Thursday, May 5, 2016

Louise Woehrle - The Power of Story

Louise Woehrle is an award-winning independent documentary filmmaker and creative consultant who writes, directs, produces, and advises through her company Whirlygig Productions, Inc. Her mission is telling stories that help us see ourselves, and others in new ways, promote healing, and connect us as human beings. The abridged version: "Shining a light on stories that need to be told." 

Working as a documentary filmmaker has been a great privilege because I have partnered with communities around the world to help share their stories through the voices and perspectives of the people who live there. Although the individual stories are very different, they are human stories, making them all relatable. Through my work, I have seen how individuals sharing stories can bring people together and create positive change in their communities and in others’ perceptions of them.

As a storyteller, I’ve been invited into places and communities I might otherwise never encounter. In one instance, it was a resilient community rebuilding itself after an 11½-year civil war in Sierra Leone. We witnessed the power of forgiveness through the people and their stories. I also partnered with a progressive school in a village in southern India taking on education and providing a future for the children and their communities. In Canada, I was invited by Cree filmmaker Shirley Cheechoo and the Cree Health Board to help tell the stories of three remote Cree communities in northern Ontario who took on the crisis of diabetes, courageously sharing their own stories and raising awareness through education about management and prevention of the disease.

At home in Minnesota, I have been privileged to partner with the Mdewakantonwan community to film their ceremonial buffalo kill, a sacred tradition of Dakota people being passed on to younger generations. I’ve also been welcomed into the homes of hospice patients and their caregivers at the end of life to witness the beauty and comfort of palliative care given by the compassionate team of hospice caregivers. In addition, teens have invited us into their inner lives as they talked with each other about depression, loneliness, and the importance of friendship and Veterans young and old have shared their stories of war and life after war.

Although the landscapes are vastly different, each story sheds light and insight, allowing a glimpse into a world perhaps unfamiliar. I have witnessed how shining a light on stories that need to be told can open hearts and the door to conversation and understanding, not only for outsiders but also for those living in the same community as the storytellers. In 2010 during a screening of our film Pride of Lions in Minneapolis, a group of Sierra Leoneans shared how affirming it is they are reflected in the story as intelligent hardworking leaders in their communities and not as victims. A woman in the same audience left the screening saying, “I need to forgive my sister-in-law. I have been holding a grudge for years. If that man in the film whose arms were amputated by the rebels can forgive, so can I.”

Authentic stories foster new insights and perspectives. I have seen firsthand how humans sharing their stories can break down barriers, opens hearts, and bring people together to create positive change.

I have found community with the Minnesota Humanities Center, working with them over the last several months. This organization has illuminated for me the importance of amplifying the multiple missing voices and untold stories here in Minnesota. I hope to continue working to partner with local and global community efforts to build relationships through storytelling and engage in new ways that connect us as human beings sharing a larger global community.

For more information on Louise Woehrle’s work visit:

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