Immediately after writing about a movie about Geronimo, completely by coincidence—sometimes you have to wonder at the power of coincidence—I happened to turn on the TV on Tuesday right at the very beginning of a documentary about Indians in movies. It's called "Reel Injun" and it's by the entertainingly named Cree Indian director Neil Diamond.
Andrew Schenker slammed the doc in The Village Voice, saying,
Given a formidable, fascinating subject (the depiction of Native Americans on the silver screen and 'how Hollywood's fantasies about Indians influenced the world'), Reel Injun director Neil Diamond (no, not that Neil Diamond) lacks the faintest idea of how to pack it all into 85 minutes of screen time. Combining a road trip from his native Arctic reservation to Los Angeles with an archival cinematic survey, Diamond's treatment of each is perfunctory to the point of inutility.
A little harsh. My take was that it would indeed have been much better if it were longer—as a three- or four-part miniseries of six or eight hours total duration, say—but I'm impressed with Neil Diamond for getting it done so well with the resources he had available to him. Let's face it, few people get to make their projects just the way they'd like to. Most people have to do the best they can. Better 85 minutes than nothing.
The show made me realize, among other things, that several of my all-time favorite movies have American Indians as complex characters at the center of them—Will Sampson as "Chief" in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Dan George in Little Big Man. And it was fascinating to hear about the effect Sacheen Littlefeather's acceptance of Marlon Brando's Academy Award for The Godfather had on the people it was actually directed at. (I recall it being ridiculed by people it wasn't aimed at.) And it gave me a few more movies I haven't seen to track down, like Smoke Signals and The Fast Runner.
Here's the trailer, if you're interested. Good show. The NFB, or some foundation somewhere, ought to give Neil Diamond the money to make the long version.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by martin: "The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) who co-produced this movie is in my opinion a great resource. There is a photo gallery on their website for Reel Injun.
I get a bi-weekly newsletter subscribed to by email and always find a few gems. Many are available for online viewing, although this may not be available outside Canada. (If someone is able to stream from a non-Canadian location, perhaps they can update this post?) The NFB also have iPhone and iPad apps for viewing content. I found two NFB websites http://www.nfb.ca and http://www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/home.php which are good places to start exploring what is available. The catalog is extensive as the NFB has a long history dating back to 1939. I have no affiliation with the NFB, just a longtime satisfied viewer.
"I was blown away by the film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) a few years ago. Not sure where you would find it but well worth looking for."