place. The more we hear each other’s stories, the better we can understand each other.
This film was not easy to make. Eric Swartz and Phoebe Driscoll’s camera work captured mood, place, and history. Our volunteer actors went above and beyond the call; for those who were African American, it was especially emotional and challenging. Jillian Franks, Shanbria Webster, Amaree Austin, Kim Macharia, Seabelo John, and James Cook gave life to art. Our student film crew grappled with uncomfortable questions about racism and how to dramatize it without sensationalizing it. Kevin Houston‘s sound engineering drew professional results from our voiceover recordings, and Editor Ward Archer spent patient hours with me fine-tuning the story. Steve Selvidge created another original musical score with veteran session players Susan Marshall Powell and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Each time I make a film, I am deeply grateful to those who bring their talent, energy and heart to these projects.
This project was generously supported by the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
When not making films, I walk in the mountains around Missoula, and if I am lucky, observe wildlife going about their business. I love spending time with family in Tennessee and New England. Time with good friends is a joy. I teach college-level history part-time; read fiction, western history and memoirs; float the Blackfoot River; and like nothing better than a good hot cup of coffee.
Dee is available for interviews.