On May 14, 2016, Terry Jones stood before his peers at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts graduation ceremony. As a University Scholar, Udall Scholar, Crown-Wise Scholar, Haudenosaunee Promise Scholar, Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship recipient, and a member of Seneca Wolf Clan, Jones proclaimed during his commencement speech to students and faculty alike that “I would like to use my art as an agent of change”. As a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, which is located on the Cattaraugus Indian reservation, Terry spoke to the long-standing challenges faced by his community, such as a diminishing quality of life, loss of language, public safety, and poor health. The first of his family to earn a college degree, Jones is committed to sharing his Native American perspective through his film projects at home in the U.S. and abroad as well.
After transferring to Syracuse University in 2012 to pursue his bachelor’s degree in film, Jones realized that he saw the world through a different lens. This curiosity led him to apply for the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship, which aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad by removing the barrier of financial constraint. In the summer of 2014, Jones traveled to Bologna, Italy to study literary and film production with twelve other Syracuse students. While traversing the cobblestone streets of ancient cities and analyzing Italian neorealism films with his classmates, Jones reflected on the value of occupying “the same historical spaces being portrayed on the big screen” and the subsequent cultural understanding that emerges through studying abroad. The emphasis placed on sharing customs, art, and language in Italy paralleled his desire to contribute positively to the perceptions and dialogues surrounding Native Americans, in particular his Haudenosaunne (Iroquois) culture.
Jones’ passion for international engagement did not end in Bologna. In the spring of 2015, he returned to Europe to study 35mm filmmaking at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). His senior film thesis, “Gathered Places”, shows what happens when two Indian filmmakers, one from southern India and the other from an Indian reservation in western New York state, visit each other’s homelands. This short documentary film explores the similarities and differences between these two ancient cultures and how the modern world affects how the filmmakers see themselves, each other, and the outside world. By utilizing his film expertise, Jones strives to humanize those who can be considered "other" and defy some stereotypes that mainstream America often ascribes to the Native American experience. He plans to pursue his master's degree in film studies in the coming year and hopes his future creations will facilitate change in public policy on the local and national levels.
Photo by Alex Hamer