March 30, 2009

Mohawks question Frozen River

'Frozen River' Draws Mixed ReactionShe said many [Mohawks] remarked on the misrepresentation of certain well-known Akwesasne sites, such as the Tribal Council Community Building and the Mohawk Bingo Palace, which are both large, bright structures, not the small, dingy buildings depicted in the film.

Shannon Burns, editor of the Indian Time newspaper on the Mohawk territory, said she interviewed Hunt in 2004, when the director was researching a short feature on the reservation, but could not get her questions answered or telephone calls returned once the full-length movie was out.

"The premise of the film isn't good for Akwesasne," Burns said in a February editorial. "Camp-dwellers who smuggle humans across the river? It's not that anyone here thinks we don't have crime, but don't we have enough real crime and a bad enough reputation without films that give an entirely false impression of the Mohawk community?"

Doug George-Kanentiio, former editor of Akwesasne Notes and co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, said "Frozen River" is flawed.

"The reservation is perceived as a place to be feared, the Mohawks grim and dangerous," he said in a recent editorial piece. "There is nothing appealing about reservation life--no mention of our schools, ceremonies, health centers or arena.

"We remain a vague people, distrustful of the outside world, even as we seek to use our status as an indigenous community for profit and without any consideration for those we exploit along the way," George-Kanetiio said.

"I hope this movie will result in a better one told from our perspective--someday, perhaps."
Comment:  As you may recall, I interviewed Courtney Hunt for the article I wrote on Frozen River. A couple of relevant points:

1) She had to film in Plattsburgh, a town 80 miles away, for technical reasons. But for some reason, I assumed they used the actual tribal council building and bingo palace. I guess not.

2) Hunt got permission from the tribe to film the story. But it wasn't clear exactly who gave her permission. There were the American Mohawks vs. the Canadian Mohawks, the modern government vs. the traditional elders, and so forth. The approval wasn't unanimous, so some Mohawks undoubtedly continued to disapprove.

The white characters (Melissa Leo and her family) fared a little better in Frozen River--perhaps because they were the stars and the Mohawks were secondary characters. The movie did show a few positive Mohawk scenes, but overall the impression was of people struggling to get by. For an economically depressed region like upstate New York, I don't know if that's negative or just realistic.

I'm not totally surprised at Hunt's unresponsiveness. She was talkative in our interview, but didn't respond to followup questions via e-mail. I hope her minor celebrity status isn't going to her head.

For more thoughts on this article, see the Frozen River thread on Facebook.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"The reservation is perceived as a place to be feared, the Mohawks grim and dangerous"

I just saw the trailer for this movie at the theatre a few hours ago. This appears true from the impression in the trailer.