In this occasional Finding America Team Corner, we’re introducing talent from the 15 Finding America productions. This Q+A has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
Jessi McEver is a Cherokee and Creek filmmaker from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She is a project manager for Invisible Nations, with FireThief productions.
KOSU’s Invisible Nations is led by independent producer Allison Herrera in collaboration with KOSU Content Director Rachel Hubbard.
Oklahoma is home to 39 federally recognized Indian tribes, some of which came to the state on the Trail of Tears. Native people live in communities where no lines are drawn by reservations or boundaries.
Invisible Nations is a multimedia project investigating and exploring the lives of people living there. In a partnership with FireThief Productions and tribal media outlets, Invisible Nations tells stories that go beyond, as one subject put it, “powwows, gambling and diabetes.”
I’ve been working in Native media for five years. Last year, I joined the FireThief Productions team. FireThief produces a monthly documentary for the digital documentary series, “Invisible Nations” with Allison Herrera. It was an easy transition given my experience and interest in producing quality Native content.
Have you had a favorite moment while working on Invisible Nations?
My favorite moment occurred during our interview with Jimmy Anderson for the video “Something Within.” Jimmy is a preacher/artist/gospel singer/guitar player/all-around outstanding and interesting individual. In his interview he tells this really emotional story about bringing fresh fruit to this family in his community after their mother passed away on Christmas. The children thought he was Santa Claus. He had brought his sons along to help him. My relay of his story is nothing compared to how he tells it. It was very moving.
How does Invisible Nations reflect your American experience?
This project has allowed me to connect and learn about other tribes in Oklahoma, besides my own, Cherokee.
What are you inspired by right now?
I just watched “The Tower” at a film festival in Oklahoma City. It’s a documentary about the mass shooting at the University of Texas in the 1960s. The filmmaker took a tough subject and event that almost everybody has heard about and made it into a completely fresh and powerful experience through his formatting and style choices. It was really cool. I can’t stop talking about it.
I also work with a group of talented people who, in addition to working on our projects, have their own unique, creative ventures. It’s inspiring to work with a group of talented, driven and passionate people. I’m not just staying that either on the chance they read my interview this far — they’re all inspiring people. I’m lucky to work with them.
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, what’s your favorite? Why?
Where do you look for video inspiration?
Chef’s Table on Netflix is great for inspiration. They can take something as simple as a plate of food or fresh herbs and shoot it in a way that’s cinematic and breathtaking.
What is one thing you love about the city you live in?
Tulsa’s in the middle of this revitalization right now. I’ve always loved my city, but it’s really cool seeing it grow. It’s almost like Tulsa is a person I’ve known for years and I’ve watched them go through kind of a rough patch to this new growth and maturity phase. There’s art, music, restaurants, parks — you name it — sprouting up downtown and along the river. We also have an amazing music scene. Tulsa has its own sound — a blues/rock/country fusion. If you’re ever here, try to catch a show.
What is one thing you wish would change about your city?
I wish Native American art and cinema played a bigger role here. I’m in that world, but just outside of it, in my hometown, in the second largest city in the state that was once Indian Territory, there are tons of people who don’t understand Native American culture, let alone it being a mainstay in the community. There’s room to grow at least!
What does finding America look like to you/or in your city?
The program has highlighted issues facing Natives here — free press in tribal newspapers and water rights — as well as individuals that represent what modern Native America looks like in Oklahoma today.
Tell us one more thing about yourself.
I am expecting my first child in September and have all the emotions about it — excited, terrified, hungry, sleepy, happy, grumpy, you name it.