Yupiit: Eye of Both Worlds
In the remote village of Toksook Bay, Alaska, local singer/songwriter Byron Nicholai engages a new generation of Yupik natives using rap and beatboxing. Retelling traditional stories through newer forms, he is helping young people forge a stronger connection to their cultural heritage and values, including music and dance, subsistence hunting and fishing, and protection of the environment. These life-sustaining lessons long passed down by the elders of the village, are now passed down by Nicholai, as well, in startlingly beautiful and modern ways.
Filmmaker Stephanie Alton offers a breath-taking visual expression of these messages and stories, and reveals an intimate look into village life in remote Alaska, where tradition and modernity exist side by side. It is often this conflict of traditional ways and the modernity of the outside world that brings emotional conflict into the lives of many young who are struggling with hopelessness, and often take their own lives. Nicholai’s music also addresses these problems of coping with such societal conflicts, using his inner wisdom and personal experiences to help the members of his audience through those troubling and emotional years.
Byron Nicholai, despite his youth, is wise beyond his years, and has in many ways, been an ambassador for his people, entertaining and meeting a number of leaders around the world. However, it is the modern means of communication that has introduced Byron to the world at large and to his avid fan base. It is via the Internet that he has become a superstar to those that have devotedly followed and look up to him during these times of change.
Stephanie Alton was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, but for a number of years has resided in Montana. Over the years, she has lived a life of extreme diversity, as she has worked in New York City as well as teaching and living in an Athabaskan Indian village in Alaska. She thrives on learning about the diversities in all walks of life, and it is in this realm of cultural differences that she finds the inspiration for her art.
Alton received her MFA from Pratt Institute studying photography under Philip Perkis and Arthur Freed. She also studied film at New York University. Alton’s work is in the State of Alaska Permanent Collection. Her documentary “Ridin’ for the Brand” is distributed by Dark Hollow Films and has been shown on PBS. Her films have been at numerous film festivals.