Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video

Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video

Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video

Wiping the War Paint off the Lens: Native American Film and Video


Native Americans have thrown themselves into filmmaking since the mid-1970s, producing hundreds of films. This book offers the first comprehensive exploration of Native American filmmaking and video production.


In the summer of 1998, I sat in a Tempe, Arizona, movie theater packed with several hundred people from the Native American Journalists Association's annual meeting for a sneak preview of Chris Eyre's breakthrough film Smoke Signals. Most of the people at that screening were American Indian teenagers. the film was much anticipated among those who have charted the progress of Native American film, so I watched eagerly.

Though far from being a perfect film, Smoke Signals features impressive direction, some wonderful performances, and masterful use of a small budget. But I became just as interested in watching the audience watching the film as I was in the film itself. the young people I saw the film with were enthralled, seeing reasonable facsimiles of themselves and their lives on the big screen—most of them, for the first time.

I remember thinking that it was like they were watching Star Wars. and insofar as that group of American Indian young people was seeing something on a movie screen they had not seen before, it was. But rather than special effects and a galaxy far, far away, what those young people in Tempe and thousands of filmgoers that summer saw was pretty much new to them: American Indian actors playing American Indian characters, saying words written by American Indian screenwriters, and following direction from an American Indian director.

Star Wars, of course, was not the first space opera, nor was it the first really good one. Neither was Smoke Signals the first, or the best, American Indian foray into film. and that, needless to say, is what Beverly Singer's Wiping the War Paint off the Lens is about. in the chapters that follow, Singer tells the story of how American Indian film and video makers have been taking up the challenges of telling stories to be seen on screen rather than read on the page or heard within tribal traditions.

The tradition of Native filmmaking that Singer presents here speaks . . .

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