March 08, 2011

Red Man Films heads to Italy

Red Man Films Goes Continental

By Lorraine JessepeToday, Jones is an accomplished artist, poet, producer and director with 30 years of filmmaking experience. A member of the Producers Guild of America, he received the Muse Award for filmmaking from the American Association of Museums in 1993. Over the years, the power of Indian images on film also made their mark on him—from savage to noble warrior, to the clich├ęd themes of the Western narrative in films like Dances With Wolves, to what Jones sees as the current trend of less flattering topics. “We’re seeing a lot of that negativity coming from our own filmmakers,” Jones says. “It’s not something I care to do.”

Now he is teaming up with actor, producer and director Carlisle Antonio, Northern Cheyenne/Lakota, founder of Red Man Films, a production company he founded in 2010 that specializes in making films that cross international borders. Antonio, who was raised in Great Britain and trained at the BBC, has worked with Disney Television, Miramax Films, Turner Network Television and the American Indian Film Institute. His award-winning 2008 documentary, Coloring the Media, is now being shown across the world.

Jones says the goal of Red Man Films is to make story-driven, commercially viable films with high production values written, directed and starring American Indians. “Hollywood is a tough business,” he says. “Very few people make it, not just American Indians. They have no open doors for anyone.”

Frustrated with the limitations of Hollywood and seeking a new avenue for Native Americans to take control of their own stories, Red Man Films has signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the Latina Film Commission to make three feature films shot primarily in Latina, a provincial capital in central Italy. Ultimately the filmmakers want to open the doors to establishing trade and commerce between Italy and the American Indian nations. The filmmakers are also seeking investment and support from the Indian nations who have the means to do so. “The number one obstacle is money,” says Jones. “It’s really important that our own people support this.”

Their first feature in Italy will be a comedy, The Indians Are Coming, written by Jones. It will be the first major film feature by an American Indian writer-director to be filmed in Europe. The film’s plot revolves around Indian filmmakers making a movie about Hollywood making a movie about Indians. “Humor is just so important to our culture,” Jones says. “I’m getting to say what I want to say, and I’m saying it with satire and humor.”

Jones and Antonio say that with just a few million Indians in America, Hollywood doesn’t see big dollar signs when it looks at American Indian films. “That’s always the argument,” says Antonio. “Who are you going to sell it to?” Jones has a rebuttal to that argument, pointing out that there are some 30 million to 40 million people who claim some Indian ancestry.
Comment:  Making Native-themed movies in Europe is an interesting idea. But I don't think Italy is a hotbed of Indian interest. Germany, Britain, or Scandinavia would be better locations.

A year or so ago, I think some Germans wanted to remake Winnetou with Jay Tavare as the star. Alas, I think that project fell apart. So good intentions don't guarantee anything.

The point about all the people with Indian ancestry is a good one. We could generalize and say that many people are curious about other people. They'll become interested in ethnic projects if the projects are presented the right way. After all, who would've guessed there was a huge American market for hip-hop music, Mexican food, or Japanese anime until someone created it? No one, because it's difficult if not impossible to predict trends in taste.

Naturally Red Man Films wants to tap into "the Indian nations who have the means to do so." That's the Holy Grail of everyone in the business, including me and my little self-publishing effort. So far no one has persuaded these tribes to fund artistic projects on a regular basis. I obviously think there's a huge market for Native-themed movies like Avatar and Twilight, but try convincing a hard-nosed accountant of that.

Doing comedies, romances, and other genre films is probably the way to go for the international market. They're probably not interested in massacres, boarding-school traumas, and the like. But Christmas in the Clouds took that approach in 2001, and I don't think it was a big financial success. Making a good movie and selling it is easier said than done.

For more on the subject, see Any Change Since Dances with Wolves?, Gaming Tribes Must Take the Lead, and Need Hard Data on Native Movies.

Below:  "Antonio, Northern Cheyenne/Lakota, founded Red Man Films to make movies that cross borders."


Anonymous said...

In Hollywood, it's difficult to be original. I mean, look at how many sequels this year will have, including the eighth Harry Potter movie and the fourth Twilight movie. (Note to SMeyer: In China, the word for four means death, and if you're going to have pedophilia in your books, yeah.)

There was one Indian movie filmed outside of the Americas before this: The Tunguska Event.

Jaine said...

Interesting - it was the Avatar movie that lead me to watching Native American films - my daughter and I argued which indigenious American themed films Avatar ripped off - her thought was Pocohontas (white guy's love story and talking tree) mine was Dances with Wolves (white guy's love story set against attempted genocide and white guy saves day) and so we watched Dances with Wolves and Last of the Mohicans again. All it made me do was want to watch stories as told by American Indians. Stories are always better when told by the owners of those stories. Hollywood, I believe, underestimates the interest in other peoples stories - why else would they remake Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Infernal Affairs - perfectly good movies in their own right. I would rather watch a Chris Eyres movie about American Indians that a Hollywood movie about American Indians.

"the eigth Harry Potter movie" - that many movies because that many books (well a lot happened in book 7) that span his school years - the series was always meant to be that and, imo, S Meyer is not even closely comparable to the genius of JK Rowling ;)

Anonymous said...

Technically, Jaine, "attempted" genocide is genocide. Genocide is defined by its intent, "to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group", as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 3 not only defines genocide as a crime, but also conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

dmarks said...

Jaine said:

"mine was Dances with Wolves (white guy's love story set against attempted genocide and white guy saves day)"

Maybe I should watch it again. I don't remember Dunbar saving the day; he was more subsumed into the tribe as a cooperative and respectful member.