Film tries to portray Indian life


“Arnold got arrested, you know. But he got lucky. They charged him with attempted murder. Then they plea-bargained that down to assault with a deadly weapon. Then they plea-bargained that down to being an Indian in the Twentieth Century,” said Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the critically acclaimed movie “Smoke Signals.”

The film was shown last night in Forum Hall and was followed by a panel discussion featuring Chris Eyre, the movie’s director.

The movie, which is based on a 12-page story by Sherman Alexie, is about Victor Joseph and his cousin, Thomas Build-the-Fire, and their trip to Arizona to retrieve the ashes of Victor Joseph’s father. Through their journey, Victor Joseph finds a way to forgive his father and find peace within himself.

“They say you make the same movie over and over,” Eyre said. “My whole secret is that my movies are about loss, about forgiveness, about Victor Joseph never being quite able to touch his father. My movies are always centered around that idea.”

Although the movie is a comedy, it portrays serious, true-to-life Native American issues, like alcoholism and abuse.

The alcoholism is portrayed through Victor Joseph’s father. Eyre said the way the father is handled shows the truths of alcoholism in the Native American communities.

It shows the issues and the hardships associated with alcoholism, but at the same time, he keeps the father a human being. The father is still loved despite his alcoholism and that is what is so real to life.

“This is a father,” Eyre said. “That’s who we are, some of us. Unless you own those things, you can’t heal those things. These are realities.”

When asked by an audience member what kept him watching the movie time after time, Webster said it was the honesty portrayed about Native life.

“He really captured Indian life how it is,” said Billie Webster, a former president of the Native American Student Association and a panelist at the event. “I’ve seen what you see on that movie, you see it in all tribes. That’s what’s really happening out there.”

The movie is not politically correct and that is what makes it so very true, added Harald Prins, professor of anthropology and also a panelist.

This was one of the first movies written, directed and produced by a Native American, said Georgia Perez, adviser of the Native American Student Association.

“Native Americans have been in films since the first motion pictures,” Eyre said. “In the hundred years or whatever [since films have been made}, natives have never really controlled their image in the mass media. That’s what this is about. It’s a balance of some sort, we want to say about how we are.”

The event was funded by SGA’s Diversity Programming Committee. Lisa Tatonetti, assistant professor of English was also a panelist in the discussion.