Between Two Worlds

Redefining identity in Your Way Back to Me

In Alexandra Dietz's documentary Your Way Back to Me, Hannah Sheridan returns to her Native American community following the deaths of her grandmother and father. To her family, Sheridan is "Hannah," but to Dietz, she is "Dot," her longtime-girlfriend-turned-subject. The product of merging their personal and professional lives, Dietz's documentary intimately follows Sheridan's journey through grief, while she also navigates her identity within her family and culture.

Your Way Back to Me was born one day in a D.C. bar when Sheridan, who'd been recently discharged from the Navy, asked Dietz, a documentary photographer, to make a film about her family. Sheridan wanted her girlfriend to document her homecoming to the Cheyenne and Arapaho community and her family in Oklahoma, a place she had not stayed for more than several days at a time in the last decade. Dietz said Sheridan felt a deeply spiritual pull to return home and fulfill her role in cultural mourning rituals. Dietz said, "[The title] came from this calling of her conceptualizing the idea of making this film and it calling her back home. … The film in itself is the way back to home."

The couple lived with the Sheridan family for four months, during which Dietz shot over a terabyte of footage ("I just constantly lived with the camera on me at all times," she said). The final material – observational shots, interviews, and archival home videos – chronicles the aftermath of profound loss within familial and cultural realms.

As Dietz's most personal work yet and her first film, Your Way Back to Me was a complete education. Being the sole shooter, editor, and sound person of her first documentary film allowed Dietz to cultivate her production and postproduction skills. Yet onscreen and off, Dietz said striking the balance between her roles as Sheridan's girlfriend and documentarian was challenging, and taught Dietz how to not sensationalize a deeply personal story. In one of the most poignant sequences, Sheridan's brother guides the family through a ceremonial sweat in honor of their father, fulfilling a role once held by the family patriarch. Dietz said, "This is my family. And so I want[ed] to participate in the sweat, but then I [had] to film the sweat. And what do you do when your girlfriend is crying to you in bed and you have a camera?"

For Dietz, the film's goal is multidimensional: to tell the story of a middle America, middle-class family that happens to be Native American, and to challenge non-Native people's and the media's stereotyped perceptions of the community. While she made it for "the Native community first and foremost … this isn't [about] being inherently Native. This is about grief and loss and a journey home, which so many people can identify with."

aGLIFF and Cine Las Americas present Your Way Back to Me Wed., Jan. 17, 7:30pm @ Alamo South Lamar. Post-screening Q&A discussion with Dietz and Sheridan.

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