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American Indian Cinema: Four Sheets to the Wind
08-29-2006, 09:42 AM
Post: #1
American Indian Cinema: Four Sheets to the Wind
Here's a story from OK.

By JOHN ANDERSON

Published: August 27, 2006

TULSA, Okla.




From left, Jeri Arredondo, Tamara Podemski and Cody Lightning in “Four Sheets to the Wind.”


The writer and director Sterlin Harjo.

IT would be tough organizing a respectable traffic jam in this part of town, especially in the dead heat of a summer afternoon. So the motley collection of cars, vans and movie equipment — and the tiny trailer advertising “Indian Tacos” — that have been assembled for a film shoot draw the kind of attention they never could in Hollywood or New York.

But this isn’t Hollywood or New York. The sound department, so to speak, is set up in the shade of a corrugated iron awning, outside a bar that looks as if it were decorated by a tsunami carrying a load of uncapped Sharpies. The producers, Chad Burris and Ted Kroeber, are lugging folding chairs around. But then everyone is doing something that isn’t in his or her job description. Shooting comes to a halt for the passing of the occasional tractor-trailer because the production can’t close the streets. (“Not without paying cops $300 a day to do it,” Mr. Burris said.) A few days earlier, an apparently inebriated man fell off his porch across the road from the set, crying: “Kill my life! Kill my face!” The crew wanted to work it into the script.

“Four Sheets to the Wind,” the debut feature by the writer and director Sterlin Harjo, is a coming-of-age story, set in Tulsa and nearby Holdenville. Almost the entire cast and many of the crew members are American Indians. “Among ourselves,” said Mr. Burris, an Oklahoma native and Chickasaw, “it’s more like ‘Induns.’ ” Not coincidentally, interpretations and definitions become knotty factors in an Indian movie, something rare enough that unfair expectations and obligations naturally attach themselves to it.

“With ‘Dances With Wolves,’ Indians were hot,” said Tamara Podemski, an actress, referring to the Oscar-winning Kevin Costner movie of 1990. “But as great as that was, it was about how we used to be. What needs to be done is show how we are now.”

That is Mr. Harjo’s intention, but it’s no easy task. Ms. Podemski, who plays Miri, the troubled sister of the film’s lead character, Cufe (Cody Lightning of “Smoke Signals”), points to the problem besetting any movie defined by its ethnicity. “There’s a lot of fear among people in the community about showing contemporary images, especially if they’re negative,” she said. “Because even if there’s truth in there, the fear is that audiences don’t have enough knowledge about the reality, so they’ll accept the negative aspect as the whole story.”

The script, which went through the screening lab of the Sundance Institute (where Mr. Harjo, Mr. Kroeber and Mr. Burris have all been fellows), is not negative. Nor is it self-consciously Indian. “People will say what they want to say,” Mr. Harjo said. “But more than anything, it’s about human beings who happen to be Native Americans.”

But not all Indians are the same. And they don’t all see eye to eye on the translation of their culture, however contemporary its context. Mr. Harjo bookends the story with a narration delivered in Muscogee, to be accompanied by English subtitles. (Mr. Harjo himself is Seminole, Creek, “Italian and a little German.”) When Norma Jean Marshall, the manager for the Muscogee language program of the Muscogee-Creek Nation, was enlisted to translate, she took exception to one of Mr. Harjo’s lines, which referred to “sorting out the details” of the ensuing narrative.

“The best way I can explain it is that when Jesus told a parable, it would mean something to one person, and something different to another,” Ms. Marshall said. “When an Indian tells a story, it becomes the truth. You don’t have to sort out the details. You know what it means once you’ve heard it, based on personal experience. So ‘sorting out the details’ isn’t something we would say.”

Similar debates surround the very creation of so-called Indian cinema. Indian culture is based on an oral tradition, which is contrary to the kind of definitive imagery rendered on film. The issue, then, becomes whether cinema is contrary to Indian culture.

“The Conchetti Pueblo, just for instance, were resistant to preserving their culture on tape,” said Beverly Morris, a program director for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. “But with the advent of new technology and their familiarity with it, they’ve started to do that, with their own people.”

Some contemporary Indians, Ms. Morris noted, have voiced suspicion of even the most well-meaning chroniclers of their culture. “Let’s face it, there’s been a lot of resentment about past exploitation,” she said, citing not just Hollywood but also anthropologists, National Geographic-style preservationists and even the Indian photographer Edward Curtis.

“I don’t want to say the visual medium is replacing the oral tradition,” said Mr. Burris, who specialized in Indian law before becoming a producer, “but I think it’s encompassing it. And I think that’s out of necessity in terms of the world we live in now. Stories can still be told and passed on and lessons be taught. But we’re such a visual society. The media are such an influence and can be such a great way of conveying a message. I think, just out of necessity, the traditional stories are going to fall into the visual medium.”

The campaign to make Indian filmmaking a mainstream commodity has had its false starts. In 1998 “Smoke Signals,” directed by Chris Eyre and written by novelist Sherman Alexie, made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival, which had for years showcased Indian movies in its Native section. Mr. Eyre and Mr. Alexie have subsequently written or directed other films, but their success has been modest, and Sundance has discontinued the Native section.

“That was an effort to highlight and put native cinema on the map,” said Bird Runningwater, who directs the Native Initiatives programs at the Sundance Institute. “We felt we did that. The next logical step was to program them festival-wide, in the general program, so that’s the move we’ve made the last couple of festivals. I think it’s helped the films reach a wider audience.”

“Four Sheets to the Wind” is a unifying movie — the pride the participants share in the project is something they mention frequently — and one that shows the diversity of the native peoples. Along with Mr. Harjo and Mr. Burris, Mr. Lightning is Plains-Cree, his co-star Jeri Arredondo is Apache, and Ms. Podemski is Ojibway and Jewish. (“We burned smudge,” she said, “at the Passover Seder.”) What they have in common with all independent filmmakers are the very things they lack: money and celebrity, in a system that favors the status quo.

“I got a lot of, ‘Love your script, it’s going to be great, but we have to pass,’ ” said Mr. Harjo, who is 26. “It’s hard for any independent filmmaker, but when you have Native American leads, it’s even harder ’cause there’s no one to put on the poster. No famous white person, anyway.” But “everyone who’s here and working so hard is here because they love the story,” he said. And they love the feeling of accomplishment.

Mr. Burris said: “At some point during the production it sinks in and there’s an overwhelming sense of pride. You see a cut, where it’s all taking shape. Man, that’s good. You lose sight of that sometimes. But it’s like seeing your kid walk for the first time.”
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09-03-2006, 12:22 AM
Post: #2
Reading Vine
Reading Vine Deloria Jr,.

from pg 77

"The disclaimer of colonialism in recent years has presented Western peoples with a major dilemma. Deprived of their traditional source of wealth from the undeveloped and former colonial nations, they now have little choice but to seek ways of rechanneling their present wealth through the various forms of social organization already present domestically. A certain statis has been achieved, perhaps unwittingly, which means a major shift in political thinking among Western peoples. The creation of wealth today is more dependent on new technology than on the exploitation of mineral and other resources. That is not to say that exploitaiton of mineral and other resources will not continue. As undeveloped nations continue their growth, severe modifications of explotiation must occur as well as more sophisticated forms of colonialism, if Western economies are not to suffer economic collapse.

It is doubtful it very many Americans understand the fundamental nature of this shift from the colonialist attitude. As best it means the humanization of peoples who for centuries were considered merely producers of raw materials and consumers of those producted they were allowed to share. At worst the end of one form of colonialism means the beginning of a movement to feudalize political systems around the globe so as to stabilize the economic conditions of the more affluent nations. Either approach means that the ecological problem is not dealth with, the problem of technological dehumanization is not reduced, and the breakdown of individual and community is not reversed."

"Thinking in Time and Space" from God is Red, 1973
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10-05-2006, 11:18 AM
Post: #3
 
i like this line alot:

Quote:“With ‘Dances With Wolves,’ Indians were hot,” said Tamara Podemski, an actress, referring to the Oscar-winning Kevin Costner movie of 1990. “But as great as that was, it was about how we used to be. What needs to be done is show how we are now.”

but can sympathize with that dilemma: do you show the real reality that can be misinterpreted by those who don't have a full understanding?

and these are some interesting statements:

Quote:Similar debates surround the very creation of so-called Indian cinema. Indian culture is based on an oral tradition, which is contrary to the kind of definitive imagery rendered on film. The issue, then, becomes whether cinema is contrary to Indian culture.

thats so fundamental. very deep. more often than not we will settle for using that tools that we (each new generation) are given or have available. but surely there will always be the more radical of us who will preserve the old ways no matter what. i don't think one trumps the other necessarily. they serve eachother, ideally.

Quote:The campaign to make Indian filmmaking a mainstream commodity has had its false starts. In 1998 “Smoke Signals,” directed by Chris Eyre and written by novelist Sherman Alexie, made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival, which had for years showcased Indian movies in its Native section. Mr. Eyre and Mr. Alexie have subsequently written or directed other films, but their success has been modest, and Sundance has discontinued the Native section.

“That was an effort to highlight and put native cinema on the map,” said Bird Runningwater, who directs the Native Initiatives programs at the Sundance Institute. “We felt we did that. The next logical step was to program them festival-wide, in the general program, so that’s the move we’ve made the last couple of festivals. I think it’s helped the films reach a wider audience.”

very interesting strategy, to bring them in with a "seperatist" strategy and then merge them into the general festival after the attention was drawn. this might work in other industries as well.
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