June 18, 2008

Native vs. non-Native filmmaking

Here are two clips from what appears to be a single documentary. These show the yin and yang of films featuring Natives: from savage stereotypes to realistic portrayals.

How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans

Native American Filmmaking

Comment:  Judging by the final scene, the source may be a promotional video for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Finally writerfella has seen TURQUOISE ROSE, and he realizes it falls into the gulf between Native filmmaking and non-Native filmmaking. It reportedly was made on the cheap by several earnest Caucasian ex-Gulf War II veterans, but the film itself only proves that earnestness is no excuse, Gulf War II or no. Despite contemporary Native 'actors' and real Native locations, the film is a polyglot mess. The 'screenplay' is fraught by thin storytelling and no story narrative cohesion. The film is choppy, abrupt, pedestrian, and is shot and edited like a TV show. Truly it more is like a TV commercial in that it is made up of short scenes and has neither master scenes nor wide angles. The camera handling drifts restlessly, subjectively, and somewhat aimlessly, even distantly, done by people who believe that camera motion makes up for lack of action on the actors' parts or in the various scenes. TURQUOISE ROSE basically is a succession of jumbled sequences only loosely related. Things in the film just happen as we watch, sometimes without any exposition. There is not enough subtitling, for that matter, as much that is said in Navajo goes right over the heads of non-Navajo speakers. TURQUOISE ROSE assumes that we as viewers know it all and never stops to explain or otherwise to show causality. It is ten minutes before anyone says the name of the title character and Rose, as such, always should be an unbroken viewpoint character. Her viewpoint is forgotten several times as scenes occur that she cannot witness. Supposedly, the 'back to the Rez' storyline is that she is a fish out of water but in fact she merely finds herself in a smaller pond. The audience therefore cannot identify with Rose and merely winds up confused by her travails. There are crowd scenes in which there obviously are no crowds. Rose and Harry become sweethearts seemingly because they both are young and Navajo. Though the 'actors' self-consciously are playing themselves, two sequences do stand out -- a scene when Rose is shooting photos of her grandmother and one near the end when Harry shows Rose the sculpture of herself. But the indifferent character development robs both of their real significance. Credibility also is lost when one notices that Rose's camera likely costs more than the equipment used to make the film. After the grandmother dies, the film really flounders. Following the statue scene, the film just...ends. There is a soundtrack but it is nondescript, overly repetitive, pointless, and distracting. All in all, it had a fair drumbeat, was easy to Ghost Dance to, and writerfella gives it a 7.5... (out of 100)
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

Wow "writerfella" you are very bitter in your life right now, I do hope better days are to come for you and that you should consider working on a movie set one day, you would have an appreciation for film making then.


Rob said...

As Russ would be the first to tell you, he's worked on several movie sets before.

I take it you disagree with Russ's review, ZO? Why is that, pray tell? What did you think of Turquoise Rose?

Anonymous said...

Natives in this business have been overlooked too long and/or marginalized way too much. It is understandable that emotions run high on film sets and screenings. We [Native filmmakers] are just now cutting our teeth at this stage of development. Good, bad, ugly... all Native American films done by Native American media artists are beautiful. How else are we going to learn? We too need to do our part by accepting criticism and learning from it. I recently had a chance to ask the president of my tribal college, Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota, what word does he wish for me to bring back to Hollywood. He said, "Tell them to stop screwing up our [Lakota] language!" Recent big budget films in this genre only demonstrate Hollywood hasn't learned a darn thing when it comes to the Native Americans or they are unwilling to listen & learn from those who do know a thing or two about our culture. It's a sort of a Karl May syndrome. Here's one for you to wrap your brain around: Narrative storytelling doesn't always fit the bill. The truth of the matter is... the sun doesn't always come out tomorrow on Indian reservations. Descriptive storytelling (a.k.a., art house) best fits the traditional form of Native American storytelling. I have argued this point many times before with other theater arts and American Indians studies scholars at the university level. It still holds true today. What's more, the further Indians remove themselves from their reservations (geographically) the more they are accepted and respected for who they are. If you [film producers] are listening than you will give international pre-sales more attention. Stop looking towards Hollywood for answers because they aren't interested in moviemaking as an art form. Even "DANCES WITH WOLVES" had to get most of their financial assistance from Majestic Pictures (a film company based in India). It's a numbers game in America and garnering big bucks is the primary motivation. A typical producer will ask 'Yeah but can this movie fill seats at the local cineplex? What are the chances I will get back the money I put into this venture? Can I turn a profit, break even or go under here?' Or, you can listen to fools like Spike Lee's [sometimes] executive producer Sam Kitt. He told me before a crowd of independent filmmakers 'Indians can't write.' Now about Russ Bates: Don't kill the messenger. Hard, sincere, truthful criticism is what we [Native filmmakers] need most at this juncture. We are only kidding ourselves when we actually listen to raw emotions via flaming blogs and e-mails in cyberspace. The learning curve in this business is awesome! Not only will we come back stronger the ever but you can bet your Judeo-Christian dollars we will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Damon Runninghorse-Buckley, writer/director.

Rob said...

Thanks for your insights, Damon.

Russ and Damon: Next time you want to post a long, thoughtful comment, you might try e-mailing it to me instead. Then I could post it as a standalone blog item. I'm always glad to run guest commentaries, especially from Natives.

Rob said...

For more on Runninghorse-Buckley's thoughts, see Runninghorse-Buckley on Filmmaking.