For the past five years, Salvatore Consalvi has explored the life and beliefs of an Oglala Lakota Medicine Man at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. His name, Sidney Has No Horses, is also the title of Consalvi’s upcoming documentary currently kicking off its year-end fundraiser. The director will be discussing his film at a Chicago screening of Anthony Powell’s similarly audacious documentary, “Antarctica: A Year on Ice,” which profiles a year in the lives of the frozen country’s inhabitants.
Consalvi spoke with Indie Outlook about his intense process of immersion into Sidney’s culture, the links between quantum physics and mysticism and why he still plans on shooting more footage.
Q: Tell me about the film you’ll be introducing.
A: It’s a documentary by a self-taught filmmaker who also happens to be a friend of mine. He went through a experience similar to the one I had on my own film in Antarctica. He was fascinated by the subculture of ice recidivists, and decided to utilize his photography and computer skills to tell their story. He shot some incredible time lapse footage for over a decade, whereas I had only intended to do advanced guerrilla filmmaking in my deep field work. Our films function as counterparts to each other. Anthony spent eleven winters in Antarctica and interviewed a bunch of people about why they chose to live there.
Q: What have you shot for “Sidney” since we last spoke?
A: I’ve done two sequences of the full sun dance [tribal ceremony]. You spend two days prior to it with no food and water while meditating and praying. Any visions that you have during that period of time will direct what happens during the sun dance, which is four days with no food and very little water. It takes you to the brink. If it looks like the health of any one person is in danger, everyone gets a drink. We can’t film any ceremonial acts, but I’m glad I did them because there are so many things that I wouldn’t think to ask otherwise.
I did the flesh offerings as well. The medicine man makes incisions in your flesh and places sticks in them. You’re hung from a tree and break the incision on your own volition. It takes a plug of your skin out the size of a quarter. In this last scenario, I was hung from two piercings in my back, and I prayed with that pain. I decided that I wasn’t going to do this just for the film or just to tell a good story, but because it had a deeper significance for me. I feel a connection to the indigenous mind and natural religion, and feel that there’s a lot of value there that’s been lost in modern society. I could’ve gotten away with not doing any of this, but I thought it would be an incredible opportunity.
Q: Are you still planning on shooting more footage?
A: I’m going to do some more shooting because it just gets better and better. As soon as I did my first interview with Sid, it went so well that I realized I could do a feature on him and the reservation. I decided that I would keep coming back until he was sick of talking to me. That’s been my modus operandi this whole time. Through our conversations, I’ve begun to understand the differences between meditation and prayer. Sid’s religion is vision-driven and is uninterested in books ostensibly written by white people about medicine men. The medicine man is more of a conduit and the best way to have these experiences is to clear yourself of any ego. When he heals or predicts something, he always says, “That didn’t come from me, it came from the spirit world.” If I found out Sid was a carnival huckster, that would’ve been my story. Luckily that didn’t happen.
I’m including my own scientific doubts and personal doubts that I’ve had from the beginning in the film. Sidney has a rough and sordid background. He’s always been a medicine man, but he also went through an alcohol period. It’s been a slo-mo cultural collision between our two minds. There’s a great explanation of consciousness in quantum physics, and it fits incredibly well with Sidney’s religious beliefs. I went into this project understanding that there’s a cultural language I’ll have to contend with. They may not be lying to me, but what they’re saying may not necessarily be real.
Yet maybe the mind does mistakenly interpret spirits as hallucinations if you train it to do so. Quantum physics says that all matter is made of the same energy, and that energy is the same stuff of consciousness. When a spirit enters the room, Sidney’s three-year-old grandson will react to it at the same time he does. I’ve also learned that one of the gifts that Sid’s main trainer and grandfather, Frank Fools Crow, had was putting ideas into other people’s heads.
Q: What is the connection between Anthony’s film and your own?
A: They’re both explorations of subcultures. The beautiful landscape in “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” is a backdrop for the introducing the wider audience to a subculture of modern human beings. My film sheds light on an indigenous community and religion that is still active and very traditional regardless of modern advances. Sidney is promoting a holistic practice and believes in a mystical religion. I’m telling his story by utilizing the language of modern science.
Q: And isn’t science and religion ultimately aiming for the same thing: enlightening us on the mysteries of existence?
A: Yes, and if they’re not, one of them is mistaken. If quantum physics never explains these mystical experiences, and only discounts them as being hallucinations, then it’s ignoring the fact that some of these hallucinations may in fact be encounters with other conscious entities. Quantum physics suggests that our consciousness is not confined to the brain and is always intermingling with those of others.
Salvatore Consalvi will host a screening of “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” as well as a sneak peek of “Sidney Has No Horses” at 6:30pm Wednesday, December 11th, at Columbia College’s Ferguson Auditorium, 600 S. Michigan Ave. To donate to Salvatore’s film, visit his Network For Good page.