On the tip of the tongue

"AwA'ahdah", "iishuh", "ilah qe'xleh" ... Words from the end of the world, forgotten, that have almost lost any meaning, even to their people. In Alaska, the Eyak language "died" in 2008 when the last speaker, Marie Smith Jones, passed away.
But is there life after death? The Eyak people believe so.
Marie had a dream before she died. She said someone will come from far away to help them. Two years later, Guillaume Leduey, a 21-year-old Frenchman, set foot in Alaska, on the lands of the people whose language he had learned by himself, alone, in France.

  • Vincent Bonnay
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Sur le bout de la langue
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    52 minutes 44 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 10, 2018
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, French
  • Shooting Format:
    HD 1080
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Anchorage International Film Festival
    United States
    December 9, 2018
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival
    March 30, 2019
    Official Selection
  • Arizona International Film Festival
    United States
    April 19, 2019
    Special Jury Award for Bridging Cultures
Director Biography - Vincent Bonnay

Vincent is a filmmaker who was trained in Paris to become a journalist and cameraman. After obtaining his bachelor's degree, he spent 3 years in New York working for french and international TV channels and production companies. Passionate about nature and wilderness, he naturally fell in love with Alaska while shooting his documentary there. "On The Tip Of The Tongue" is his first documentary.

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Director Statement

In the world, a language dies every two weeks. According to the UNESCO, half of the 6,000 to 7,000 spoken languages in the world will disappear at the end of this century. Aware of this threat, the General Assembly of the UN adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 the “International Year of Indigenous Language”. In spite of this first step, the battle is slow to produce results: many words lack for this fight. But still, the Eyak battle is a warning sign: cultural pluralism faces danger and the disappearance of one of the smallest Alaskan people is a tragedy that no one should ignore.

Why the fight? Because a language that vanishes is a part of humanity that goes away. A price the Eyaks are not ready to pay and a threat not to underestimate. Is this a lost battle? Isn’t evolution a natural process? Is it possible to still speak a indigenous language in a country where English is well established as the official language? But above all, how did a young Frenchman became, in a few years, the best hope for a people in quest of his identity?

These are the many issues I tried to address in this documentary. To do so, I gave voice to the people concerned, the ones who decided to fight in order to save the Eyak language and their traditions.

I immersed myself into their fights and their fears in order to have a better understanding of the issues they are facing. Beyond the desappearance of a language, culture and tradition fade away, leading indigenous people to become withdrawn. Guillaume is a triggering factor in resurrecting the language, but he is also the starting point of a new page of Eyak history. A history I am trying to explore and narrate in this film, even though it is just at its beginnings.

When Guillaume started to learn the Eyak language, he had no idea how important this decision would become. The first time I got on a plane to meet with him in Alaska, I could not imagine how big this project would turn to be. I spent six years of my life filming this incredible story, I took many trips to Alaska, making thousands of miles by plane, car, ferry and even kayak! Their battles became also mine, year after year, I was there, even trying to learn a few words of Eyak. With or whithout my camera, I shared these moments between laughs, tears and hard working times. People you will see in this film have become, for some of them, my friends, my family from the other end of the world and thanks to that bond, I had a better understanding of what they were going through. This film had to exist, this story needed to be told before it was too late, before the words were to remain... on the tip of their tongue.