INK: A Tale of Captivity

- October 17, 2011

"...New Mexico 'home-grown' moviemaking..."

This past Columbus Day, Ink Well Productions and the Harvard Club of New Mexico sponsored a screening at CCA of a locally-made film about Puritans and Indians in New England. INK: A Tale of Captivity, was a preview for friends of the project, followed by a talk-back with the film makers.

Alice van Buren wrote and produced the film, based on her play by the same title, which will have its New England premiere at the Penobscot Theater in 2012 and has been selected by the North American Actors Association for a festival in London.

"INK" tells the story of the first woman published in North America – Mary Rowlandson, a preacher’s wife, captured by Indians in the great native revolt known as King Philip’s War – the film explores a woman’s predicament in the violent prelude to the Salem Witch Trials.

Angela Janda stars as the troubled heroine. Wes Studi is King Philip, the Wampanoag leader, and Gary Farmer appears as his assassin. The film also features performances by Charles Gamble, Jonathan Richards, Mario Cabrera and Ryan Koshevar as Puritans, and Anpo Cash as the warrior queen Weetamoo.

Upon her return to civilization, Rowlandson wrote an account of her ordeal for the Puritan leaders – including the historical figures, Increase and Cotton Mather, who figure prominently in the film. Rowlandson’s work would become a best-selling tract of anti-Indian propaganda. Ironically, the man who set the type on this document was the same who helped Mary survive her captivity: James Printer, a Harvard-trained Indian, played by Alan Tafoya. After some 40 editions in print, Rowlandson's story has now been adapted to the screen for the first time.    
With a cast of 50 and a skeleton crew, "INK" was shot in New Mexico on a microbudget and took six months of weekends to shoot. Converting the West into 17th-century New England presented interesting problems: The Jicarilla Apache Reservation became the New England wilderness. A cabin in Cerrillos was a Boston attic. The St. Francis Auditorium organ did duty as a facade at Harvard College, while other Puritan sets were created at Santa Fe’s Sculpture Ranch, home base to the film, where art director Nat Hesse designed and built a functioning colonial printing press. Cathy Smith, who won an Emmy for her work in "Dances With Wolves," guided the wardrobe, while cinematographer Tom Sibley shot and edited the film and Melyssa Garland wrote and produced the music.     
I always find talk backs (Q & As) quite interesting. Some of the things I gleaned from the one following the showing at CCA were: the fact that Cotton Mathers, one of the key characters in the film, subsequently played a direct role in the Salem Witch Trials; his sermons and written works fanned the flames of the witchcraft hysteria; the reference to a comet as a sign from God is based on the appearance in 1682 of what would later be known as Haley’s Comet;  the James Printer character - the Native American who set the type for Rowlandson’s manuscripts – was based on an historic figure and that both producer van Buren and filmmaker Sibley were from Ipswich, Massachusetts and had heard of King Philip and the Indian wars during their time there. I am always fascinated to hear of the genesis of a film and the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to produce one.

When asked about her discovery of Mary Rowlandson’s role as the first woman whose manuscripts were published, van Buren said that there was …” a lot of scholarship out there,” indicating Rowlandson’s published works, and including “contemporary works that described Rowlandson’s status as the first woman published in America.”

The film will be shown as part of the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association’s annual conference, Feb 8-11, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque.  There is a subset of panels on "Captivity Narratives," and it will be shown in one of those slots.