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Reel Injuns

Distributed by Lorber Digital, 56 W. 46th St., Suite 805, New York, NY 10036; 212-398-3112
Produced by National Film Board of Canada, Rezolution Pictures
Directed by Neil Diamond
DVD, color, 86 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Film Studies, Media Studies, Native American Studies

Reviewed by Rob Sica, Eastern Kentucky University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 6/10/2010

This affectingly personal and richly informative documentary critically explores how Native Americans have been depicted in cinema over the past century as its creator, a Montreal-based aboriginal filmmaker, crisscrosses the United States in a dilapidated vehicle—dubbed a “rez car”—to reach Hollywood, the source of so much of the stereotyping, myth-making and distortion scrutinized throughout the film. En route to visiting historically important sites such as the Wounded Knee Memorial in South Dakota, Geronimo’s homeland in Arizona, and Monument Valley in Utah, director Neil Diamond features an enormous panoply of footage from the silent era of cinema to the present, interspersed with insightful and penetrating interviews featuring celebrities (musician Robbie Robertson), film critics, American Indian scholars, historians, activists (Russell Means, John Trudell, Sacheen Littlefeather), actors (Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves; Wes Studi, Last of the Mohicans; Adam Beach, Smoke Signals), and filmmakers (Jim Jarmusch, Dead Man; Chris Eyre, Smoke Signals; Clint Eastwood). Diamond also journeys to a remote Inuit hamlet in Northern Canada to conclude the production with what is perhaps its most powerful interview, with the director of the internationally acclaimed 2001 movie The Fast Runner, the first full-length film in the Inuktitut language.

Through his personal narration and arrangement of interviews, Diamond skillfully sustains an engagingly dynamic tone throughout the film, aptly punctuating the overriding good humor with poignant moments of plaintiveness, indignation and exasperation at the many distortive portrayals of Native Americans in cinema and television, and at the lingering manifestations in contemporary American culture of the continuing influence of those depictions. Highly recommended for all academic and public libraries, particularly those serving interests in media studies, film studies, and Native American studies.