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DVD Review: Reel Injun

September 28, 2010

Reel Injun – A Mongrel Media Release

DVD Release Date: September 28th, 2010

Rated PG for mature theme and violence

Running time: 88 minutes

Neil Diamond (dir.)

Catherine Bainbridge (screenplay)

Jeremiah Hayes (screenplay)

Adam Beach

Clint Eastwood

Jim Jarmusch

Jesse Wente

Our reviews below:


Reel Injun DVD Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

Reel Injun is the entertaining and thought-provoking story of how Native people were wrongfully shown as savages in the majority of classic westerns.  Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond set out in his dilapidated “rez car” to showcase and prove these many stereotypes wrong.  With thoughtful interviews from such authorities as Toronto film critic Jesse Wente and Clint Eastwood, the film often takes on touching deeper meaning for those involved and the people who were deeply hurt by the often offensive depictions.

What’s brilliant about this long overdue documentary is the way it turns racism on its head.  By showing us these unfortunate depictions of Native Americans in pop culture, we are able to laugh at just how ludicrous they really are by today’s standards.  Although it does take a little long to find its footing at the beginning, Reel Injun is a documentary done right and one worth seeing.

The DVD includes a trailer for The Socalled Movie.


Reel Injun DVD Review By Erin V.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Reel Injun is an informative documentary that manages to be entertaining and also, funny at times.  It gives a look into Hollywood through the different eras and how perspectives of Natives in film have changed for better or for worse, depending on the decade.  And by doing it in a masterful manner, it allows us to be critical of these depictions from Hollywood over the years, without telling us blatantly to be.

It’s documentaries on specific topics from smaller filmmakers like this one, that often don’t get seen by a wide audience.  It’s unfortunate, because sometimes they’re just as good – or even better – than the widely released ones.  The thing about the doc genre is that it is a very mixed bag.  Because it is a very educational genre, it can so easily be boring.  While Reel Injun is a little bit long (not by more than 5-10 minutes), it holds your attention, and you actually retain what is said, and more importantly, shown.  The fact that the topic is one so close to the director, is one of the reasons that I think this film has an edge.

Since, as I pointed out, films like Reel Injun rely mainly on good word of mouth, I am glad to have this opportunity to tell you that this is one worth taking the time to find, and see.


Reel Injun DVD Review By Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Reel Injun is a quirky yet eye-opening documentary.  In this film, Aboriginal filmmaker Neil Diamond (not the singer) recalls when he was a kid, he used to watch Westerns, not realizing that the Native people and places shown in these old films were misrepresented.  Diamond decides to visit the people and places that these old films were suppose to represent.

The documentary also features film clips, both old and new, as well as interviews with prominent Native people such as Graham Greene and Jesse Wente.  There is an absurd and funny scene of an “aboriginal” summer camp, which further perpetuates the old myths about Native people.

While Reel Injun is a bit long, it is an interesting documentary that is worth checking out.


Reel Injun DVD Review By Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Many adults remember playing cowboys and ‘injuns’ as kids.  Of course every kid knew that the “injun” was the bad guy because that’s the way it was on TV and at the movies.

Reel Injun takes an honest and often humorous look at the depiction of Native Americans in the media over the past half-century.  Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond takes a road trip of sorts in his “rez” car interviewing a wide range of Native actors and activists, film directors Clint Eastwood and Jim Jarmusch and Toronto film critic Jesse Wente to name a few.

The evolution of the inaccurate and often racist portrayals of Natives is shown in Reel Injun not only through the interviews but through clips of classic and recent film including Stagecoach, among other westerns and even Bugs Bunny gets called out for its inappropriate attempt at humour.  But the film also shows us positive portrayals from such films as Little Big Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Inuit film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

Reel Injun is a very thought-provoking, informative and entertaining documentary.  Though it moves a little slowly at some points anyone interested in film history or Native issues will want to check out this nicely done Canadian film.


Reel Injun DVD Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Reel Injun is a documentary from the National Film Board of Canada on the portrayal of native North Americans in film. Between clips of natives from early Edison reels to the present, we follow  Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond as he drives across western Canada and the U.S. in a beater “rez car” to visit some of the places and people involved in the films. Though early silent reels may have been well-intentioned, however apocryphal, efforts to sympathetically display aboriginal culture, by the 1920s filmmakers were beginning to portray first nations as threatening to western settlers, as a cautionary tale for African-Americans who might be trying to assert their own rights. The 1939 John Ford classic Stagecoach and its star John Wayne are singled out as particularly damaging, followed by about three decades of demonizing and slaughtering film natives as savages. Meanwhile, well-meaning portrayals of stoic, humourless Indian philosophers speaking the Tonto variety of pidgin English with a hint of Yoda would occasionally come out to soothe our consciences.

Until recently, most “Indians” were portrayed by non-native actors, including lots of Italian Americans, notably Iron Eyes Cody, best remembered as the weeping native paddling his canoe through garbage in a 1970s anti-pollution PSA. Originally of Sicilian descent, Cody in fact married into and adopted native culture and a couple of native kids. Though only the Crow Nation of Montana is really known for horsemanship, supplying some of the best stunt riders in the industry, all movie Indians are assumed to be able to ride like Cossacks–bareback.  By the way–headbands are not at all authentic, but useful for keeping wigs from falling off.

Often called the Sioux, the Lakota nation of South Dakota is much more than a brand of liniment (cue the loon call).  The site of the massacre of their people at Wounded Knee, largely in retaliation to Custer’s defeat, is sacred ground to native Americans, with a theme park and mountain sculpture to rival nearby Mount Rushmore. A visit to the actor and hereditary chief Russell Means and a screening of the massacre depicted in Little Big Man to native schoolchildren was the most disturbing moment in the documentary. This 1970 film was a reasonable effort to redress some of the misrepresentation of natives, and they were finally able to display their rich sense of humour. Native actors were used where possible, notably the breakout role of Chief Dan George (actually a chief of the northwestern Squamish nation). As the poorest native community in North America, Wounded Knee was also the site of a 1973 occupation by the American Indian Movement that might have escalated into another massacre if it had not been publicized by the refusal in protest of Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather.

Coming out of Saturday matinees of westerns, Russell Means and his friends got into fights with white kids. Nowadays stereotypical Indians are cool.  Neil Diamond cringes at a summer camp watching counsellors, including one from Austria, paint trash talk slogans on their backs and handprints on the boys then lead them in a whooping contest.

In movies like Billy Jack (1971) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) natives were finally starting to fight back, but to be fairly represented they really needed to produce and appear in their own films. Very funny 1990s comedies like Smoke Signals and Dance Me Outside are good examples. Aboriginals of other countries also came out with films like Rabbit Proof Fence and Whale Rider. The purest and best aboriginal film to date is Atanarjuat (2001), based on an Inuit legend.

Accompanied by a string quintet playing an elegant original score, Reel Injun includes interviews with sympathetic white filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Clint Eastwood, Cheyenne-Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre, Saulteaux actor Adam Beach, Crow stuntman/actor Rod Rondeaux, activists Sacheen Littlefeather and John Trudell, and a useful overview from Toronto-based Oneida media critic and Lightbox programmer Jesse Wente, who also closes the film on an emotional and hopeful note.  This documentary is long overdue.  Miigwech.


Consensus: Reel Injun is an interesting and entertaining documentary about the wrongful depictions of Native people in classic pop culture.  Although it does take a little long to find its footing at the beginning, this overdue documentary is worth seeing. ***1/4 (Out of 4)

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