December 07, 2010

Review of For the Generations

Here's another documentary I watched on PBS for Native American Heritage Month:

For The Generations: Native Story & Performance to PremiereArtists profiled in the documentary include pop-diva, "Urban Indian," Jana Mashonee; classically trained ballet dancers Michael Greyeyes and Santee Smith, Grammy winners Robert Mirabal and Bill Miller, funky R&B songstress Martha Redbone, Painted Sky's own Northstar dancers and a host of others.

"You will be surprised by these performers," said OPB’s Sean Hutchinson who produced the documentary. "Though they all weave their tribal heritage in and out of their music and dance, their performances have appeal that extends beyond what might be too easily classified as ‘Native-American' music."

Part performance, part behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, the documentary profiles the personal stories of the artists in their own words--weaving a narrative through the performances that lends grit and personality to the beautiful artistry showcased.
And:Much of the focus of the documentary centers on the outreach these performers do and their work with native youth. "A person like Jana really shines a light on a pathway to success and presents a model for kids by which they might become an artist or doctor or astronaut--whatever they can conceive for themselves--and not be daunted by some bleak odds," Hutchinson said. An examination of those challenges facing American Indians on and off the reservation include health and fitness issues such as diabetes, alcoholism and suicide.

Artist Bill Miller reveals the healing that music has brought to his life as he returns to his alma mater at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to debut his latest release. "I’ve been through so much trauma in my life, I need to move on too. And I took this music, not knowing where it would go, but now I see the effect. It's a very healing piece of music."

A grant from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, in part, has made the documentary possible. "As a tribal foundation, it is an honor to partner with Painted Sky and other funders to promote Native American arts and culture. As a terminated tribe, we know the value of honoring our culture to perpetuate our tribal history," said Fund Director Shelley Hanson. Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council provided additional funding.
For the Generations: Native Story and Performance  [review]For the Generations: Native Story and Performance is an inspiring and sensitive testament to the importance of performing artists within our culture. The documentary demonstrates that the creative expressions of the “Native Story” ensure the continuing vitality of both the individual and the entire community.For the Generations: Native Story & Performance  [official website]

Rob's review

The hour-long documentary has six segments, each 8-10 minutes long. They're just about the right length: long enough to present each set of performers, but not long enough to cause boredom.

The opening montage is especially nice. Thousands of images of Native artists coalesce to form an image of America. Message: Natives are a fundamental part of this country.

The show might've been subtitled "Song and Dance" rather than "Story and Performance," since that's what it is. Performers such as actors, comedians, poets, magicians, and jugglers aren't included.

The show features five well-known Native performers--well-known to Native audiences, that is--and Painted Sky. Not coincidentally, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Painted Sky co-produced it. The Spirit Mountain Community Fund, the charitable arm of an Oregon gaming tribe, paid for it.

This makes one wonder: Did Painted Sky make it into the documentary only because of the Oregon connection? Was the whole thing created just to provide a vehicle for Painted Sky?

Could be, but the Painted Sky segment is one of the most interesting ones. It would be difficult to say it doesn't belong with the other segments. Therefore, no harm, no foul.

Some specific thoughts on the segments:

  • Jana is filmed during a couple of stage performances. She's wearing a skimpy buckskin dress with fringe and slits suitable for a Pocahottie-style princess. So are her two backup singers. In her interview, she says:Many people have expectations of what they think a Native should be or what a Native should look like.

    I don't want to ever dwell on what's happened in the past. To me it's more about how to move forward, break down the stereotypes, and live like this country was based on.
    You tell 'em, Jana. I can't imagine where people get the idea that Indian women are "sexy squaws" for men to objectify, fetishize, or brutalize. It doesn't have anything to do with your titillating song and dance routine, right? I'm sure men are thinking about how you wanted to become a doctor, not how they wish you'd play doctor.

    Everyone understands that sex sells. The issue is whether Jana needs to sell herself as a sexy Indian princess--a stereotype--rather than as an attractive young woman. Perhaps this performance was an aberration; let's hope so.

  • "Choreographers Santee Smith and Michael Greyeyes' collaboration, The Threshing Floor, represents the culmination of a lifetime of crossed paths."

    Some tidbits about Greyeyes. He was a dancer until age 25, then became interested in acting. He recently had a role in a Canadian theatrical release, Passchendaele, a World War I epic. He's now a professor of theater in Vancouver, where he teaches ensemble creation and movement for actors.

    Smith's dance company is called Kaha:wi, which means "she carries" in Mohawk. "It's also the name of her best-known dance composition, a personal narrative that portrays three generations of Iroquois women and the heavy lifting heredity entail."

  • Bill Miller is a local legend in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which was named for the game of lacrosse. His musical career got started at University of Wisconsin La Crosse. Recently he wrote a symphonic piece called The Last Stand that he performed with an Israel orchestra.

  • The other segments are on Painted Sky, including R&B crooner Jaynez; Martha Redbone and the other Women of the Four Winds; and Robert Mirabal of Taos.

    All in all, this is a fine performing arts documentary. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

    For more on the value of the performing arts, see Preserving Hopi Through Performing Arts and Ponca Actress Has Entertainment Epiphany.


    Anonymous said...

    Jana doesn't need to use sexyness she has it all ! She's smart & has a heart big enough to hold the whole world !

    Anonymous said...

    Oh pleeease...the reviewer was RIGHT ON! I am so tired of this woman. i remember when she came to my Rez and mispronounced our tribe and was half naked performing. WHAT IS YOUR POINT? didn't you learn anything from what the Grandmothers have told you regarding objectifying our women? If your voice is good and heart is big, what does your cleavage have to do with it? For a college educated chick she sure isn't insightful. No depth. Yawn. I feel bad when people are brainwashed by the dominant society and think they're being independent - you are a cog in the wheel that ends in porn and sex, sex, sex that sells. Quit trying to sugarcoat it, you are vain and very unauthentic.