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Independent Indies – Older Than America

Posted on Oct 2, 2008 by | 27 comments

Growing up in Iowa I always wanted to be a Native American, specifically a member of the Blackfeet Nation, because I was fascinated by their ability to hunt buffalo. But mostly because I thought the name sounded super cool. Over the years I began to accept, begrudgingly, that I was stuck being white boy. From Iowa. How uncool is that? But my fascination with Native American culture still lingers.

It wasn’t until I came to college in Minneapolis that I finally saw my first real life Native American. He was standing on Hennepin Avenue a block before a freeway on-ramp begging for change. Needless to say, it was not the noble introduction I had been hoping for. Over the years sightings like this would become painfully familiar, as these members of a once proud culture struggled to exist in a world that has been anything but kind to them.

Older Than America pulls back the curtain and one of the many horrible acts perpetrated against Native American cultures. But while most people can rattle off a laundry list of lies and deceptions perpetrated by the United States government and its citizens against Native Americans, generally people would think these things occurred decades, if not hundreds of years before they were ever born.

But Older Than America focuses on something done through much of the 20th century, and even occurred as recently as 1975. This being the attempted indoctrination of Native American children in government funded boarding schools that were often run by religious institutions. These children were often forcibly taken from their homes and their families and stuck in highly regimented schools that attempted to remove any signs of “savagery” from these children. These children were often abused emotionally, physically and sexually, and as a result the schools had a devastating effect on both the Native American culture as a whole, and loss of personal identity for many of the individuals who were forced to attend.

Older Than America follows Rain (director Georgina Lightning), a Native American woman living in northern Minnesota with her fiancé Johnny (Adam Beach), the local tribal police officer. Rain is struggling with some disturbing visions she has been having recently, and as a result she begins to worry that she might be suffering from schizophrenia like her mother did. When a geologist (Bradley Cooper) from Minneapolis comes to investigate some strange seismic readings at an old abandoned boarding school for Native Americans, events are set in motion that will lead Rain to discover a horrible secret.

Older Than America boasts an impressive cast for a small independent production. With both Beach and Cooper being easily recognizable Hollywood stars, but even lesser know character actors like Chris Mulkey (Cloverfield), Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves) and Wes Studi (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) should be easily recognizable to most everyone. Their is even a sizeable amount of local Minnesota actors in the production as well. For much of the cast it is obvious this film is a deeply personal project, one that has been untold for far too long.

But while there is much to love about this film, from its inspirational message to other Native Americans to its educational benefits for those like me who know so little about the events the film is based on, Older Than America does have one flaw. That being it simply tries to cram too much information, and too many plot lines into the narrative. Rather then strengthening the film and turning it into an epic tale, it has the unfortunate effect of muddying the waters, making it difficult to keep track of just what is exactly going on.

From the atrocities committed by the boarding school, to the illegal use of lands owned by the reservation, to a Native American attempting to run for office against a corrupt politician there is enough in Older Than America for three movies, if not more. The film would have been better served with a more concise storyline, allowing its primary message a chance to stand on its own for all to see, rather then as merely one of several. It certainly is both important and worthy enough of such treatment. But that doesn’t mean Older Than America is not worth seeing, quite the opposite. This is still a powerfully important film, even if it does have a couple warts.

Older Than America (Official Web Site) is the winner of the 2008 Flyway Film Festival Award for Best Dramatic Feature and will be screening at the Flyway Film Festival on Sunday October 12th. For more information about tickets and festival passes, please visit the Flyway Film Festival web site for complete details.

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Older Than America trailer

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Matt Gamble
I review movies. I run a movie theatre. I annoy people. I let my dogs lick my face whenever they want. Sometimes I'm even a halfway decent human.
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27 Comments

  1. Great profile on this. I thought Adam Beach was by far the highlight of Flags from Our Fathers. Too bad I can’t make it out to this festival, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the movie.

  2. Glad you liked it Daniel and too bad you can’t make it out to the festival. This is just one of many films that are worth watching that will be out there. Hopefully, they all will play again in the Cities at some point so you can get a chance to see them.

  3. Very anxious to see this…

  4. Thanks for the recommendation. I probably wouldn’t have thought to check this movie out if not for this recommendation. It might take a while to get over here to Europe, but here’s hoping it’s months, not years!

    As for how much information they packed into it, I find this often happens with movies with a message or issues to discuss: the creators find it difficult to choose just one aspect of the issue, perhaps because they are afraid this is their only chance to get it all out in the open.

  5. @Bill
    It is a solid film. I bet you enjoy it and it ends up being a real crowd pleaser.

    @TB
    That is what I was thinking after watching it as well. They had so many important things to discuss that they didn’t leave themselves enough room to maneuver.

    That all being said, the one thing I really liked about the movie was the ghost story they had intertwined with it. They really opened my eyes into how effective a Native American ghost film could be. Georgina isn’t a genre director, but she still did a nice job with it. If you devoted an entire film to something like that, it could easily rival anything coming out of Asia right now.

  6. It is powerful film that everyone needs to see! The fact that we are still here maintaining our voice is a good indication that we are a strong nation. Art, in any way or form, has always been and always will be a great outlet to keep sharing the stories from generation to generation. Job well done!

  7. The film is a masterful reflection of life haunted by past events. The criticism of too many plot lines and too much information muddying the waters misses the point of how profoundly the present is effected by past trauma. The film artfully weaves these threads in a compelling and riveting story that offers a message of and path to hope and healing.

  8. Thanks for the recommendation. This is a powerful film. I advise all to watch.

  9. Looks like a good movie, i will try to get t and watch it.

  10. trying to find this film so i can buy it does anybody know where i can buy this movie in canada? or online?

  11. same here, I live in Europe, and I have been dying to see this film!! Why isn’t the dvd available?? And after trying to buy it, I tried to find it online, no link… as if this film does not exist!! Too bad really as it seems it is a great film that deserves to be watched (and those are pretty rare nowadays)

  12. Hello…I live in the UK and have always been interested in Native American culture…and the subsequent genocide inflicted on all the indigenous cultures around the world in the name of religion…

    This movie deserves to published on DVD for a wider audience…

  13. This film is wonderful, I work at a Tribal & Community College in Cloqurt, MN where most of this movie was filmed. I also had the pleasure of being in the film just standing among the crowd. I really appreciate the Native american culture, and was quite honored to be apart of the film. I am hoping the movie can be released soon so I can enjoy a copy, and others can see this great film!

  14. I want to buy copies of this movie on DVD. Who is selling this movie?

  15. The criticism of too many plot lines and too much information muddying the waters misses the point of how profoundly the present is effected by past trauma. The film artfully weaves these threads in a compelling and riveting story that offers a message of and path to hope and healing.

  16. When is this film coming to Canada? Or where can we gain access to it? I am looking forward to seeing it. Have I given up the fight and joined them? I wonder sometimes.

  17. Evidently the movie is being released on DVD on the 12th of October 2010….

    Will look foreward to it…

  18. The concept of the movie is good to keep reminding us that the government is not perfecft not even in these modern times.

  19. The film is available on DVD at Amazon.com and from Netflix to rent. Please let your local cable provider, public television station and IFC Channel/Films know if you’d like “Older Than America” to run on television in the U.S.

  20. I agree that in order to convert people into another religion, it’s should be done by example and not by force. On the other hand, Christ said “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”. Native Americans need to embrace the truth if they want a better life here and in eternity.

    • Christ said to preach the gospel not rape and murder children like the catrholics did Who were the real savages the Indians or the Priest and Nuns?

  21. This is just one of many films that are worth watching that will be out there. Hopefully, they all will play again in the Cities at some point so you can get a chance to see them.

  22. I felt that “Older than America” was a very well made film. Native Americans have been going through a holocaust for 500 years.

  23. There is a part of me that both loves and hates this film. Loves it due to the honesty and reality of it, the stone cold truth placed in front of us, and yet I hate it because all too often it is a reality that horrible people wearing religious garb did such terrible things in the name of God. I doubt He would agree that it was His plan, but this isn’t a new story, is it. These kinds of things have been going on for a couple almost two thousand years, or more if we think about it. I love a movie that takes me into reality, makes me think and causes me to touch the sadness, shake with the anger and feel the loss of those I am seeing. I hate the truths they sometimes bring out. I truly despised the priest and all he represented that was not of God. This movie will have me thinking for a few days, or perhaps much, much longer! Thanks to those who put it together.

  24. This movie tells a story that NEEDS telling. Brilliantly done. Adam Beach is amazing.

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