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In electronic age, Oneidas animate their history

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    In electronic age, Oneidas animate their history

    In electronic age, Oneidas animate their history
    Production company readies short feature based on folklore

    By William Kates, Associated Press
    Buffalo News - 3 September 2006

    VERNON, NY - The Oneida Indian Nation is using 21st century computer technology to preserve the ancient oral stories of its past.
    The tribe started its own video production company in 2003, and after several ventures, Four Directions Productions is embarking on a project to turn some of the tribe's historic tales into animated video stories.

    "We are bringing Oneida legends to life," said Dale Rood, a member of the Oneida Indian Nation Men's Council, who serves as the company's executive liaison and studio operations director.

    "We want to do more than just entertain the next generation. We want to teach them - and others - about the Oneida culture," Rood said as he watched Shaun Foster, lead animator, add a special-effects sequence to "Raccoon and Crawfish," the company's first animated short feature.

    "Maybe even most important, it's another way to tell the story of the American Indian from the Indian perspective," he said.

    Four Directions expects to release "Raccoon and Crawfish," which will run seven to 10 minutes, in February, Foster said.

    In the story is taken from an Oneida fable intended to illustrate the dangers of lying, the raccoon feigns death to catch some crawfish to eat. The trick fools one crawfish, who tells others in his colony that he has heroically killed the raccoon. When all the crawfish come to look at the dead raccoon for themselves, the raccoon springs his trap and eats them all.

    Plans call for producing a half dozen or so similar animated stories and assembling them together on a DVD for sale and distribution. Rood describes such a DVD as perfect for elementary school classes studying American Indian culture.

    "This is our native folklore told in a way that no book can represent," Rood said.

    Four Directions has 10 employees, including four animators.

    The production company is one of five units of Four Directions Media, one of the diversified business groups the Oneidas have put together using profits from the nearby Turning Stone Casino and Resort. The Oneidas, who employ about 5,000 people, also run a string of gas station/convenience stores, a textile plant and an electronic games manufacturing plant among their enterprises.

    Four Directions was formed three years ago to produce a one-hour documentary, "The World of American Indian Dance," that aired on NBC. It was the first production aired on network television to be created, funded, directed, produced and starring American Indians.

    While most of Four Directions' work has focused on in-house projects for the casino and the tribe's other businesses, the company has branched out with commercial projects.

    Production now is done in a converted two-story house about 10 miles from the tribe's casino.

    The studio is stocked with cutting-edge equipment, but Rood said the company soon will need a newer facility with larger, more sophisticated studios.

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