like and rarely watch two-part films on television because it
means I have to be in place in front of the TV the next evening.
I also don't like most films about Native Americans. I am squeamish
about watching films where all Native people are portrayed as
alcoholics who live in poverty. Nor do I appreciate portrayals
of holy men that are taken straight from the imagination of writers
who know little about medicine men or spiritual people.
watched the two-part "DreamKeepers" last week hoping it
would beat the odds on all of those things. I wasn't disappointed.
The film won the Best Film award at the 28th Annual American Indian
Film Festival in San Francisco in November. It also was a winner
in my mind.
film is about young Shane Chasing Horse, a Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux
(played by Eddie Spears) and his grandfather, old Pete Chasing Horse
(played by August Schellenburg). Sounds too typical, doesn't it?
But where the story diverts from the typical is in its setting and
the craft with which the movie was made. Those become its great
setting is Pine Ridge, S.D. The Native community in the film is
typical but not awful. The movie doesn't deny there are gangs, poverty
and alcoholism; but, unlike many Native American films, the movie
doesn't make these the center of the story. They're background.
is in trouble with what might be called the "Indian Mafia."
He owes them money. His mother strongly suggests that he take his
grandpa to the Gathering of Nations powwow in Albuquerque, N.M.,
where the elder is to tell stories. He is the "DreamKeeper."
young man knows the "Mafia" is after him, so he reluctantly
drives that long road in an old, beat-up '66 Ford pickup nicknamed
Many Miles With No Muffler. During the trip, his grandfather fills
his ear with stories as they chug along that southwestern highway.
Indian Mafia does catch up with them at one point. The grandfather
also takes Shane to see his estranged father, who is a reformed
alcoholic. A relationship develops between the boy and his father.
film is an "epic odyssey of a Lakota grandfather's final storytelling,"
says a press release.
thing that's exceptional about this film is that it is filled with
Native American actors. Years ago, it was routine to use actors
such as Burt Lancaster or Victor Mature, heavily made-up and with
black braided wigs, in roles as Native people. They spoke phrases
such as, "Me, Indian." "Me want water." That
always irritated me because those Native people in the 1800s probably
used sign language rather than stilted, single-word phrases.
there is a long lineup of Native American actors, some nationally
known - Michael Horse, Elaine Miles, Gary Farmer, Russell Means,
Graham Greene, John Trudell, Nathan Chasing Horse, Rodney Grant,
Floyd (Red Crow) Westerman and others. They gave this film an authentic
feel and seemed to know their ground.
addition, the stories told by elder Chasing Horse and woven throughout
the film were authentic. I knew some of them, as they were told
by my grandmother.
stories include the Lakota story of Eagle Boy's vision quest, the
Akwesasne Mohawk story titled "Thunder Begins" and a Pawnee
story about a woman and her son. The movie also featured coyote
and iktomi (red spider) stories that were especially wonderful.
I have seen few better portrayals of coyote than in that film.
tales were identified by tribe and by some photographs by Edward
Curtis; he was an early 1900s photographer of the West. I don't
know if the film will be rerun, but it certainly is worth seeing.
I hope that "DreamKeeper" is just the beginning of films
of this kind and that they get even better.
such as this are a good way to break stereotypes and bring understanding
in a painless way.