December 11, 2011

Review of Older than America

Some thoughts on Older than America, which I saw at Saturday's human rights event:

'Older than America,' Georgina Lightning receive nom for emerging artist award

By Michelle R. Shining Elk“Older than America” is the story of a woman’s haunting visions that reveal a Catholic priest’s sinister plot to silence her mother from speaking the truth about the atrocities that occurred at a Native American Indian boarding school. It is a contemporary drama about suspense, as “Older than America” delves into the lasting impact of the cultural genocide that occurred at Indian boarding schools across the United States and Canada. Lightning states, the film “covers the root of the problem that caused our Native nation to be in the state that it is in today--the film exposes the reality of the murders and violence that happened in the Indian boarding school system.”Older Than America (2008)Powerful, Gentle and Universal, October 15, 2010
By Andrew Freborg (Stow, Ohio United States)

This film is incredibly moving, powerful, and gentle all at once. The characters humanity is what truly stands-out. Even the supporting and ancillary characters are strong--and most important--multidimensional. There are sympathetic, ordinary whites trying to make a living and interacting as equals to their native friends. There is a conflicted native fooled by a duplicitous priest.

The friendships, family struggles, and disdainful gov. bureaucracies are things to which we can all relate. Healing doesn't come from revenge and hate--it comes from truth. That's the message I got strongly from this gem of a film. Thank you all (actors, producers, writers & director) for making and sharing this.

Review of: Older Than America, November 3, 2010
By M. R. Wilson "Mountain Man" (Earlysville, VA USA)

Georgina Lightning has directed and starred in a powerful film that address the ongoing fallout from the old US policy toward the indigenous people of "Save the man--Kill the Indian." There are strong performances from the veteran cast of mostly native actors including Adam Beach, Wes Studi, and Tantoo Cardinal.

As history has disclosed, many of the children forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Indian Boarding Schools were victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The policy of stripping the children of their own culture and placing them in regimented industrial programs actually continued into the mid-1970's. Many of these children were not allowed to visit their own families for years. An untold number of these children were "disappeared" as well. Indian country continues to struggle with the scars of these policies and often have found ways to rise above the effects of those policies.

Set in northern Minnesota, the film also touches on the darker side of problematic native-white political/economic relationships that continue to this day.

This film is moving and perhaps will bring a better understanding to the dominant society regarding the struggles of those who have been marginalized for too long. Both my wife and I were in tears at the end of this film. May it touch you as well.
On the other hand

Older Than America

By Nick HartelThe toughest review to write is one for a film like Georgina Lightning's "Older Than America" a film written, directed and starring Lightning based on some truly horrific, real to life events. The Native American film genre is often underrepresented and one would hope "Older Than America" would be a standout, featuring two well-known Native actors, Adam Beach and Wes Studi, however, while an incredibly competently made film that does manage to tell the story it set out to, it refuses to pave any new ground, instead settling for quiet mediocrity.Independent Indies--Older Than America

By Matt GambleBut while there is much to love about this film, from its inspirational message to other Native Americans to its educational benefits for those like me who know so little about the events the film is based on, Older Than America does have one flaw. That being it simply tries to cram too much information, and too many plot lines into the narrative. Rather then strengthening the film and turning it into an epic tale, it has the unfortunate effect of muddying the waters, making it difficult to keep track of just what is exactly going on.SXSW Review:  Older Than America

By Peter MartinThe stories that inspired Older Than America need to be told, but the film never draws in the viewer, instead requiring a pre-existing desire to see the stories dramatized and a willingness to overlook the narrative shortcomings. I'm afraid the filmmakers were so passionate that they lost objectivity if their desire was to reach a wider audience.Rob's review

I kind of agree with both sides here. On the one hand, it's an important film, telling a story that needs to be told. It's ambitious, with action sequences and a hint of the supernatural. And it's competently executed, especially for a first feature film shot on a low budget.

On the other hand, it didn't feel as powerful or suspenseful as it could've. There is a lot going on, and some of the character and plot points don't get enough coverage. If you know about the boarding-school crimes, I'm not sure the film will give you any new insight.

But I'd say the negative comments in the reviews above are too negative. Older than America is better than a "mediocrity"; it's a solid and enjoyable film. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

For more on Older than America, see Lightning Nominated as Emerging Artist and Native Films Need Crossover Potential. The second posting is basically a review and I agree with most of its conclusions.


beshtija said...

The movie was probably made with people who don't know anything about the boarding-school crimes in mind, in order to inspire them to look it up. That would explain the lack of new information.

Anonymous said...

Most of it is stuff that, looking back, we should know already. Religious groups are the ones fighting against tougher age-of-consent laws and a longer statute of limitations on the laws already on the books.

cheesefilms said...

In the opening scene we see a sun dance ceremony, from there on the viewer is taken through a series of three different films. Although the writer(s) intention is to bring to light the historically horrific and abusive environment boarding schools meted out to "save the man and kill the Indian", I found myself less interested and sympathetic to the characters that were weaved in and out of mystical and supernatural experiences. There seemed not enough character building invested in drawing feeling from these actors and yet the viewer is given mere glimpses into knowing or relating to each victim. Adam Beach seems clueless and toothless as a police officer, but gets an attitude after it is too late and his fiancé is locked away; the priest seems to have more power on this reservation than anybody hanging around the ER eavesdropping and administering paperwork for a co-conspirator in Tantoo Cardinal, whom seems gullible and weak compared to most native women portrayals on her resume.

During the scene before "Rain" is taken away and is in the hospital, the native male nurse asks the fiancé (Beach) to leave, because "she needs rests"? Indian people (families) do not "leave" hospitals within the first crucial hours out of caution or make sure answers to questions are available or await test results. I take into consideration that this is Lightning's film debut and there is something to be said about the need for shooting this films subject matter, but what would have been more interesting, perhaps in black and white, is to view more scenes or diaries of the incidents of abuse and destruction against a child or children without the need for a bar scene, a white clueless geologists or some pretty native females, that is another film. The boarding schools system and its destructive history; genocide and the bureaucratic incompetence are all tied together in working against natives and should be known, but this film has elements of romance, mysticism, racism and history squeezed into a small amount of time to gain any effect on the misinformed viewer(s). Even the small amount of boarding school footage from "The Education of Little Tree" (1997) made me feel for the title character and his harsh experiences were real or the brief scenes from "When The Legends Die" (1972) were realistic.

The only character that I saw as solid or close to being believable, was Dennis Banks and he has less screen time or notoriety than anyone else in the film.