Trudell

Filmmaker Heather Rae's celebratory documentary of political activist, poet, performer and recording artist John Trudell serves as both a timely tribute to the man and an important reminder for those in danger of forgetting the issues at stake in the Native American struggle for rights and dignity. Mixing old and new interview footage with recordings of...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Filmmaker Heather Rae's celebratory documentary of political activist, poet, performer and recording artist John Trudell serves as both a timely tribute to the man and an important reminder for those in danger of forgetting the issues at stake in the Native American struggle for rights and dignity. Mixing old and new interview footage with recordings of Trudell's poems, with spoken-word performances — often set to powerful traditional tribal songs and to the music of his own pickup band, and illustrated by Rae's own evocative film montage — and with fond recollections from friends and colleagues, Rae's film briefly traces Trudell's impoverished childhood on a Santee Sioux reservation in Oklahoma, through his stint in the U.S. Navy and to his emergence as one of the most eloquent voices of the burgeoning American Indian Movement. Far from an outlaw, Trudell actually tried to reestablish the rights of his people and of other indigenous Americans largely through legal means, reminding Washington and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that treaties — particularly when they pertain to land rights — are laws and should be obeyed as such. This contention was put to the test in 1968 when Trudell joined the 19-month-long occupation of Alcatraz island, a protest that sought the return of federal land to the Native Americans. It was the first in a string of high-profile actions involving AIM that would ultimately end in failure but would alert the FBI to the organization's growing power. Another was the so-called "Trail of Broken Treaties Caravan," which brought hundreds of Native Americans from 250 different tribes to Washington in the fall of 1972 and led to a four-day occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This was followed almost immediately by the tragic 73-day 1973 siege at Pine Ridge, North Dakota. Spanning several decades, Rae's 80-minute film isn't able to answer every question or flesh out important details of these events, and she spends more time on Trudell's artistic endeavors than on his direct political action. Nevertheless, Trudell's own eloquence, his incisive critiques of U.S. authority and power, and his shattering recollection of the death of his girlfriend and her mother and three children in a suspicious 1979 fire serve as a powerful reminder of an ongoing struggle that's far from over.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Filmmaker Heather Rae's celebratory documentary of political activist, poet, performer and recording artist John Trudell serves as both a timely tribute to the man and an important reminder for those in danger of forgetting the issues at stake in the Nativ… (more)

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