Sundance Film Festival: “Wild Indian” Review
Native American cinema (North American) has been present for over a couple of decades. However, it started to receive more attention when Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, directed by Zacharias Kunuk, became the first indigenous-language film to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2001. Acted entirely in the Inuktitut language, this extraordinary production, in some ways, paved the way for other Native American filmmakers, and actors for that matter, to bring more engaging and complex stories to life. These stories are told from the perspective of Indigenous people rather than those who are often not able, or simply ignorant, to admit the amity, sagacity and modesty of the cultures white colonists all but destroyed. While some films don’t necessarily depict Indigenous culture and customs, some draw a psychological portrait of those who have been affected by hundreds of years of discrimination and deculturalisation.
Wild Indian, written and directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., is one of those stories, where the past tragic circumstances (not all directly portrayed) determine the future of two Anishinaabe boys, Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) and Ted-O (Julian Gopal). Makwa is abused by his alcoholic father while Ted-O, on the other hand, is an ordinary kid that spends most of his time socialising with his young friend. All of a sudden, the boys’ lives drastically change; Makwa shoots a schoolmate in the woods, and without any sort of empathy he ‘forces’ Ted-O to cover up the murder. Due to the crime that they have committed, their lives take on different paths.
Decades later, Makwa (Michael Greyeyes: Woman Walks Ahead), now known as Michael Peterson, has a wife (Kate Bosworth), an infant son, and works for a marketing company. But behind this ‘picture perfect’ life, there is more suffering and struggle hidden than one can imagine – he is cold, detached from his child, and has sociopathic tendencies towards women working in a strip club, a place he visits whenever he is not able to cope with the pressure of home life. Meanwhile, Ted-O (Chaske Spencer: Sneaky Pete), after serving ten years in prison, is finally released and ready to start anew, however, Ted-O’s guilt of his past crime is about to crush Makwa’s well-organised life…
Wild Indian is a socially complex and hard-hitting debut from Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. It’s a portrayal of two Indigenous men who search for their own place in the world. Corbine Jr. doesn’t necessarily seek redemption for his characters but a re-connection with their own soul and roots. The filmmaker drew on extraordinary talents; Greyeyes gives a powerful, multidimensional and almost sinister performance, and Spencer’s impassioned yet tragic portrayal of Ted-O brings a new aspect to what trauma can do to one’s persona.
There is no denial that for many years Hollywood portrayed Native Americans in a grotesque way. However, Wild Indian, and many other films made and acted by Indigenous people, finally reconstructed the role of Native Americans and brought the necessary change to the narrative so many of us are used to. In addition, unjustly and (perhaps) understandably, not many viewers are attracted to such productions as they are often calamitous and demand responsibility. After all, one can’t watch such a film and not feel obliged to educate herself/himself more. Although Wild Indian is Corbine Jr.’s debut, he truly shines through it with its sharp narrative filled with sublime performances from Greyeyes and Spencer.
Written by Maggie Gogler
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