Bringing contemporary American Indians to the big screen
When Chris Eyre’s debut film Smoke Signals won the audience award at the Sundance film festival in 1998, the industry paid attention. The first American Indian to direct a movie that received a national theatrical release, he’s gone on to line his shelves with accolades from the Director’s Guild of America, as well as Peabody and Independent Spirit awards.
On the verge of two major projects set to recast the popular image of American Indians on screen, the director, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, keeps a sense of humor about being the preeminent Indian filmmaker of his time.
“I always joke, ‘How come you don’t see Indians in McDonald’s commercials? Per capita, we serve more McDonalds than any other group,” he says before a New York screening of his latest film, Imprint, “But seriously, we are invisible in terms of mainstream contemporary images.”
The desire to tell the story of contemporary American Indians is at the heart of Imprint, a thriller about a woman experiencing a haunting that forces her to reexamine beliefs she thought she’d left behind. When asked about his turn toward an audience-pleasing thriller, his response is quick and passionate.
“My newfound commitment and vision is to put the eclectic, contemporary, elusive Native American image on screen. I want to see characters I’ve never seen before, and I want the audience to feel everything they feel for other characters: anger, love, hate. I can get lost in that narrative.”
In 2007, Eyre will drive that vision with Imprint and a film version of Howard Zinn’s progressive retelling of the American story, A People’s History of the United States. Between the two, the filmmaker is poised to bring a new understanding of the contemporary American Indian culture through a commitment to tell the vivid and evocative “living history” of his people.