“Walking Backwards into the Future” is an educational documentary film featuring stories, scenes in nature, interviews, discussions, sacred songs and drummings by legendary Northern California Karuk medicine man Charlie Thom (1926-2013). The film also includes Charlie’s son Frank Thom, his grandson Ron Griffith, and other respected Northern California Native culture bearers.

The film is being produced by husband-wife filmmaker partners John Veltri and Marguerite Lorimer of EarthAlive Communications, a full-service multimedia production company in Mount Shasta. The project has been awarded grants from the prestigious Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York.

Filmed segments, audio recordings, written materials and photographs were produced by John, and more recently Marguerite, over a 33-year period of time.

John started the project in 1980 at Stewart Mineral Springs, near Mount Shasta, California. After 10 years as a commercial photographer in the heart of Manhattan, John received a book commission. He used that opportunity to take a sabbatical. He closed his business, left New York, and moved to California to work on his book. When a friend suggested that he go to Stewart Mineral Springs near Mount Shasta, he drove north to find a quiet place where he could write – and heal from the effects of New York.

He eventually found the rustic, little-known Springs and rented one of their $10 per night cabins. On a walk around the resort grounds, John saw “an old man with a long white beard” tending a fire near a small, canvas-covered dome. The old man looked up, introduced himself as “Charlie Thom, full-blood Karuk Indian” and invited John into his purification sweat lodge ceremony.

Soon after that first sweat, Charlie asked John to begin documenting – first with his still camera, then later in audio and with his video cameras – the diversity of people who participated in the ceremonies. He also asked John to film him and other Klamath River Native wisdom elders.

John and Charlie traveled together and became good friends. Over the years, John worked on many other projects but continued to film the “old man” who, it turned out, was only 54 in 1980 when John first met him.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation grant award made it possible for EarthAlive to hire an assistant video editor to help finish the first of several projects, the “Walking Backwards into the Future” educational film.

In addition to the film, EarthAlive will produce a complex educational “Walking Backwards” website, two books, a photographic exhibition, and a narrated full-length feature documentary “story film” about Charlie “Red Hawk” Thom’s remarkable life. All these projects are in different stages of production.

Updates on these projects will be announced on EarthAlive’s and the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center’s websites as they move forward. For more information, please email marguerite@earthalive.com.