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Being Thunder: A documentary about a Two-Spirit teen, Sherenté Harris

By Sanita Fejzić on June 16, 2021





Director: Stéphanie Lamorré
2021 | France | 85m

A slow and intimate documentary about an important right of passage in the life of Sherenté Harris, a member of the Narragansett tribe, Being Thunder puts us in the position of bearing witness to the ongoing effects of colonialization of Indigenous people and their cultures. More than that, Being Thunder is about the unbreakable bonds of Indigenous people, especially when they open up their young leaders.

A two-spirit teenager, we watch as Sherenté grows in authenticity when s/he begins dancing the Fancy Shawl dance at her Powwow—a dance usually reserved for girls and women. What follows next is a coming-of-age story that brings healing not only to the teen but to her/his whole tribe.

This film review includes a video interview of Sherenté Harris, recorded remotely during the Ontario-wide Inside Out Film Festival, which premiered Being Thunder this year.

In my research, I also came across this TEDx Talk, available below, in which Sherenté talks about what it was like when some members of their tribal community responded to his/her Fancy Shawl dance with painful exclusion. Sherenté’s courage, brilliance and sensitivity are obvious in the interview as they are in the documentary and their “Complete the Circle” TEDx Talk.

French director Stéphanie Lamorré specializes in social issues and human stories. “I’m always following one person, but this person represents many others,” she explains. “Being Thunder is a universal story told through the situated perspective of one person, Sherenté.”

It took four years for Stéphanie Lamorré to create Being Thunder. The intention was to make a film for European audiences that mainly see stereotypical images of Indigenous people as disenfranchised drunks. Lamorré wanted to tell the story of an Indigenous youth fighting for their tribe. One night, serendipitously, she saw a movie of Sherenté singing with their brother.

After doing some research, she found a Facebook page about the Narragansett language. Lamorré sent a message as one makes a wish on shooting stars, and, to her surprise, Sherenté’s grandmother answered. The latter put Lamorré in touch with the mother, and the whole project started. With the invitation and permission of Sherenté’s mother, Lamorré visited Sherenté for a week and created a trailer that won the hearts and imagination of the family. A year and a half later, she came back to the U.S.A. for just over a year and filmed the footage we see in Being Thunder.

As Lamorré explains, she created a personal rapport filled with caring in the space between her and the members of the Narragansett tribe she worked with during filming, in particular Sherenté and her family. To such an extent that, as Lamorré explains, a genuine friendship between them was established. “This is a human story,” explains Lamorré, a French film director. If you’re not familiar with Lamorré’s work, it may be because her output is primarily in French.

A slow documentary, with long scenes, Being Thunder is idiosyncratic of Lamorré’s aesthetic: “I like slowness and silence,” she says. “I can’t handle things that are hyperactive and full of speed all of the time. This doesn’t reflect real life.”

Being Thunder opens with a ceremony of healing, with close-ups and no interruptions and few cuts, positioning the audience in the role of witness. “The subject also calls for a slowness of being,” explains Lamorré. “In particular the opening scene, which is a ceremony filled with intimacy.”

From May 27 to June 6, BEING THUNDER premiered at the Inside Out Film Festival, and is now on its way to Frameline45, premiering on Saturday, June 19 at 1:30 p.m. EST, but can be viewed online through Thursday, June 17 to Sunday, June 27, 2021.