ITVS Interactive Launches New Media Project CIRCLE OF STORIES

October 3, 2002

San Francisco, CA – CIRCLE OF STORIES, created by Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller, is a Web site honoring and exploring Native American torytelling and the importance of the storytelling tradition – not only to tribes – but to all of us. Rooted in oral tradition, whether through song, prayer or narrative, storytelling is a highly developed art within Native American cultures. Stories and songs are a learning system, a guide for how to live a good life. In a time when tribes are continuing to rapidly lose their languages and lands, stories hold a true urgency and importance to the future of each tribe. Not only do they help ensure survival of a culture, but the wisdom they contain means enrichment and enlightenment for all.

Launching on on October 1, 2002, CIRCLE OF STORIES is produced in collaboration with Melissa Nelson and Philip M. Klasky of the Cultural Conservancy, a Native American organization dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of indigenous cultures. Second Story Interactive Studios, an award-winning Portland-based media company, worked with the filmmakers to create CIRCLE OF STORIES.

Launched through ELECTRIC SHADOWS, an ITVS INTERACTIVE initiative designed to create original content for the Web, CIRCLE OF STORIES is bringing to life something totally new. “Telling stories on film is a very satisfying experience,” says Rogerson, “yet those stories may only get seen on television once a year. With this Web site, the access to viewing audiences is unlimited. The stories can be experienced around the world, at all hours of the day. With a website, you can also offer a non linear, rich context, which isn’t always possible with a narrative.”

Presenting a variety of songs and stories from several different tribes, CIRCLE OF STORIES uses RealAudio and video, photos, graphics and Flash animation to enhance compelling words and rhythms.

The Storytellers

Four storytellers, one from each of the four directions, comprise the heart of CIRCLE OF STORIES:

From the North is Rosella Archdale, a Lakota/Dakota elder who lives in Northeastern Montana, who tells “The Cooking Spirit.” Find out where Rosella learned the past traditions that live on in her kitchen today, and read about the sacred herb sweetgrass and its significance to her tribe.

From the South is Hoskie Benally, a Dineh(Navajo) spiritual leader from Shiprock, New Mexico. Listen to Hoskie tell the story of “The Five Sacred Medicines,” and learn more about Navajo beliefs, language and the sacred relationship to their lands.

From the West is Corbin Harney, an elder and spiritual leader of the Western Shoshone tribe who lives in Death Valley, California. Hear Corbin sing “The Water Song” and learn about his international activism, and his dedication to indigenous people and environmental protection.

From the East is Tchin, a Narragansett / Blackfeet performer from Rhode Island who tells “Rabbit’s Wish for Snow.” Find out how and where Tchin first learned his stories, the ways he enriches his own cultural knowledge, and the history of the Narragansett’s land reclamation.

Users can learn about the tribal history and geographic area of each storyteller, and can contact the storytellers directly through the Website to learn more. The Storytelling Gallery offers a photographic collage of images and inspirational quotes, poems and stories from a variety of Native storytellers. In the Culture Gallery, one can delve into a variety of issues facing Native cultures today through an interactive collage of media and text. A Place Names Map of the U.S. reveals some of the many rivers, towns, states, and other geographic locations that have Native American names, and translates the meaning of those names.

Lesson plans are available on the site that will allow students to examine the complex and rich oral tradition of Native American storytelling, create their own stories to share, explore indigenous and Native American cultures and the issues which face them today, and research and explore their own cultural heritage by recording their unique family stories and heritage. These lessons are directed toward grades 6 through 12, for use in the following subject areas: language arts, theater, history, social studies, multicultural studies, technology and life science.


Hank Rogerson

Hank is currently directing and producing a feature documentary called Shakespeare Behind Bars, about the only all male Shakespeare company in the U.S. prison system. The film follows 20 inmates for 9 months as they rehearse and perform The Tempest. Hank has also worked as a producer, director, and editor on such projects as HOMELAND, a documentary about four families on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, produced for PBS with funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS), the Soros Documentary Fund, and the Edgebrook Foundation. Hank’s other work includes Our Youth, Our Future, about a Navajo drug and alcohol youth treatment center (Co-Producer/Director); Bless Me With A Good Life, a video about Native American elders, which won Best Short Documentary Short at the 1994 American Indian Film and Video Festival in San Francisco (Co-Producer/Director, DP). Hank also works as an actor, and performs improv in Los Angeles.

Jilann Spitzmiller

Jilann’s visually rich and award-winning work includes the Native American themed documentaries, HOMELAND (ITVS), Our Youth Our Future and Bless Me With A Good Life. She is currently co-producing Shakespeare Behind Bars, a documentary about the only all male Shakespeare company in the U.S. prison system. The film follows 20 inmates for 9 months as they rehearse and perform The Tempest.

Jilann is a Field Producer for the new NBC series, Life Moments, and she recently worked on the second season premiere of the Bravo series The It Factor. Her work for the Indigo Girls (Co-Producer/Director/DP/Editor) is included in Watershed, a one-hour biographical video released by Sony Music. She has also directed and filmed two documentaries about fine artists working in France and Italy, Thoroughbred Pursuit and An American Painter in Italy. She is an adjunct professor of Film at the University of Redlands in California, and at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy. Jilann is also a writer and painter.

About The Cultural Conservancy

The Cultural Conservancy is a Native American non-profit organization. The organization works with indigenous communities to protect, restore, and revitalize endangered story, song, language, and lands through current ethnographic recordings, the restoration and repatriation of historical audio recordings, and technical assistance for tribes to protect their cultural legacies. For further information visit

About Second Story Interactive Studios

Second Story Interactive Studios is a leading creator of interactive educational entertainment. Since 1994, the studio has created more than fifty original interactive experiences by incorporating an inventive mix of technology and storytelling on topics spanning the liberal arts, sciences, humanities and exploration. Some of its industry-leading partners and sponsors include National Geographic, The Museum of Modern Art, Experience Music Project, DreamWorks Records, Virgin Records, Kodak, Discovery, PBS and the Smithsonian Institution. The studio’s pioneering work in blending interactive art, entertainment, and education has been recognized in every major

interactive design competition and received more than one hundred awards, as well as being included in the Smithsonian’s permanent research collection on information technology. For further information please contact 503-827-7155 or visit

About Electric Shadows

ELECTRIC SHADOWS, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is an ITVS pilot project designed to bring independently produced,

innovative, interactive projects to the Web. Technically innovative, these content-rich projects are also in keeping with ITVS’s mission to give voice to underserved communities and foster cross-cultural understanding. The first two projects, FACE TO FACE and CIRCLE OF STORIES, were commissioned after an invited call for projects on the theme of “Cultural Storytelling.” The selected projects are themed around the stories, and means of conveying stories, that are specific to a particular group, defined in terms of ethnicity, geography, or any shared experience.

FACE TO FACE, by Rob Mikuriya, launched in August 2002, and compared the voices of Japanese Americans in the early 1940s with those of Arab and Muslim Americans post-September 11th.

About ITVS

A unique institution in American public broadcasting, the Independent Television Service(ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries, dramas and series on public television, as well as innovative new media projects on the Web. ITVS was established by Congress to fund and present programs that involve creative risks and address the needs of underserved audiences, while granting artistic control to independent producers. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have transformed and revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. ITVS is proud to present INDEPENDENT LENS, a weekly independent showcase for compelling stories with no boundaries that will be debuting in February 2003. For information, contact ITVS at 501 York Street, San Francisco, CA 94110; e-mail: or visit the ITVS

website at