The film bug bit Kee Heywood early. "At age 13," Heywood recalls, "I got hold of the family camcorder and started fooling around with it."
Encouraged by friends and family, Heywood became wrapped up in his new hobby. "We would always have (film) projects going. I’m not saying they were good. Actually, they were pretty terrible."
Now 21, Heywood is a sophomore in filmmaking at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, taking courses in film and text editing, directing, sound and cameras. Course work includes splicing film and redubbing movies.
"The first two years (of classes) are rounding out students for the whole spectrum" of film-making, Heywood explained during a phone interview. He recently made a promotional video for a friend who teaches dancing and is working at an "indie" movie house at San Francisco’s famed Embarcadero.
He hopes to find work in film editing and "post-production," the part of the movie business that happens after shooting and includes special effects, sound mixing and putting together stories sequentially. "That seems the most interesting to me. It’s also lucrative," he said.
Heywood talked about how the support of adult mentors in Haines helped him chase his dreams in the big city.
During a film course taught by Dan Coleman through the public library’s Dragonfly Project, he realized his hobby could be a career. "At first, it just looked like a cool, extra-curricular summer activity. It turned out to be extremely interesting because of the background and equipment and love of film and film-making that Dan brought with him."
Building on their experience with Coleman, Heywood and friend Alec Jurgeleit began creating documentaries, with assistance from community members, including artist Tim Shields and actor Michael Stark.
Heywood’s work was good enough that he was commissioned by the Chilkoot Indian Association and the public library to create two documentaries on Native subjects, both of which were filmed in 2010.
The two films, on the refurbishment of the Yendistakye cemetery and the Chilkoot Trade Routes, are on display and sale at the public library.
"This was exactly the purpose of the Dragonfly program," said former library director Ann Myren. "To give people professional and technical skills that they could use later in life." Myren praised Heywood’s professionalism and creativity.
For the Yendistakye cemetery film, Heywood followed the progress of the Chilkoot Indian Association’s cleaning and restoration of the Native cemetery at 3.5 Mile Haines Highway.
"It was astonishing how much was uncovered for Native and local history. I felt like people need to know about this, particularly people who live in Haines. Films are miniature time capsules. If I didn’t film this, it might be lost forever."
For Heywood, the experience of returning to Haines and working on the films also provided other lessons. "While watching (Chilkoot Indian Association Tribal Youth Coordinator) Rod Hinson, I learned that if you want to do something, you have to do it yourself. You have to start the fire."
Besides the "very specific, very hard" course work, another challenge for Heywood is leaving a "laid back" community for the big city of San Francisco. "It is weird growing up in a small town, seeing the same people for 17 years and then coming down here and not knowing anyone. The Haines community is tight-knit, supportive; the town is backing you. When you get out, you are a little fish in a big sea."
Heywood’s experience juxtaposes with that of many of his current classmates. "Most of my friends down here come from towns where no one would invest in them. Some of them just wanted to get away from their city. Hearing people talk negatively about where they come from is new and weird."
In contrast, for Heywood, "Growing up in Haines was great, because I was able to have access to equipment and films and people who were interested. This gave me time to figure out what I wanted to do. And now, for me, this is it. I am here and I am going to do the best I can."