'Cherokee Word for Water,' film about Wilma Mankiller, to premiere at Circle Cinema
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2012
11/30/12 at 5:10 AM
After watching several audition tapes, the real-life Charlie Soap was already leaning toward a certain actor to play him in a new movie, "The Cherokee Word for Water."
And the casting director mentioned that the actor just happened to be waiting outside the door for a chance to meet Soap.
Seen recently in the box-office flop "Cowboys vs. Aliens," Moses Brings Plenty hardly counts as a household name.
But Soap wasn't looking for star power.
"The moment I saw him, I thought, 'That's me walking through the door.' There was this phenomenal bonding between us right off the bat."
Based on a true story about Soap and his wife, the late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, the movie will have its public debut Friday night at Tulsa's Circle Cinema.
But a select group of supporters saw an early screening Thursday during an invitation-only premier at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
The story revolves around a struggle to build an 18-mile waterline to Bell, a small community southeast of Tahlequah. Some of the Cherokee residents still didn't have indoor plumbing in the early 1980s.
Short on funds, Mankiller and Soap came up with an innovative way to get the work done.
Town residents provided volunteer labor while the tribe offered the water pump and heavy equipment.
The effort springboarded Mankiller's political career. She served as the tribe's principal chief from 1985 to 1995 and became one of the most recognizable Cherokee leaders in modern history.
Mankiller died in 2010, but not before she approved the final script.
"She considered the movie her unfinished legacy," said Kristina Kiehl, one of the film's producers and Mankiller's longtime friend. "Not because she wanted to shape how people would remember her, but because she wanted people to be inspired by the story."
The script had gone through multiple drafts over several years, with Mankiller heavily involved in the editing.
"She didn't want it to be about herself," Kiehl said. "She wanted it to be about the community and what people accomplished for themselves.
"She wanted people to watch it and think, 'If they could do it, so can we.' "
Four weeks of filming began in September 2011, working on location around Tahlequah and along the Illinois River.
Local residents play some of the major roles. And Soap himself appears twice in the movie. He has cameo roles at the very beginning and the end.
But the hardest part was casting Mankiller, who is still a widely recognized public figure.
Instead of focusing on physical resemblance, Soap wanted to match Mankiller's personality.
"She could be very strong and forceful," he said, "but at the same time very tender.
"That was important to capture, and I think we did."
The part went to Kimberly Norris Guerrero, best known for appearing in an episode of the television sit-com "Seinfeld."
Soap and the cast will introduce the movie before Friday's showing.
What: "The Cherokee Word for Water"
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave.
Original Print Headline: Audience gets sneak peek at Mankiller film
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Charlie Soap (center), visits Thursday with Euchee Tribe official Andrew Skeeter and his wife, Carmelita Skeeter, CEO of the Indian Health Care Resource Center in Tulsa, before a private screening of the new film "The Cherokee Word for Water" at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World