Mead 2017: Spirit Game Directors Tell Iroquois’ Story Through Lacrosse

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Today lacrosse is played across the world, but the game originated with the Iroquois. In Sprit Game: Pride of a Nation, which is screening at the Museum’s Margaret Mead Film Festival this Friday at 9 pm, directors Peter Baxter and Peter Spirer follow the Iroquois Nationals as they compete on the world stage, hoping to clench their first international championship.

 


But Spirit Game is about more than the Nationals’ quest for victory, as Baxter and Spirer explore the Haudenosaunee’s lesser-known history and ongoing efforts to be recognized as a sovereign nation. We spoke with Baxter and Spirer about what they learned from the Iroquois Nationals’ endearing spirit. 

Spirit Game is a sports documentary, but it’s not just about lacrosse. How did you balance the story of the team with the larger story of the Haudenosaunee?

Peter Baxter: It was a real challenge, especially around the Doctrine of Discovery, a terrible Papal Bull [issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which gave Christian arrivals to the Americas the right to claim lands discovered by Christopher Columbus.] This was, quite simply, one of the worst documents ever created by mankind, which allowed for the genocide of millions of indigenous people. Our weaving of this theme became complex, and we wondered at times if we could pull it off side-by-side with the Nationals’ goal of winning the World Championship. I think we got there in the end.

Can you explain one of the more important themes explored in the film? 

PB: Through Chief Oren Lyons, we explored the Haudenosaunee’s ability to survive, come back, and maintain their sovereignty. While making Spirit Game, I was influenced by a book called Basic Call to Consciousness that Oren helped write. Oren reminds us the extent that one civilization needs to truly recognize another in order to progress and survive.

 

Group of players stand side-by-side, holding their lacrosse sticks.

The players of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team.

© XLrator Media


A unique feature of this documentary is the way you filmed the game play—how did you decide on the approach?   

Peter Spirer: Slow motion to slow down the game. This was done so that the audience could have a visceral feeling of what it is like to play lacrosse. It is a beautiful, yet brutal game, and by slowing it down you get to see the hits and shot-making in a way that is impossible in real time.

What makes lacrosse different from other sports, and what is its spiritual role to the Haudenosaunee?

PS: The Haudenosaunee do not see lacrosse as a sport. They see it as a game, a game that was played on Earth before people. Lacrosse provides comfort and peace to their nation. They see the game as a way to heal the sick, to provide an opportunity to share their gifts as players to the Creator. Lacrosse is deeply embedded into their culture. 

 

Fans and players hold flags and banners as they walk onto the field.

Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, leading the Iroquois Nationals onto the field.

© XLrator Media


What’s the significance of the Iroquois Nationals competing on the international lacrosse scene?

PS: They are one of the few native nations to have this distinction. For example, it is part of the Olympic Charter not to recognize native nations. The Iroquois have used the sport of lacrosse to create awareness of who they are and what they represent...For the Iroquois, who consider themselves sovereign, traveling on their own nation’s passports creates awareness of who they are.

PB: I think every player and coach who has come across the Nationals has huge respect for them. The creative way in which they play the game is extreme and greatly admired. Their unique talent comes from beginning to play the game at a very young age and also spirituality. Spirituality in the sense that they play lacrosse for their Creator...to please him. Their play is elegant, so quick, and quite outstanding. The Nationals find their players from a population of just 125,000 people. Their small [nation], though, has had a massive effect on the lacrosse scene.
 

To buy tickets to Spirit Game and for more information on films and screenings, visit the Margaret Mead Film Festival website.