May 10, 2009

Review of Geronimo

Here's my review of Geronimo, the fourth episode of the PBS series We Shall Remain. In this part I'll concentrate on the storytelling aspects.

  • Geronimo was co-written and co-directed by Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), an independent filmmaker, and non-Native Sarah Colt, a seasoned PBS producer. No real complaints about their work.

  • As usual for the series, the quality was good throughout this episode. Since there were few recreations, an authentic look and feel and good acting weren't issues.

  • With the new directors, the style changed a little. Instead of narration over recreations, the episode was mainly narration over archival photos and live-action landscapes. Since the photos were well-chosen--I didn't realize there were so many images of Geronimo--and the landscapes were dramatic, there was no loss of quality.

  • Critics have questioned the recreations, and directors Eyre and Burns disagreed over them, but they aren't a significant issue. With the strong writing and narration, every visual approach has worked well. Ultimately the word is what matters, and We Shall Remain's word is good.

  • More regular (non-academic) Natives got to speak in this episode. Since some were relatives of Geronimo or Cochise, or had grandparents who knew these leaders, this was quite fitting.

  • Geronimo uses three brief animations to show Native myths or concepts. These worked well enough, but I think the narration would've succeeded with or without them.

  • Although this episode was primarily about the Chiricahua Apache, it did mention the end of the Indian Wars, the fate of several tribes (especially the Navajo), and the boarding-school era. So it gave some context to Geronimo's story.

  • The producers promoted this episode as a reevaluation of Geronimo, with some Natives casting him as a villain. Yes, there were a few lines to that effect, but nothing significant. It was much more of a straight biography than a reassessment of his legacy. The most interesting point was about the shifting non-Native views of Geronimo, not the Native views.

  • With strong work throughout We Shall Remain's episodes, the rating comes down to how intriguing the history is. Geronimo's story was well done, but I can't say his life was that thought-provoking. Basically he escaped the white man, resumed his martial ways, and was recaptured several times. He comes across as a warrior who was good at hitting and running but not a leader with a plan or a vision. That isn't exactly the stuff of greatness.

  • For these reasons, I'd say Geronimo isn't quite as good as Tecumseh's Vision. I put it on a par with After the Mayflower. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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