Monday, May 13, 2013

Chris Eyre: Paving the Way for the Next Generation of Native Americans

Chris Eyre on Set

[Excerpt from Smithsonian Article "Youth Renaissance for Native Americans"] The dismal portrayal of Native reservations is inaccurate and harmful. The media focus solely on poverty and the cycle of oppression. What most outsiders don’t see is the laughter, love, smiles, constant joking and humor and the unbreakable strength of the tribal spirit that is there. Some reservations are strongholds of community, serving the needs of their people without economic gain but with traditions leading the way. My hope is that Native evolution will be driven by a reinforced traditionalism passed down from one to another.
There is a calling not taught in religion or school; it is in one’s heart. It is what the tribe is about: to give to the cycle; to provide for those older and younger. My daughter knows it, just as she knows the natural beauty of seeing the clouds coming in the spring.

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So when Moose and I met Chris Eyre in class, there were too main takeaways. 1. This guy loves what he does and wants to help pass it on to other Native Americans. 2. Chris wants Native tradition not to get lost and his movies serve as a way to help preserve the culture and he wants the youth to take pride in their Heritage.

Chris is doing a lot right now to help extend the role of Native film making in an effort to have more Native filmmakers tell the stories and traditions of their people. Though Chris doesn't necessarily make traditional documentaries, he is helping pave the way for other Native Americans to get involved in film and media.

Chris is the chair at The Film School of Santa Fe University. His role at the school sends a message to the youth that we're sure will encourage many young Native Americans to get involved in this new form of storytelling.

Native Americans have always had a strong emphasis on tradition and story telling. Chris wants this to continue and in the 21st century what better way to continue this tradition of story telling than through modern forms of media such as film. 

We here at NativeAmericanHollywood applaud Chris' effort to keep the tradition going, especially through new and exciting forms of media. Chris is at the forefront of Native American cinema and we're expecting him to continue to give back to his culture and help further tribal pride among the next generation of Native Americans.

-J-Dog and Moose

The Time Travel Conversation

WARNING!!!! The Following Blog contains a fictional/satirical language. It in no way reflects the views of Hollywood Directors during the John Wayne Western Era (But realistically it definitely does).

The following conversation is what we here at NativeAmericanHollywood think would happen we if sat down with  John Ford and planned out a scene in his movie Searchers. Afterwards, I am going to explain how guys like Chris Eyre are taking the portrayal of Indians in Hollywood back after decades of guys like Wayne and Ford making them out to be savages.

J-Dog: Hey John, I've been thinking, for this big fight scene between the settlers and the Indians, What are we gonna do? We don't have enough Indians to play the part, right?
Chief Sitting Bull (Lakota Sioux)
Ford: Indians? What the hell do you mean? Run down to the pizza place, grab a couple dark Italian guys, we'll slap a head dress and some war paint on 'em and no one will ever know the difference!
J-Dog: Jeez John, is the head dress really historically accurate? We're talking about Comanche's here, they didn't wear those.
Ford: That's nonsense, look at this picture right here. Headdress, Indian, BOOM, Indians definitely wore them.
J-Dog: But John, like I just said, that's not a Comanche, Sitting Bull was a Lakota Sioux, COMPLETELY different tribe.
Ford: Well lets not be ridiculous here, do you think anyone is going to really care whether or not "Chief RedBuffaloEagle" or whatever his name is factually accurate?! All he's gotta do is give a couple war cry's and come charging at Wayne so he can be the hero and kill him.
J-Dog: I don't understand... why are they attacking Wayne again?
Ford: Well duh, its because he is a white guy and that's what Indians do, they ride around attacking white guys and killing women and children. 
J-Dog: John, did you ever think that maybe Indians aren't a bunch of savages? I know this guy, Chris Eyre, he's this awesome Native filmmaker, he shows Indians as real people, like you and me!
Ford: What? Injuns? Working a camera? I don't believe it, they can barely remember their lines! And besides, we have documentaries or whatever those National Geographic nerds do to show what Indian society is really like.
J-Dog: I'm just saying maybe people would like to see the Indians as real people, yanno they still don't run around in war paint and buckskin, they wear jeans and tee shirts like you and I.
Ford: Listen, kid, I like that you want to save the world or whatever with your whole politically correct nonsense,but this is Hollywood kid. Nobody is gunna pay to see some injuns hanging around on the reservation. We have a job, put asses in seats, and I'll tell ya, America loves watching Johnny boy on the big screen hunting down savages.
J-Dog: But this is legitimately damaging to an entire population of people. This is flat out racism in movies. That would be like if all white-guys were dressed up as Cowboys with a six shooter on their hip. 
Ford: No, no, no, no. Do you know how upset people would get if we type cast ALL white people into the same role? That's ridiculous.

Sooo now that we're back in the 21st century, lets talk about guys like Chris Eyre and what they're doing to change this perception created by people like John Ford.

So Moose and I were talking about what made Smoke Signals such a successful movie. Now we've seen dozens of Native films, both documentaries and fictions, yet Smoke Signals was our favorite. We decided that the reason we loved Smoke Signals soooo much was because it broke the mold we had of Indians. We saw Indians out in the real world, travelling on a bus (thats right! a real bus, with wheels and engine and everything) going across on a cross country journey in jeans and boots not in headdresses and moccasins. When we watched this movie we saw people going on a personal adventure, we didn't just see Indians. Eyre is making films that show us what Indians are really like today and he's doing it in an entertaining way.

Huge props to Chris Eyre for re-writing a manipulated history through entertaining film!

-J-Dog & Moose

Film Indians. Not Native Americans.

Pictured: Chris Eyre

[Excerpt from an interview with Chris Neumer about the film Skins] Maybe it’s not the Indians that people want to see, but these are Indians that are real to me. One of the interesting things to me was Hollywood’s version of this movie was Dances With Wolves because these are Lakotas. There are Lakotas in Dances With Wolves and there are Lakotas in Skins. Only in my version we are talking about Indians and in Hollywood’s version they are talking about Native Americans.

Neumer has just recently reviewed Eyre's film Skins and given rave reviews because of how "real" it seemed. For American audiences, seeing Indians appear as "real" people is a pretty novel concept and that's what Chris Eyre is out to change. Eyre is pioneer, he has broken to mold of Native filmmakers by making movies. Now clearly we know he makes movies, isn't that the objective of all film makers? What I mean to say about Eyre that differentiates him from other Native filmmakers is that his movies aren't just boring documentaries. They contain many of the same aspects, life on the "rez" and the hardships of Native culture are certainly prominent features in many of his films but Eyre spins entertaining stories about these hardships; and he does it different ways. The perfect examples of this style of  storytelling are Skins and Smoke Signals. Both movies take an issue such as alcoholism and humanize them. They show the issues but after watching them you see that these are issues people face and not just Native Americans. The biggest thing I personally take away from the films that Eyre creates is his ability to reclaim an identity for Native peoples that has been all but extinguished by Hollywood over the history of Native cinema. As an audience we are so used to two archetypes of Native Americans: the savage and bloodthirsty warrior, and the exotic, sexually curious Native maiden. Eyre abandons these stereotypical rolls and portrays Indians as people no different than any other race. Now that we see Eyre's intentions, lets break down how hes filming "Indians" while Hollywood is filming "Native Americans"

When Eyre came and talked to the class, one of the things he talked about was owning what you are, and getting through your troubles with humor. Now just because 9 out of 10 films made about Indians are serious documentaries doesn't mean that Native people can't be funny. Sure the ideal Indian, as Adam Beach describes in Smoke Signals, is "strong and stoic" but as Chris pointed out in our talk, the most profitable type of movie is a COMEDY. Now I know what your thinking, who the hell is going to find a bunch of guys dressed up in buckskins and war paint Funny?? Well here is some breaking news for the general viewing audience: Indians do in fact posses a sense of humor!! Shocked?! Look up Charlie Hill.

So Eyre makes these movies and takes everything that has been done by Native filmmakers in the past, takes his (What I can only assume, due to his size) incredible strength, crushes it into a ball and flings it out the window. Now hes ready to make a movie. Eyre spins tales of "real" people and then casts Native Americans to play them. This is where he gets the idea of filming "Indians"- His stories could be made up of a cast of all white guys(Sort of like Indian film in the 1950s) and the story would still make sense and be an entertaining movie.

Closing Thought- Hollywood makes films with what we call Native Americans, but they are far from what Eyre would describe as an Indian. Eyre makes the same kind of films but instead of objectifying his people as some sort of outlandish race that is captured in time between 1840 and 1890, Eyre presents Indians in a modern context that can relate to all cultures.

We thought you ought to know how one guy is changing the face of the entire Native Film industry, and he's doing it one real person and a bunch of laughs at a time.

-J-Dog & Moose

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Who IS Chris Eyre?

 (Pictured: Chris Eyre... looking bad ass.)
(Rotten Tomatoes) The large-framed and ponytailed filmmaker Chris Eyre is a member of the Cheyenne/Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma.

(PRWeb) Eyre and his films have amassed numerous awards, including a Peabody and an Emmy.

"Chris Eyre is freaking awesome"- Kelly Fayard, famed film studies professor and awesome human

So this Chris Eyre guy has been getting a lot of attention lately, and we here at NativeAmericanHollywood thought we should check him out.
Really, what's so special about him? Why is he such a big deal? Who IS he!?

Well that's what we thought originally, but after doing some back ground work and digging a little deeper we uncovered just how remarkable this guy really is.

First off, he is a member of the Cheyenne/Arapaho tribes but grew up as an adopted son of white parents in Portland, Oregon. He eventually re-established ties with his family in order to come to terms with his heritage when he was a teenager. From there, he went to film school at NYU, and after making a couple well received short films, he hit it big with his first feature. He and Native American writer Sherman Alexie teamed up to create Smoke Signals a very fun and significant film that had a strong Native American message but was also very entertaining. 
OK so we can tell that he has had a passion about film from the start considering NYU film school is one of the most prestigious in the nation and you must be serious about it if you're gonna try and succeed there. And succeed he did- his short film "Tenacity" that he made in school won him awards and attention, allowing him to connect with Sherman Alexie and jump start his career.

I also wanna point out that, and it's something we really respect about Eyre, is that he is so passionate about representing his Native culture well and debunking many offensive and inaccurate stereotypes. Yet his films are so entertaining at the same time! We've seen a couple of his films, Smoke Signals, Edge of America, Skinwalkers, Skins, and each of them is great. Yet so often now a days we see films about Native Americans that are slow and hard to relate to and not exciting. But Eyre seems to accomplish the best of both worlds, which is one of the best things about him.

Eyre was a pioneer as well, because when he directed Smoke Signals he became the first Native American to direct a major release feature film. That is pretty remarkable in itself, but to make it even COOLER, the film went on to win a bunch of awards at Sundance.

So clearly, this guy is the real deal. He has accomplished so much already and yet has such a bright future ahead of him. We are extremely excited to follow his work and are even more excited to see what he does next.

Keep an eye on this guy. He's special.

-Moose and J-dog

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


(Pictured on left: Smoke Signals/ Pictured on right: Director Chris Eyre in action)

Ok so last night we sat down and watched this wildly popular flick, Smoke Signals, and decided that we... freaking loved it.

It was funny, heart wrenching, truthful, and just an overall great story.

The kicker? It was directed by Chris Eyre, a Native American filmmaker AND starred Native American actors. Was the result a disaster? Was it a boring movie that only focused on Indians doing Indian things like 'hunting buffalo' and 'singing Native songs around a fire' while 'wearing tribal paint and loin cloths'?


Those for mentioned statements are the common stereotypes that appear in films involving Native Americans. This film was the opposite. It was accurate AND entertaining. The whole package. The real deal.

Eyre did focus on Native Americans, but presented them in a way that was appealing to audiences of all kinds! One of the key reasons that Eyre was so successful was his use of humor!
Eyre confronted the stereotypes and turned them on their head by getting audiences to laugh WITH the Indians rather than AT them.

The film starred Native actors Adam Beach and Evan Adams as the two lead characters, Victor and Thomas. Throughout the film, these two characters have many hilarious exchanges that poke fun at the Native American stereotypes. One scene that we found to be particularly hilarious was the scene on the bus. Victor and Thomas have just ventured off the reservation for the first time on their way to collect Victor's fathers ashes. They just got kicked out of their seats by some racist white men, and Victor is trying to explain to Thomas how to look and act like a real Indian. He explains that in order to be a real Indian, you must look stoic and like you just returned from hunting buffalo. 

This of course is poking fun at the warrior like, savage, stoic stereotypical Indian used in earlier Hollywood films. Eyre clearly is trying to turn the stereotypes upside and make the audience laugh with these lovable characters. 

Thomas and Victor also discuss John Wayne (one of the biggest, well known, Hollywood cowboys and Indian killers. They sing a song about John Waynes teeth and how they don't know if they are real because they never see him smile. Here, Eyre is poking fun at one of the most famous Hollywood Westerners of all time and putting a humorous spin on it so the audience laughs.

To push this hilarity even FURTHER, Thomas and Victor also discuss the film Dances With Wolves (A wildly popular, yet not entirely accurate Kevin Costner film about Indians) clearly acknowledging and putting a humorous spin on an actor and film that heavily influenced the perception of Native Americans in Hollywood.

So through Eyre's use of humor, he creates lovable Indian characters that audiences want to get behind.

These characters were not bumbling fools or savage killers or just plot devices. They WERE the plot! They were funny, charismatic, and the audience wanted them to succeed. 

This flick was excellent, and definitely helped to positively influence the way Indians are viewed in Hollywood.

The film surely demonstrates that Native Americans can create a wonderful commercial product while, at the same time, telling a wonderful story.
I for one believe that this film will only benefit the 'Hollywood Indian', and much of that is thanks to Chris Eyre.


-Moose and J-Dog

TOP STORY: Chris Eyre Breaks into Hollywood Directing in a HUGE Way

 (Pictured: Native American director Chris Eyre)

(SOURCE: Beveryly Singer, p. 61) When Chris Eyre sat in the director's chair for 'Smoke Signals' in 1998, he was the first Native American to direct a major release feature film since Edwin Carewe's brief career ended in the 1920s. 'Smoke Signals', distributed by Miramax, premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Filmmaker's Trophy and the Audience Award. The elite film audiences there who voted for the Native American film, and the support for the film by a major distributor, have helped to reposition Native American participation in filmmaking.

Native Americans directing FEATURE films??? I never thought I'd see the day! Historically, Native Americans have always been in the background and have never gotten lead roles or directing jobs. This generally lead to Native Americans being portrayed in an extremely stereotypical way. Why did this happen, you might ask? Well that is the question. My good friends Rollins and O'connor explain in their book, “For too long, Hollywood filmmakers have created and disseminated stereotypical and frequently racist images of American Indians. Because American Indian people have had extremely limited access to Hollywood as writers, producers, or directors, those distorted images have gone largely unchecked.” (Rollins and O’Connor p. 206). 
This makes perfect sense right? I mean, if Natives aren't even given a chance, how can accurate portrayals be conveyed? How will anyone know what their movies will be like? The fact that non Natives were the people making movies about Native Americans and not the Native people themselves is a large reason why they were being falsely represented in film. To make matters worse, it was hard for Native filmmakers to break into the business and their proposals were often rejected because funding organizations felt that they lacked experience and assumed that they would focus on making films about their own people. 

Yet, it is only through participation in filmmaking that Natives can help create a mutual understanding and garner respect for themselves and their culture, right? RIGHT? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!!!

You guys, this is HUGE news! Chris Eyre has made history here! He had the opportunity to create a massively popular Hollywood feature film, and it was extremely well received! 

But let's think back for a minute... One of the first films featuring Native Americans that any of us saw was the classic John Wayne film The Searchers. I'm sure almost all of you have seen it or at least heard of it. Anyway. This film was all about cowboys killing Indians, and only featured Indians as crazy bad guys. 

Now I don't know about all of you but I'm pretty sure every Indian is NOT a kidnapper, a cold-blooded killer, or a savage murder. Agreed? Good. 
My point being, of course, is that with this opportunity, Chris Eyre will be able to able to positively influence the perception of Indians in Hollywood. 

Yeah. Let that soak in for a minute. A powerful statement right there.
OK ready?

As a Native American director, Eyre will be able to accurately portray Natives, instead of just buying into the typical Indian stereotypes. This film has the potential to be huge. 

We are extremely excited to see this film and have only heard great things. 
STAY TUNED for our follow up post and reaction to the film. 
Smoke Signals ladies and gentlemen. Directed by Chris Eyre. Go see it.

-Moose and J-dog