Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Dancin', Dreamin', Prayin' and Fightin'

I've gotten a few inquiries about Indian movies, so I present to you my highly subjective and arbitrary list of the top 5 Native American movies you've probably never seen. This list is subject to change, and if you've got a movie that I missed and you think worthy of my unofficial list, leave it in the comments and I will consider it.

I think we've all seen Smoke Signals. If you haven't then go rent it right now. It is the contemporary Indian movie sine qua non. It is poetic at times, laugh out loud funny at others, and crying into your kleenex at others. It hits sweeping moments of storytelling and resonates with issues everyone faces when it comes to their fathers. It's also just a buddy/road movie.

So now that's I've made the obligatory mention of everyone's favorite Indian movie, on to my list of the ones you've never seen.

1. The Business of Fancydancing - This is Sherman Alexie's directoral debut and a surprisingly challenging film. Smoke Signals it aint and I say that's a good thing. The plot centers around two friends who grew up together on the rez and after high school go their separate ways. The death of a mutual friend brings them together again where they face each other, their memories, their futures and what it means to be an Indian in contemporary society. I love that the protagonist is gay - how many gay Indians do we get to see? I like Alexie's modern choppy narrative style, littered with improvisational conversations between the characters and snippets of his own poetry. What might seem pretentious in other movies works effectively here.

2. In the Light of Reverence - A documentary about three sacred places and the conflict that surrounds them as the Indian communities and the White communities clash over their approach to the land. The documentary moves along well and some of the lines, particularly by the White folks, are so outrageous that you have to laugh. Or at least, you laugh because if you didn't you'd cry. It can be a little depressing, but then I think it sheds some much needed light on both points of view on the issue. Unfortunately, and I warn you now, Indians are losing most of these battles to protect sacred lands.

3.Dreamkeeper - Not a movie per se, but a Canadian miniseries. An intergenerational road movie is the framework for a wonderful visually vivid retelling of Native American myths. Myths are explored from a number of tribes and cultures, and we are shown how they apply to the lives we live today, and the importance of keeping these stories alive. Definitely long, but worth the viewing. Starring Eddie Spears, whose upcoming movie Black Cloud opens next Friday. I'll talk more about it in a separate post.

4. Incident at Oglala - Another documentary. This is the story of AIM in the 1970's and specifically the murder charges and subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. This was produced by Robert Redford and has some great interviews with the people that were there, so if you're all for freeing Leonard Peltier but have no idea what the hell he's really in prison for, see this. For example, did you know that two other men were arrested with the same charges and found innocent in an earlier trial? Do you know about Myrtle Poor Bear? This movie is not perfect, but you should see it, hopefully in conjunction with..

41/2. CointelPro: The FBI's War On Black America - CointelPro was the name of the FBI's Counter Intelligence Project under Hoover during the 1960's and 1970's. Their goal was to inflitrate and destroy groups like The Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement. They did a pretty job. While this movie focuses mostly on the destruction of the Black Power Movement, it does talk about AIM and is a eye-opening companion to "Incident at Oglala" and will starkly remind you just what this country is capable of, even against its own citizenry. And we worry about The Patriot Act.

5. Rabbit-Proof Fence - This is not a Native American movie, but a Australian movie about their aboriginal boarding school system, similar to the ones in place in the US and Canada only a generation ago. This is not ancient history, but the personal history of our mothers and grandmothers. "Rabbit-Proof Fence" tells the true story of three girls who were taken by force from their families and put in an boarding school, where they would learn to be good servants for whites, 1,500 miles away. They escaped, and this is the story of their amazing journey through the outback to find their way home.

There are hundreds, yes, hundreds of other movies by and about Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. You do have to seek many of them out, but if you've got a Netflix subscription or something similar, it isn't that hard. Neflix even has "Natives Themes", "Natives in Films" and "It's a Native Thang" user recommendation lists. There is life beyond Dances With Wolves. Go and seek it out!


Anonymous Yehecatl said...

I only have five minutes before I have to leave, so this is going to be short. There's a movie called "War Party" that I caught by accident four years ago during a late night showing on a movie channel. I've looked for the DVD since and can't find it. I don't know anymore of the official details about it, because I just caught it by accident and didn't know how good it was going to be until it was over. I'm sure you can find it with your excellent searching skills. No time to go into a description, but I thought it was really good, and definitely one of those movies you want to cry about for a week after when you think about it.

7:51 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Hey thanks! I have heard of "War Party", but havent seen it. I see you can buy it on EBay and Amazon, etc. so may have to add it to my collection.

Anyone interested can see the trailer for it here:

11:56 AM  

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