Independent Indies – Older Than America
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.
Older Than America trailer