Independent Lens: Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian (PBS)
2010 | Rezolution Pictures, National Film Board of Canada, CBC News Network, ARTE Germany, Documentary Channel Canada, Radio Canada, ARTV, Knowledge Network, APTN, AVRO, Independent Television Service (ITVS)
Speaking of the Oscar-winning movie Dances with Wolves, film critic Jesse Wendt, an Ojibwa, observes that it’s well-made, that it attempts to give its North American Native characters real dimension and is intended to be sympathetic. “But it’s not us,” he says, thereby encapsulating the overarching theme of Reel Injun, Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond’s survey of Hollywood’s fanciful, confused, contradictory representation of Native people. Reaching back to the silent era, Diamond’s documentary appalls and amuses, sometimes both at once. Weaving together interviews with filmmakers, activists, historians and comedians with clips culled from everything from “cowboys-and-Indians” epics by John Ford to Bugs Bunny cartoons, Diamond demonstrates how Native people have been depicted alternately as noble, bloodthirsty, hapless, superhuman, even “groovy” — and far more often than not by white actors in red face. Actors as unlikely as Boris Karloff and Elvis Presley show up in Native garb and “war paint,” and even Iron Eyes Cody, one of Hollywood’s most famous “real” Native American actors, is revealed to have been Sicilian, not Sioux. A closing segment about the emergence of cinema about Native people by Native people (i.e., Powwow Highway, Smoke Signals) rounds out a history tour that is illuminating, critical, compassionate and funny, qualities that earn Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian a Peabody Award.
Executive producers: Ernest Webb, Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon, Linda Ludwick, Ravida Din (for the NFB), Sally Jo Fifer (for ITVS). Producers: Christina Fon, Catherine Bainbridge, Linda Ludwick, Catherine Olsen (for CBC News Network), Adam Symansky (for the NFB). Director: Neil Diamond. Co-directors: Catherine Bainbridge, Jeremiah Hayes. Writers: Catherine Bainbridge, Neil Diamond, Jeremiah Hayes. Editor: Jeremiah Hayes. Director of photography: Edith Labb.