Fact Or Fiction? (Genre) Border Crossing in American Indian Film (Essay) - Post Script

Fact Or Fiction? (Genre) Border Crossing in American Indian Film (Essay)

By Post Script

  • Release Date - Published: 2010-06-22
  • Book Genre: Business & Personal Finance
  • Author: Post Script
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Fact Or Fiction? (Genre) Border Crossing in American Indian Film (Essay) Post Script read online review & book description:

In several feature-length American Indian films the filmmakers can be said to blend genres and thereby effect the embedding into their films certain lessons about American Indian history and culture. This border crossing or blending of genres can be seen to serve as a means for the filmmaker to educate (primarily non-Native) viewers. The border crossing occurs in both narrative fiction films and in documentaries; that is, just as the fiction films assume, to a certain extent, the role of documentaries in their efforts to "educate" the viewer into the specific Indian culture or history needed to appreciate the everyday or the contemporary complexities depicted in the film, so too documentaries can be seen to embed particular "lessons" which are not necessarily immediately a part of the main narrative of the documentary, or--in the case of Victor Masayesva, Jr.'s Imagining Indians, for example--which actually take on characteristics of fiction film. In a cinematic environment in which the vast majority of films concerning American Indians are either Westerns set in the nineteenth century or are documentaries about pre-twentieth-century American Indian peoples and cultures, these recent films offer refreshing and much needed antidotes. In this essay I look at several films to suggest how the embedding of such history lessons is at work. The selection of films is limited by space not by available source material, but I have chosen a range of films, including both U.S. and Canadian productions, as well as both documentary and narrative fiction films: Victor Masayesva, Jr's Imagining Indians (1992), Chris Eyre's Skins (2002), Shane Belcourt's Tkaronto (2007), and Stanley Nelson's Wounded Knee (2009), an installment in the PBS documentary series "We Shall Remain." These films are not necessarily intended to be representative but are meant to suggest an array of genres and types that speak to the issue of genre border crossing. What the films have in common, one discovers, is that each embeds cultural and historical information as a means to educate the viewer and thereby destabilizes any notion of fixed genre. Feature-length American Indian film is, after all, with a few exceptions, a relatively new form. Although Masayesva's documentary Imagining Indians came out in 1992, and Phil Lucas wrote and co-produced Images of Indians for PBS as early as 1979-1981, many see 1998 with the debut of Smoke Signals as marking the beginning of truly American Indian film, a film for which director, writer, and actors are of Native American descent. After decade upon decade of Hollywood's distortions and misrepresentations, it is only natural that the writers, directors, and/or actors in these American Indian films would take it upon themselves to offer explicit correctives while they at the same time tell, insist upon telling, their own, contemporary stories. Steven Leuthold points out that "as late as the 1970s, American Indians were consistently portrayed as savages in popular culture," and that the "growth of indigenous media illustrates how conventional portrayals of the cultural 'other' can be challenged through the presentation of alternative portraits.... Native Americans are currently engaged in this process of re-representation through native-produced film and video documentary" (154-156). According to Kirsten Knopf in her study Decolonizing the Lens of Power, these indigenous films "cannot undo constructed cliches, but they can offer autonomous images that subvert ... colonialist presentations" (358). And part of that effort to subvert, I argue, consists of re-educating the viewer.

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