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Native Americans on Film

Native Americans on Film: Conversations, Teaching, and Theory

M. Elise Marubbio
Eric L. Buffalohead
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 398
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  • Book Info
    Native Americans on Film
    Book Description:

    The film industry and mainstream popular culture are notorious for promoting stereotypical images of Native Americans: the noble and ignoble savage, the pronoun-challenged sidekick, the ruthless warrior, the female drudge, the princess, the sexualized maiden, the drunk, and others. Over the years, Indigenous filmmakers have both challenged these representations and moved past them, offering their own distinct forms of cinematic expression.

    Native Americans on Film draws inspiration from the Indigenous film movement, bringing filmmakers into an intertextual conversation with academics from a variety of disciplines. The resulting dialogue opens a myriad of possibilities for engaging students with ongoing debates: What is Indigenous film? Who is an Indigenous filmmaker? What are Native filmmakers saying about Indigenous film and their own work? This thought-provoking text offers theoretical approaches to understanding Native cinema, includes pedagogical strategies for teaching particular films, and validates the different voices, approaches, and worldviews that emerge across the movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3681-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Talking Back, Moving Forward
    (pp. 1-28)

    In the spirit of conversations and relationships, the nurturing heart ofNative Americans on Film,we introduce ourselves to you and extend an invitation to participate in the growing network of people interested and invested in the burgeoning field of Indigenous film. Our friendship and respect for each other’s ideas, approaches to scholarship and teaching, and philosophy of life have flourished over the years that we have been colleagues.Native Americans on Filmis an expression of this relationship and the ones we share with the extended family of educators, scholars, filmmakers, and artists we have come to know through...

  5. Section One: Theoretical Conversations

    • Introduction to Section One
      (pp. 31-34)

      At every good dinner party, numerous conversations take place that sometimes converge, sometimes overlap, and sometimes compete with each other. In the end, fragments of many become one great discussion. Thus it is in this section of the book, where a number of threads from conversations that have been happening throughout Native film circles come together in one fascinating theoretical dialogue. These include issues of representation and Indigenous voice, frameworks or models for Indigenous self-determination and media sovereignty, and the politics of defining what is Native/Indigenous film. The dialogue takes on complexity and nuance as our theorists’ analyses of particular...

    • Dimensions of Difference in Indigenous Film
      (pp. 35-57)
      Houston Wood

      Indigenous feature films exhibit so much diversity that it is impossible to generalize about them. Thinking about the collection of Indigenous films as a whole, then, calls for a focus on their differences rather than on their similarities. Many of these films, for example, employ mostly Indigenous people as cast and crew, while many do not. Some adapt traditional cultural practices to filmmaking, but others follow Western production schedules. Many emphasize distinctively Indigenous content, and yet an increasing number do not. The editing and narrative structure of some Indigenous films mimic older oral traditions; many Native features, however, are plotted...

    • Reading Nanook’s Smile: Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
      (pp. 58-88)
      Michelle H. Raheja

      Toward the beginning of Robert Flaherty’sNanook of the North(1922), Allakariallak, the Inuit actor who portrays the titular hunter in the film, is introduced to a gramophone by a white trader.¹ Having never seen such a device before, the putatively naïve Nanook inspects all sides of the machine, touches it, laughs at it, seems to ask the trader about its operation, and subsequently bites the record in a haptic effort to understand this new technology. In this well-known scene, the viewer takes these onscreen actions as a cue that Nanook is both unfamiliar with Western technology (and therefore oblivious...

    • Dismantling the Master’s House: The Feminist Fourth Cinema Documentaries of Alanis Obomsawin and Loretta Todd
      (pp. 89-115)
      Jennifer L. Gauthier

      In 2009, Canada’s National Film Board (NFB) celebrated its seventieth anniversary. The board was created by John Grierson, a Scot, in 1939 to produce and distribute films to interpret Canada to Canadians and to the world. Funded by the federal government, the NFB was the first such film agency anywhere in the world and has had much success over its history. NFB films have shown at festivals around the world and have received numerous accolades, winning over ninety Genies, twelve Academy Awards, and twenty awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Recently the films of NFB animator Norman McLaren were added...

    • Indigenous (Re)memory and Resistance: Video Works by Dana Claxton
      (pp. 116-134)
      Carla Taunton

      The multifaceted artistic practice of Hunkpapa Lakota artist Dana Claxton intertwines her Indigenous¹ worldviews with contemporary Aboriginal realities to create a visual language that exposes legacies of colonization, critiques settler histories, and asserts previously silenced Indigenous perspectives. Although her vast body of work includes films, installations, performances, and photography, her intricately layered video pieces are some of the most salient examples of her activist practices. In this chapter I explore the ways that Claxton re/frames archival photographs and film, personal interviews, contemporary music samples, and iconic images to simultaneously critique and create. A key aspect of her decolonization project is...

  6. Section Two: Pedagogical Conversations

    • Introduction to Section Two
      (pp. 137-140)

      A number of years ago at a Native American Film roundtable discussion a recurring question came up around teaching Native film.¹ Many of those participating were educators in American studies, English, ethnic studies, or education who had either limited access to Native films other than those promoted by the motion picture distribution companies—Smoke Signals,for example—or who were located in areas of the country that had little interaction with Native communities. Their primary concerns were how to teach the films they could access and where to find other films. Equally important to the discussants was their lack of...

    • Native Resistance to Hollywood’s Persistence of Vision: Teaching Films about Contemporary American Indians
      (pp. 141-174)
      Carole Gerster

      In representing American Indians, as the still-prescient 1979 documentary film seriesImages of Indiansillustrates, Hollywood films consistently offer nineteenth-century manifest destiny stories, white male perspectives, and monolithic images of vanishing Indians. To non-Indians, these films convey the impression that American Indians are relics of the past; to Indians, they send a message of cultural and historical misrepresentation and invisibility. “Persistence of Vision” describes how the eye momentarily retains an image until a new image replaces it on the screen. It is also an apt characterization of how viewers collectively retain repeated Hollywood images of vanquished American Indians until new...

    • Geographies of Identity and Belonging in Sherman Alexie’s The Business of Fancydancing
      (pp. 175-201)
      Amy Corbin

      Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), one of the most widely read Native American authors, gained a taste of Hollywood through adapting some of his own short stories into the screenplay for Chris Eyre’s 1998Smoke Signals,the first Native American–directed feature film to be theatrically released in the modern Hollywood era.¹ After trying his hand at other Hollywood writing jobs that followed, Alexie decided to make his own first film independently, so as to have as much creative control as possible.The Business of Fancydancing(2002) was shot for $90,000 on digital video.² It played the festival circuit and screened...

    • Teaching Native American Filmmakers: Osawa, Eyre, and Redroad
      (pp. 202-222)
      Angelica Lawson

      Feature films written, directed, and produced by Native Americans have increased substantially in the past ten years, and while Native filmmakers have been making documentaries since the late 1960s, there is relatively little information published on how to teach these films. There is a wealth of knowledge contained within these artistic works and educators might find that they can broach a number of topics via Native media. This chapter outlines pedagogical strategies for teaching Native American film¹ from a Native American studies’ perspective. I specifically address ways to build teaching units around individual films to educate students about issues of...

    • “The Native’s Point of View” as Seen through the Native’s (and Non-Native’s) Points of View
      (pp. 223-245)
      Sam Pack

      This chapter describes a reception study that I conducted with both Navajo and Anglo viewers using two sets of films about Navajos in order to compare and contrast their reactions to “insider” and “outsider” perspectives of the same subject matter. The first set addresses the forced relocation of Navajo families from their ancestral homeland as presented by a Native filmmaker and non-Native filmmakers. I screened the films to both groups to determine if either was able to distinguish cultural authorship. The second set of films—one a documentary and the other a television drama—chronicles the journey of Navajos who...

    • The Dirt Roads of Consciousness: Teaching and Producing Videos with an Indigenous Purpose
      (pp. 246-258)
      Beverly Singer

      I have a favorite ceramic sugar bowl, handmade in New Mexico, that I bought at an upscale garage sale on Santa Fe’s eastside. For over twenty years it has been a keeper; I love it. The colors and design reflect my life—an abstract desert landscape with pale blue skies and hues of gold and brown with a swathe of green. It reminds me of the northern Rio Grande valley and the foothills near my village of Santa Clara Pueblo, located east of the Jemez Mountains. At the time I purchased the vessel, my future hung in the clouds as...

  7. Section Three: Conversations with Filmmakers

    • Introduction to Section Three
      (pp. 261-264)

      Everyone loves a great story: to be included in other people’s stories, to imagine oneself as part of their world. Learning is never more engaging then when peoples’ stories lift you out of the classroom or theoretical realm and into the heart of their reality. Section 3 offers us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in filmmakers’ stories. Here we elevate the volume and strength of the personal voices reflected in the previous sections. Five interviews highlight the individual philosophies, perspectives, personal stories, and voices of six filmmakers. Many of the theoretical questions posed in section 1 and the elements of...

    • “Pockets Full of Stories”: An Interview with Sterlin Harjo and Blackhorse Lowe
      (pp. 265-287)
      Joanna Hearne, Zack Shlachter, Sterlin Harjo and Blackhorse Lowe

      Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) and Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo) are part of a dynamic new generation of filmmakers who have bypassed Hollywood in order to make low-budget portraits of families in their home communities. Unlike the self-conscious, direct engagement with media stereotypes that characterized films likeSmoke Signals(Eyre, 1998), Harjo and Lowe tell stories about ordinary people “who just happen to be Native American.” They describe their films as “regional” and “personal,” but their cinematic influences are also global and historical, from French New Wave and American independent filmmakers (Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes, Terrence Malick) to contemporary Japanese and eastern European...

    • Wrestling the Greased Pig: An Interview with Randy Redroad
      (pp. 288-302)
      M. Elise Marubbio and Randy Redroad

      I first encountered Randy Redroad’s (Cherokee) work at the Museum of the American Indian’s Film and Video Center in New York City in late September 2001. The museum sits on the corner of Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan, just blocks from Ground Zero. Army and National Guard, who were camped out in the park and patrolled the area, along with the lingering smell of the destroyed buildings and the debris-polluted air heightened the sense of danger, anxiety, and surrealism of the moment. As I viewed his early award-winning short films—Haircuts Hurt(1992) andHigh Horse(1994)—the...

    • An Upstream Journey: An Interview with Sandra Osawa
      (pp. 303-321)
      Saza Osawa and Sandra Osawa

      Sandra Osawa has been working as a filmmaker longer than any other American Indian in the country. She is also my mother and I have been lucky enough to travel with her and my father, Yasu Osawa, to many parts of Indian country since I was eight years old. At a young age, I never thought the work my parents did was special. It was not until later that I realized that my mother, and really both of my parents, had unique gifts that they cultivated all of their lives to make them into master storytellers; my mother shaped stories...

    • Video as Community Ally and Dakota Sense of Place: An Interview with Mona Smith
      (pp. 322-336)
      Jennifer A. Machiorlatti and Mona Smith

      Mona Smith is a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota whom I met in the early 1990s, when she was producing work for the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Taskforce. These early videos interweave Native worldview with current health issues, gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation, as well as inspiration and Native philosophy in healing. I wrote about two of her videos,Her Giveaway: A Spiritual Journey with AIDS(1988, twenty-one minutes) andThat Which Is Between(1989, eight minutes), which are pioneering and moving videos addressing HIV and AIDS from alternative perspectives (other than Western medicine and disease approaches).¹ Ms. Smith’s early video work...

    • The Journey’s Discovery: An Interview with Shelley Niro
      (pp. 337-358)
      Elizabeth Weatherford and Shelley Niro

      A gifted photographer, bead worker, painter, multimedia artist, and independent filmmaker, Shelley Niro explores the complex world of Native people and community story in the light of being part of the twenty-first century. With remarkable insight and often with humor, her work is intended to deflect and even comment on the customary stereotypes of Native people as represented in art and film. One of her strategies is to confront negative or clichéd notions and turn them upside down, reclaiming their kernel of insight while reframing them into positive characterizations. Niro’s work reflects close ties to her community, family, and friends,...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 359-360)
  9. Selected Filmography
    (pp. 361-368)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 369-372)
  11. Index
    (pp. 373-390)