October 30, 2008

Film on Kootenai conflict

‘Idaho’s Forgotten War’

Filmmaker Sonya Rosario revives awareness of three-day bloodless conflictAccording to Idaho’s official timeline, nothing noteworthy happened here in 1974. Somehow, all the state historians and educators missed the fact that north Idaho’s tiny Kootenai Tribe declared war on the U.S. government that year and saved itself from extinction.

A new documentary by Sonya Rosario offers the inspiring story through the recollections of former tribal Chairwoman Amy Trice and others who were involved in “Idaho’s Forgotten War.”
The gist of the "war":Tribal members with signs flanked the highway, requesting a 10-cent toll from vehicles passing through their country. County Sheriff Chris Ketner was sympathetic. He knew the people had nothing and that Trice wasn’t a troublemaker. Many other non-Indians who felt the same gave much more than 10 cents. The money was used to feed the support troops who came to help, some of whom were bodyguards and warriors dispatched by the American Indian Movement.

When the state patrol arrived to put down the “Indian insurrection,” the atmosphere became a tinderbox.
Comment:  For more on the conflict, read the article or Kootenai "War" Against the US.

Rob's review

Below is a 10-minute video. I'm not sure if this is the whole documentary or a long excerpt. I presume it's the former.

It's a standard Indian documentary, stately and reverential. Flute music and soaring hawks, archival photos and talking heads. It consists of 6.5 minutes of deplorable but generic history, 2.5 minutes on the actual conflict, and another minute of summary.

If I were the filmmaker, I would've launched into the conflict within 2-3 minutes and spent most of the time on it. Most important, I would've included archival footage of the actual "tollgate," with jostling and sign-waving. If I didn't have any archival footage, I seriously would've considered recreating the scene.

This is a subject that cries out for dramatization. Without it, it's the visual equivalent of a newspaper article. I'd rather read the article (or a transcript of this video), because that would take only a minute or two. I might retain the information better if I could process it faster, too.

In short, Idaho’s Forgotten War is well-made but conventional. I urge Native filmmakers to be creative and think outside the box. Look at all the documentaries and reality shows available on TV and the Net, and learn from the best of them.

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