If the shot unexpectedly remains on the screen without further developments, we may feel impatience or annoyance, during which we perhaps look away or withdraw our attention. If the shot continues still longer we may move to a third stage of what might be called “digressive search,” when we begin to bring a very different and more idiosyncratic kind of interpretive process to bear upon the shot. Audiences, however, are generally asked to stretch the rules only so far. And when they are asked to do so they are usually offered compensations.
When Less is Less: The Long Take in Documentary, David MacDougall.
I filmed at the Lawton Police Station, where Christina Tahhahwah was jailed and died under mysterious circumstances in November of 2014.
At the time of her passing, Ms. Tahhahwah, was survived by her mother, Lora Tahhahwah, her sister, Chivon Tahhahwah, and an extended family stretching for several generations.
Before filming, I was set to meet the Tahhahwah family, and speak with Lora about her daughter, sadly she had passed away just days before I was scheduled to arrive.
With the support of Christina’s aunt, Martina Minthorn-Callahan, I attended the funereal services at the Comanche Nation Tribal Complex. The sight was somber, Lora lay at peace in her casket, surrounded by loved ones. Comanche hymns carried through the large hall, and I counted on my fingers the time between Lora’s passing and Christina’s passing–nine months. Poetic. Lora had died from a mother’s broken heart.
Ms. Christina Tahahwah passed at the Lawton Police Station, where she was held for trespassing on her grandfather’s property. However, most accounts online, and family members will tell you that Ms. Tahhahwah was battling depression and was also diagnosed as being bipolar, her usual medications kept her calm, but kept her extremely sedated. Ms. Tahhahwah had chosen to wean herself off her medication, so that she could be awake and aware enough to be present with her family in Lawton. This also meant that she risked having an outburst, and that’s what happened when she visited her grandfather.
For Ms. Tahhahwah’s safety, he called for help, the Lawton police (not Comanche Nation police) came, and despite telling the police that Ms. Tahhahwah needed to go to the local mental health service provider, Ms. Tahhahwah was arrested and booked for trespassing. She was brought to the station, where she would eventually die.
The circumstances of her death remain shrouded in bureaucracy–local officials released an autopsy report that ran counter to what other inmates witnessed: that Ms. Tahhahwah, who was denied her medication and proper treatment, self-soothed by rocking herself while chanting Comanche hymns that she had learned from her grandfather. It was in this prolonged attempt at relief that the jailers tased Ms. Tahhahwah to subdue her, and then handcuff her to the cell bars. It in this period that her family suspects that she died.
With the support of Comanche tribal council, the Tahhahwah family were able to order a second-private autopsy. Results are still being held from the family.
Silence blanketed downtown Lawton on that Sunday morning, much like the thick humid air. I didn’t call attention to myself, as I stood yards away from the front door–I made an agreement with myself that were an officer to approach, I would be honest and explain the project. I stood outside and filmed close to two hours, waiting and trying to imagine and revisit what had happened inside, remembering Christina and her recently passed mother, Lora.
Behind the brick wall, Christina chanted. She chanted songs that brought her peace, songs that reminded her of home. Her mother, Lora, rests next to her at the Otipoby cemetery–within the boundaries of U.S. Army base, Fort Sill.
My mind kept circulating images of the early nations being overpowered and deceived by early American colonizers, soldiers. I kept thinking about the legacies of oppression and forced erasure of a whole civilization. From language, to spirituality, to land. Taken. Violently.
Ms. Christina Tahhahwah was taken violently.
I did not know what chants she sang, so I asked her grandfather, Mr. Jerome Tahhahwah, the family patriarch, what songs she might have sang and If he could share them for the film. He agreed, but corrected me, revealing that he never formally taught Christina or the other Tahhahwah children how to sing Comanche hymns–they would hear them so often that it would just catch, and if anything, he would correct them if words for mispronounced.
He said that Christina learned on her own, and surprised him when she learned to sing so quickly.