Chris Eyre, the prominent Native filmmaker, stopped by a
Lakota language class here recently to debunk stereotypes, share his
favorite Native movies and leave his audience in stitches.
The director and producer of “Smoke Signals,” “Skins” and “Edge of America”
spoke on a range of topics – from mainstream society’s fixation on the
dying Indian to his latest movie, “Imprint,” a supernatural thriller set on
South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Eyre, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma, was
in Lincoln Nov. 20 as part of the VisionMaker Film Festival, which was
hosted by Native American Public Telecommunications.
As a filmmaker, he said, he has avoided creating movies that depict Native
people as victims of manifest destiny, a theme too often explored by
“It’s a literally romantic notion to see Native people dying,” he said.
But he doesn’t blame Hollywood, which he says is simply giving film-goers
what they want – an unevolved vision of Native people.
“It’s not about studios making changes,” he said. “It’s about people
For his part, he has attempted to portray Native people in all his movies
as honestly as possible, he said. That’s his obligation as a filmmaker and
an artist, he said.
And it’s put him in the crosshairs of those who don’t like to see negative
portrayals of Native people.
Skins movie was about two Sioux brothers strugling with one brother’s alcolism
For example, his movie “Skins” – about two Oglala Sioux brothers at odds
because of one of the brother’s alcoholism – raised the ire of some who
didn’t like seeing Native alcoholics on film.
“People were really upset about the portrayal of Native Americans in that
movie,” he said.
The difference between his portrayal of Rudy, the alcoholic brother, and
other mainstream Hollywood portrayals of alcoholic Indians was that he
showed Rudy as a human being, not just an alcoholic, he said.
To ignore the fact that Native people struggle with alcoholism is to ignore
the true condition of Native people, he said.
The new movie, Imprnt, cost only $150,000.00 to make
Speaking about his new movie, “Imprint,” Eyre said it cost him just
$150,000 to produce, compared to $5 million to produce “Smoke Signals.” The
biggest difference between the two films’ costs? He used digital video to
shoot “Imprint,” versus film to shoot “Smoke Signals.”
“Imprint” is about an Oglala attorney prosecuting a Native teenager in a
controversial murder trial who returns to the reservation to visit her
dying father. While home, she begins having ghostly visions and embarks on
a quest to discover their meaning.
Unlike his previous movies, Eyre said, he did very little directing on
“Imprint,” leaving most of that to director Michael Linn. He focused much
of his effort on producing the film.
“I was more distant than all my other work,” he said.
For his next film project, Eyre wants to tackle a comedy.
“I’d like to do a re-make of ‘Little Big Man,'” he said. “That was the best
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kevin Abourezk, Oglala Lakota, is a reporter and editor at the Lincoln
(Neb.) Journal Star. He is a reznet assignment editor and teaches reporting
at the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute.