Interview with Filmmaker Suzan Satterfield (RETURN TO THE BUFFALO)

RETURN TO THE BUFFALO was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the September 2021 ENVIRONMENTAL Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

We’re based in Atlanta but I feel very drawn to the Great Plains. I knew very little about buffalo and even less about the history of the indigenous Plains tribes. But I’d had an interesting experience with a bison in Montana that made me want to know more. Once I heard about Wizipan Little Elk and his passion to return wild buffalo to the Lakota people, I really wanted to know more.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It took about 7 months.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Culturally Enlightening

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

By far, it was the pandemic. The first buffalo were arriving from a national park sometime between October 7th and 9th. They couldn’t tell us for certain because, you can imagine, herding wild buffalo into transport trailers was an unpredictable venture. Just before we went to South Dakota to wait at the Rosebud Reservation, Covid hit the Lakota people very hard. They were experiencing the fallout from the Sturgess Motorcycle event, which was a super spreader and devastated the tribe. They were limiting outsiders to try to protect their health. We were waiting to see if the Lakota elders would still allow us to film and gratefully, they did. Just after that, they put restrictions and curfews in place so we were really grateful to be allowed in.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I actually had tears in my eyes. I’ve never been able to talk to or hear from anyone who’s seen it beyond friends and family. It was very special and gratifying.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I think I’ve always wanted to make films, and I’ve always worked in media, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve given myself permission to make the films I want to make, regardless of their commercial potential. I’m very drawn to nature and understanding how we’ve gotten ourselves into the world of environmental trouble we’re in – and how we can reverse some of our bad decisions.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

This will sound like a dodge, but I am always on to the next film or TV series. I don’t watch films over and over. But I’ll say that Koyaanisqatsi (“life out of balance) was a film that made a very big impression on me. I also find the Coen Brothers’ films pretty irresistible.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It certainly makes it much easier to look for festivals that feel like a good match – and it’s much easier to enter that way, too.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Grilled fresh-caught fish and seasonal veggies.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

We produce a mini-series on PBS called “EcoSense for Living” and hard at work on that. I’m fascinated with our American history of fire suppression so maybe a short in that direction. I’m also developing a narrative feature about a Georgia family’s connection to the nearly extinct North Atlantic Right Whales. I always more ideas than I have time for, but it keeps me out of trouble. (-;

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