Alta California - A Movie Script

Lynn H. Elliott

I am an immigrant. My birth country is Wales. At the age of 24, I emigrated to the United States, my adopted country, intent of completing higher degrees (MA/PhD) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I subsequently taught in the English Department (six years as Chair of English) at California State University, Chico. Throughout, I have continued to write plays, novels, and screenplays.

Being an immigrant, particularly in my 20s, I came with some preconceived ways of seeing. This hit home when taking a class on the history of my adopted country. European history is filled with plots, domination, power grabs, the “story” being written by the victors. Yet, in my American history class there was little of this. It consisted primarily of white men, landowners, and the Constitution. Women, slaves, indigenous peoples? There was little mention of these.

I set myself a task: name one indigenous California tribe.  Two, five.  I failed.  And yet before “first contact,” there were 500 distinct sub-tribes in California speaking 300 dialects of approximately 100 distinct languages.

What had happened? Where was the beginning of the demise for the indigenous California peoples?

And so, I returned to the Mission Period in California, the first sustained contact between the indigenouis population and Europeans.

You can read more about my other works at my website - https://lynnelliott47.com

 

THE STORY

In the foreground of ALTA CALIFORNIA is the fictional account of a young mixed-blood male, Paco Palido, seeking a home, an identity amidst the horrors of a dominating, foreign power.  

When Paco Palido's mother is slaughtered and his tribe wiped out, the half-breed boy is “saved” by a Franciscan priest.  His years in the mission school and attempts to Christianize him are unsuccessful.  The necklace his mother gave him is more powerful than any Christian symbol.

Now a mission guard, Paco denies continued to reject any attempts to convert him.  Witnessing repeated whippings, treatment of “neophytes” (baptized heathens) as animals, the haunting words of a local chief, and the recurrent ghostly visions of his mother "now in Christian Hell"—all reinforce Paco’s inner struggle: “civilized” versus “heathen.”

Throughout Paco tries  to find his people, those with whom he belongs.   Eventually, after being captured by the “wild” Chumash of the Santa Barbara area, Paco is saved from death by a traditional necklace given him by his mother.  In a powerful scene during a “Big Meeting Celebration,” Paco talks with the ghost of his mother.  He has finally found her, among his people.  He also finds a new love interest, Ifapi, a “wild” native, so different from the passive “neophytes” (baptized natives) of the missions.

Woven into Paco's story as setting and background  is historical truth: 

  1. the Christianization and eventual demise of California Indians,
  2. The repeated clashes--true but conveniently forgotten in many history books--between the secular authority (Captain Felipe de Never), and religious authority (Padre Junipero Serra).   
  3. Captain Felipe de Neve was the third governor to confront Serra.  The first two were ineffectual.  Captain de Neve, a favorite of King Carlos, was excellent both as a military man and bureaucrat.
  4. With the white men racing from the East, drawn by gold, and the Spaniards preparing to leave California, there was a question of what to do with the "neophytes" (baptized mission indians).  Captain Felipe De Neve and King Carlos, the secular authorities, have one solution: return them to their tribal ways.  Padre Serra has another: leave them in the mission; God will protect them there.  How Serra won that battle is both conveniently forgotten, and masterful and intriguing.  He won, De Neve, King Carlos and, eventually, the mission indians lost--with devastating consequences.   (see Edwin A. Beilharz, Felipe de Neve: First Governor of California, California Historical Society, 1971, and A Cross of Thorns, Elias Castello, Craven Street Books, 2015):