Two exclusive movie screenings, question and answer sessions and movie shorts were some of things guests enjoyed Nov. 2-4 at The Theater at Pechanga Resort & Casino for California’s American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival.
The exclusive films shown at the event were music documentary “RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World” and western film “Hostiles.”
The festival is a program put on by the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at California State University, San Marcos. Joely Proudfit, program coordinator for native studies at the university, is the executive director for the festival, and Cal State San Marcos graduate and Pechanga Tribe member Michael Murphy is co-chair.
Documentary examines indigenous influence on popular music
Bonnie Lowell former Project Coordinator for Film Temecula and current Executive Director of Film Southern California Wine Country, which scouts locations for films and provides a menu of film services, praised “RUMBLE.”
“It documents the influence of indigenous people on popular music in North America throughout its history,” Lowell said. “I’m sure most people are not aware of the many American Indians who became rock and roll musicians. It was educational and inspiring. This is a very historically significant and well done piece.”
The revelatory work uses rare footage and interviews with musicians, historians, and experts and shows off how pioneering Native American musicians helped shape rhythms and styles. The film focused on music icons Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Saint-Marie, Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, and Randy Castillo.
Executive Producer Stevie Salas, an Apache, is considered one of the top fifty guitarists of all time and has recorded more than 70 albums with numerous artists, including Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Buddy Miles, Justin Timberlake, T.I., and funk music legend George Clinton.
“I was inspired to do this after the Smithsonian exhibit of Brian Wright-McLeod’s ‘The Encyclopedia of Native Music,’ which drew record crowds of young people,” Salas said. “The Smithsonian doesn’t normally do rock and roll exhibits.”
“RUMBLE” features interviews with Steven Van Zandt, Tony Bennett, Martin Scorcese, Quincy Jones, Steven Tyler, Jackson Browne, Iggy Pop, Marky Ramone (The Ramones), Robert Trujillo (Metallica), Slash (Guns ‘N Roses), George Clinton and many others. The film was four years in the making.
“This movie is now history,” Salas said, “and I hope it changes understanding and curriculum in our schools.”
A musical performance by Jimmy “Taboo” Gomez (Black Eyed Peas) and Mag7 followed the screening. Gomez is part Shoshone Indian.
Mag7 is comprised of Supaman (Apsalooka Nation of the Crow Indans), brothers Zack “Doc” and Spencer Battiest (Seminole), Emcee One (Osage/Potawatomi), Drezuz (Plains Cree-Saulteaux), Natalia “My Verse” Pitti, and PJ Vegas (Shoshone/Yaqui). The group recently won an MTV Music Award for the song “Stand Up/Stand N Rock.”
A film that takes you on a journey
The highlight of the Film Festival was the exclusive screening of a major feature film, “Hostiles” directed by Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) and starring Oscar winner Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”), film veteran Wes Studi (“Dances With Wolves”) and Academy Award-nominee Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”).
The story line is a journey – literally and allegorically – of legendary Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) who, in 1892 New Mexico, is ordered against his will to undertake one last mission before retirement: escort Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) and his family back to tribal lands in Montana.
The chief was a fierce warrior who had brutally killed many of Blocker’s friends, a mortal enemy of 20 years and many battles. He had been imprisoned for seven years and was dying of cancer. Seen
as a gesture of peace and a political photo opportunity, the mission was mandated by the President of the United States.
The opening scene is a graphic and disturbing Indian massacre of a family – a husband, two daughters and a baby — that sets the underlying theme of hostility. The film is at times emotional, disturbing, and uplifting as it raises questions of who the hostiles really are and then subtly answers it.
The physical journey is a harrowing one, in which they endure harsh landscapes, high elevations, monsoonal weather, Indian attacks, a kidnapping, an escaped murderer, and a final confrontation with ranchers. Along the way, they rescue a young widow (Pike) who witnessed her husband and children brutally murdered in a Comanche Indian attack.
“I am just a young white guy trying to understand the dark and unforgivable past of the atrocities that the US government has committed against the native peoples,” Cooper said. “The message is one of trying to understand the ways of the other, of reconciliation and ultimately of forgiveness
“We are living in an increasingly divisive time – culturally and racially – that is ruinous to us a nation,” he said. “This film is not just about an individual journey, but also a parallel to our time now as a nation to understand our differences and more importantly our commonality, to understand, to reconcile and to be inclusive.”
Cooper said he wanted to represent Native Americans as uncompromisingly and with as much dignity as possible.
“Not like the one-dimensional westerns of the past with Caucasian actors playing Indians who are portrayed as ignorant savages,” he said.
In his quest for authenticity, he sought cultural and language guidance from Proudfit and Chris Eyre, founders of The Native Networkers.
“We could not have made this movie without them,” Cooper said. “They even brought an authentic Southern Cheyenne Chief to the set.”
Christian Bale even learned to speak authentic northern Cheyenne for the film, Proudfit said.
The story is told from Bale’s character’s point of view and Bale’s portrayal was riveting and masterful, often conveying much emotion in a single facial or verbal expression.
Pike’s heartfelt struggle with grief and her triumph over hate was uplifting. “She is sweet, kind, gracious and a brilliant actress,” remarked Q’orianka Kilcher, who played Elk Woman in the film, “She grows from hate to recognizing our mother-to-mother commonality on a human level, the thing that brings us together. The theme is significant and compelling and I grew so much as a human being during this film.”
Studi’s portrayal of Yellow Hawk was extremely powerful, given his paucity of speaking lines.
“Stanislavski says to use life experiences to bring to your acting,” Studi said. “But I have never died before. I know there’s a loss of hope; we all have that inside us. But what do you do when there’s no hope left for you? I think we pass on a legacy to our children and to others.”
Cooper’s film is a social movie and not a revisionist Western. It is the story of redemption and the high cost of redemption. We all have justifiable grievances and thus participate as hostiles in one way or another. We need to confront the challenges and find a way to healing. Cooper strives for authenticity in his storytelling and in communicating this socially-conscious message through this story..
The film is a potential candidate for numerous nominations: Best Picture, Bale for Best Actor, Pike for Best Actress, Studi for Best Supporting Actor, Masanobu Takayanagi for Best Cinematography. Musical scores by Max Richter also deserve a nod. The film’s official release is scheduled for December 2017 or January 2018.
Wilma Mankiller was the subject of the Matinee Documentary Film entitled “Mankiller”, which chronicled her biography through devastating personal setbacks to become the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Her activism and leadership enabled the Cherokee Nation to become one of the most economically and culturally successful tribes in the Americas.
The other documentary “Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation” explores the roots of the ancient sport of lacrosse, the ‘medicine game’ of the Iroquois Nation.
There were numerous other shorts and films played throughout the event as well.
“This is the fifth year of the festival and this year we received more than 1,000 submissions from all around the globe,” Proudfit said. “Being able to hold it here at Pechanga provides us a much better platform to showcase the best of the feature films, documentaries and short films. We look forward to continuing to expose more audiences to our American Indian and Indigenous culture, heritage, and film-making talent year after year.”