September 09, 2011

Filming Winter in the Blood

Sherman Alexie, Chaske Spencer, and Gary Farmer talk about the novel and movie versions of Winter in the Blood:

On the Set:  It's taken a state to make 'Winter in the Blood'

The film has been a labor of love for Montanans from the governor on down. It was made by local-boys-made-good (the Smith brothers), funded locally and based on a novel by a local Native American author.

By Kenneth Turan
The book, which has been translated into eight languages and remains in print, was a foundation stone of the literary Native American renaissance and has inspired countless writers, from Louise Erdrich ("what astounded me was that something so familiar could be made into literature") to Sherman Alexie.

Alexie returned the favor by becoming an associate producer on "Winter in the Blood." When he spoke at a fundraiser in Missoula, remembers co-screenwriter Ken White, he said that reading the book "was the first time I read a story about myself, the first time I saw my story represented in literature. It gave me permission to speak. It's why I became a writer."
And:Spencer, raised on reservations in Montana and Idaho, is pleased to be able to use his "Twilight" fame to "help projects like this get going." Though his management was not initially enthusiastic, he says, "I put my foot down, I stuck with this project, I fought tooth and nail."

"I'm not getting paid that much; the experience of doing this is the reward," Spencer adds. "There are no special effects, no big-time soundtrack, but it's so layered, there are so many rich emotions. A role like this challenges me. It's why you hustle those tables, why you bartend, why I became an actor. There's no other reason to be in the Milk River up to your chest in sludge."

For Farmer, a three-time Independent Spirit Awards nominee for roles in "Powwow Highway," "Dead Man" and "Smoke Signals," a film like this, based on a celebrated Native American novel with a cast and crew that includes representation from close to 30 tribes, "has been a long time coming."

"For years as an actor, they never let us do the writing," he says. "We had to work twice as hard to socialize the writer to Native American realities. This for me as a career actor is the culmination of that. To witness this after a 38-year career is just magic."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Welch Movie Reaches Kickstarter Goal and Chaske Spencer's Upcoming Projects.

Below:  "Actor Chaske Spencer studies his script on the set of Winter in the Blood outside of Chinook, Montana." (Patricia Williams/For The Times)

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