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Searching for Sequoyah

Searching for Sequoyah chronicles the legendary accomplishments of the famed 19th century Cherokee visionary, Sequoyah (George Guess). While much is known about Sequoyah's Cherokee writing system, very little is known about the man himself. How did this illiterate Cherokee invent a writing system and transform the future of his people? From Tuskegee, TN to Zaragoza, Mexico, Searching for Sequoyah takes viewers on a journey retracing his final quest to reunite his fellow Cherokees in Mexico, the mystery surrounding his death and the legacy he left behind.

  • James M Fortier
    Alcatraz is not an Island, Bad Sugar, Gifts from the Elders, Green Green Water, Pulling Together, Gathering Together
  • LeAnne Howe
    Indian Country Diaries: Spiral of Fire
  • James M Fortier
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 4 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 1, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    168,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Mexico, United States
  • Language:
    English, Spanish
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Vision Maker Media & American Public Television
    Country: United States
    Rights: Free TV
Director Biography - James M Fortier

James is an Emmy award-winning Producer, Director, Writer, Director of Photography and Editor with 30 years of professional video production experience. Born in Ontario, Canada and raised near Chicago, James moved to the San Francisco area to complete his college education in 1983. He is an enrolled member of the Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation (formerly Pic River Ojibway First Nation) located in Ontario, Canada. His wide range of video production skills and experience spans three decades, numerous awards, national PBS credits, and dozens of film festival screenings of his documentary work.
James’ first documentary, Alcatraz Is Not An Island screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2001 and aired nationally on PBS and APTN in Canada. James traveled extensively screening the documentary at film festivals and universities such as Stanford, Brown University, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, and Syracuse University among others. He has won numerous awards, including three regional Emmy Awards and the DuPont Columbia Award For Broadcast Journalism as episode Producer and Director for Bad Sugar, part of the 2007 national PBS health series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Society Sick? James’ 2012 documentary, Gifts From the Elders, screened at several film festivals and aired on WDSE-TV, PBS in 2013. Gifts… was produced in collaboration with Western University in London, Ontario as part of a First Nations community-centered student research project. Fortier mentored two First Nations film students from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario who filmed the primary interviews with elders from the two reserves featured in the film. His most recent documentary, Searching for Sequoyah, will premiere on PBS nationally in 2021.
James’ has extensive documentary experience working within Native communities in Canada and the US. From Cree and Ojibway communities in northern Winnipeg, Ontario, and the US Great Lakes region to Cherokee communities in North Carolina and Oklahoma; and from Pine Ridge to the Navajo Nation, to the Pacific Northwest and Salish communities in British Columbia. These documentary works include the six hour PBS Ojibwe series Waasa Inaabidaa: We Look In All Directions (2 Midwest Emmys), Indian Country Diaries: Spiral of Fire, Playing Pastime: American Indians, Softball, and Survival, Green Green Water, and two documentaries for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Pulling Together, and Gathering Together. In 2009 James was the Artist in Residence at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where he conducted a four-week video production lab for the American Indian Studies Department and presented several of his documentaries for students and faculty.
James has been a Director of Photography/Cameraman on thousands of productions for top Silicon Valley Companies, broadcast and cable television. Over the past 30 years his clients have included leading Silicon Valley titans such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Intuit, PayPal, Visa and many more. For the past 15 years he has also been an editor on a variety of corporate communications videos for clients such as Intuit, Intel, Brocade, Walmart Labs, and others.

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Director Statement

We felt an enormous privilege and honor to take on the task of telling the story of Sequoyah's remarkable genius, the legacy he left for Cherokee people, and the mystery of his death and final resting place. But, we also soon felt a great sense of responsibility to piece together Sequoyah’s story as accurately as possible from a variety of sources that don't always agree with one another. By opening ourselves to listen to what people had to say, from the Cherokee homelands in the east, to the contemporary nations in Tahlequah, and down to Coahuila, Mexico, we were astounded not only at the incredible reach of Sequoyah's life and work, but also at the hospitality we enjoyed at every stop. While there is still much to research about Sequoyah’s final days, we feel our film is a good start. Wado, and we hope you enjoy the program!