Written by Patrick Hao
There is something to be said whenever a short film leaves you wishing it was a longer feature. Long Line of Ladies does exactly that. Co-directed by Shaadiine Tome and Rayka Zehtabchi, this 22-minute documentary follows a girl as she prepares for her Ihuk, a flower festival that signals the transition from childhood to adulthood amongst girls in the Karuk tribe of Northern California after their first periods. In the opening title cards, we learn that this ceremony was dormant for over 100 years until the 1990s when the tribe decided to reinstate tradition amongst their people.
This film continues Oscar winner Rayka Zehtabchi’s interest in the way communities of women support each other. Beneath the festival prep, there is a clear understanding of the importance of preservation amongst the tribe and the family of Ahtyirahm Allen, the girl who is the subject of the ceremony. The film sits in as the matriarchs discuss their experiences performing the Ihuk. The film then shifts to teenage friends discussing what the festival means to them. For these women, for this tribe, the continuation of this ceremony is also about survival.
If anything, these conversations should have been longer. And we only catch glimpses of the lead-up to the prep. With a longer run time, it would have been interesting for the film to further explore the pressures placed upon these young women to become the protectors of the culture. There is a world in which a feature version of Long Line of Ladies delves deep into what has been lost and what needs to be preserved. But it is always good to be left wanting more.