Remembering Smoke Signals: interviews with Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie.
Article Type:
Interview
Subject:
Filmmakers
Screenwriters
Author:
Hearne, Joanna
Pub Date:
06/22/2010
Publication:
Name: Post Script Publisher: Post Script, Inc. Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Post Script, Inc. ISSN: 0277-9897
Issue:
Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 29 Source Issue: 3
Topic:
NamedWork: Smoke Signals (Motion picture)
Persons:
Named Person: Alexie, Sherman; Eyre, Chris
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
247034914
Full Text:
The 1998 film Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) from a short story and screenplay by Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene), is a landmark in Native American cinema. The film was marketed as a Native cinema first, and in the interview that follows, Sherman Alexie reminds us that it is still "the only film ever written and directed by Native Americans that received national and international distribution. It's the only film that ever went even remotely mainstream." Smoke Signals' success is measurable in other crucial ways--it was well received critically and earned a healthy profit (the film cost about $2 million to produce and grossed $6.8 million at the box office). In her history of Native American film and video, Beverly Singer (Tewa/Navajo) argues that "for too long, Native Americans have been viewed as activists and positioned as opponents of mainstream white filmmakers." She describes the way that Smoke Signals proved "that American Indians can make a good commercial product" (61).

Smoke Signals adapts the Hollywood road/buddy genre to tell the story of two Coeur d'Alene young men, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach, Salteaux) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams, Coast Salish). The two are powerfully connected by their intertwined family histories, which emerge through Thomas' storytelling. After Victor's estranged father dies far from home, Thomas recounts memories, seen in flashbacks, as he and Victor travel together to Phoenix, Arizona to retrieve the ashes. Tantoo Cardinal (Metis) and Gary Farmer (Cayuga) give strong performances as Arlene and Arnold, Victor's mother and father. Irene Bedard (Inuit/Cree) plays Arnold Joseph's mysterious neighbor who, like Thomas, helps Victor understand his father by telling stories about the past. Although much of the action takes place away from the reservation, the flashback sequences consistently represent reservation life as both beautiful and precarious. Alexie drew heavily from his own life experiences in scripting this small, intimate film, and part of the film's depth lies in its oscillation between comic and tragic modes and in its contradictory tones of introspective privacy and expansive public address.

Smoke Signals deftly wields the lexicon of popular culture to assert a contemporary indigenous presence in American mass media. The film's self-reflexive, direct engagement with media stereotypes, especially the romantic "vanishing Indian" of Westerns like Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (1990), reframes and educates audiences about the history of these images even as it pushes against and past them. Characters in the film are highly aware of this history of misrepresentation as well; Victor gives Thomas lessons at one point on "how to be a real Indian," while Thomas tells stories about state persecution for the "crime" of "being Indian in the Twentieth Century." By humanizing Native characters, depicting broadly recognizable family problems, and bringing viewers together around ironic one-liners, Smoke Signals reaches out to multiple audiences. The film is extraordinary for its counter-appropriation of popular culture as a sign system to tell a Native story. Its images and jokes re-calibrate Westerngenre cinematic discourses of tragedy to humorous and comedic effect. It is a film about the power of storytelling to shape our memories and our realities--and also about the importance of Native voices in cinematic storytelling. It offers a definitive portrait of Native modernity in a realist mode, yet at the same time the film's aesthetic sensibility is quite stylized and poetic. This aesthetic is especially clear in the disjunctive transitions to flashback, which Alexie calls "magical," and in a nuanced soundtrack featuring Native groups such as Ulali and the EagleBear Singers.

Miramax had already purchased distribution rights for Smoke Signals when the film premiered at the Sundance film festival in January 1998, where it won both the Audience Award and the Filmmaker's Trophy. It also won awards from the American Indian Film Festival, the Florida Film Critics Circle, the London Film Festival, the Taos Talking Picture Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, and many others. (1) The film's success launched Chris Eyre's career, which now includes extensive feature and documentary film production for television as well as theatrical distribution. His credits include the feature films Skins (2002) and Edge of America (Showtime 2003), as well as television productions such as episodes for the PBS series We Shall Remain (2009).

In the twelve years since Smoke Signals was released, Sherman Alexie's already successful career flowered into literary stardom--he has published more than twenty-two books to date, including novels, poetry, short stories and screenplays. His young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award in 2007. After writing and directing an experimental feature film, The Business of Fancydancing (2002), and scripting a short film, 49?, Alexie continued to write for Hollywood and television productions for several years. He has also developed a range of other film production and performative work, including stand-up comedy. He recently co-produced the restoration and re-release of the 1961 film The Exiles, directed by Kent Mackenzie, a film about Native young people living in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Because Smoke Signals received a strong marketing push and a great deal of media attention upon its release, many interviews with Eyre and Alexie, along with lead actors Adam Beach, Evan Adams and Irene Bedard, are available online in newspaper archives and other sources. These conversations often focus on the importance of the film's intervention in cinematic images of Indians, comparing Smoke Signals to other breakout minority-directed features, particularly Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989). In the interviews with Eyre and Alexie that follow, I invite them to tell the story of the film's production and to assess the film's impact more than ten years after its release. It is important to remember when, why, and how Smoke Signals was made, certainly for its historic significance but also because it continues to be widely taught in high school and college classrooms. And it continues to be influential as a touchstone in the emergence of contemporary Native filmmaking, a Native film that reached mainstream theaters.

The interviews that follow took place by telephone in the summer of 2008 and winter of 2009, and I have edited the transcripts for length and readability. (2) I asked Eyre and Alexie to talk in some detail about the production and post-production of Smoke Signals--including scripting, casting, and location scouting--and about their choices in visual style such as kinds of shots, costuming choices, and editing. I also invited each of them to discuss Smoke Signals' continuing impact on audiences and its influence on Native filmmaking. Both noted the changed landscape for independent filmmakers; the film industry's trend away from small productions powerfully limits the distribution potential of Native and other minority filmmakers. And importantly, the filmmakers also agreed on Smoke Signals" lasting contribution to the cinematic landscape and to pan-Indian culture: "every Indian has seen that movie--every Indian," says Alexie, while Eyre calls the film "an anthem for Indian country." Their emphasis upon the film's reception among Native audiences continues Smoke Signals' original work of honoring Native presence in the viewing audience and on both sides of the camera.

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS EYRE COLUMBIA, MO AND NEW YORK, NY, JULY 4, 2008

Joanna Hearne: First of all, thank you for making Smoke Signals. You haven't talked much about the story of the film's production after the Sundance Institute, so I want to start out by inviting you to tell that story.

Chris Eyre: You know, in the '90s there was this whole movement of independent film that was coming to its height through the vision of the Sundance Institute. And it spawned Clerks and Brothers [The] McMullen, and we were lucky enough to be part of that whole crescendo. I remember my parents, you know, wanted to go see an independent film in the '90s, and nowadays you don't find people that say "I want to go see an independent film tonight." So it was just cresting, and we were lucky enough to be part of it. I found Sherman's short story "This is what it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" in the 1994, I think it was the 1993 anthology The Lone Ranger and Tonto. When I read this story, I said to myself, "Wow, I think that's a movie." The reason that I thought it was a movie was because it had a point A to point B back to point A chronology; basically it was a road movie.

And the other thing that really hit me was that when I read about Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the short story and Victor gives half of his father's cremated remains to Thomas, it really struck me that ... he actually gifts his father to his best friend, which filmically was something I'd never seen. And that was the thing that struck me in the 12 pages of short story--the Indianness of it and the giving part of it. I mean, this is a guy who has nothing to give except a thank you, and in this Indian way he wants to give him a gift and the only thing that's available are the essence of what he's been looking for, which is his father. And that's what inspired me to say this as a movie, because of the impact that that scene had. So that was the genesis of me calling Sherman and saying, "Hey, I'd like to make this short story into a movie." And he said to himself, "Oh, here's this guy and he has no money and he wants to make a feature out of my story." But at the time, that was before Reservation Blues, I don't think Sherman had a novel out, it was before Indian Killer, so he didn't have a novel at the time. So being young guys, we thought, hey, we could do this. I was in graduate film school at NYU and we started talking about it. And I think I incited Sherman to turn to screenwriting by trying to write the first draft of the screenplay. I think that it infuriated him so much that he said, "That's not how you do it, let me show you how to do it" and he literally commandeered the screenplay and whipped out 44 pages in like two weeks. He called himself a binge writer, and he definitely was a binge writer in creating that screenplay.

I'd submitted the year earlier to the Sundance Labs, Robert Redford's institute, and been denied. And then when we had the screenplay for Smoke Signals, they were inviting directors to participate in the filmmaking lab, and I submitted the screenplay Smoke Signals, and they accepted it and brought me to Park City, or brought me to Sundance, Utah, the Institute. I was one of eight filmmakers that was invited to stay for the month, and work with people like Robert Redford and Denzel Washington to learn the craft. And so I spent the month up there and worked with all these amazing mentors, and that's what really gave it another push---people seeing this as a viable commodity in a world of independent film that was booming. And so even with that, it took a year and a half to find the money, even with the help of the Sundance Institute and the exposure that Sherman had and my winning best short film at NYU in the film department and independent film going the way it was going. It was before digital, we were shooting film at the time, and still the budget on the movie was two million dollars, which is a lot of money. To find somebody who wants to invest two million dollars still took a year and a half with all those things going for it.

JH: And you were pitching it pretty constantly?

CE: Yeah, we took it to several people. All of us--the Institute helped, Sherman took it to some people, I took it to some people. And in the year and a hall you have people that kind of come and go and deals that aren't as attractive as you want them to be. I mean we had deal-breakers in that year and a half. We had two other investors that we couldn't make terms of agreement with because Sherman and I wanted to own part of the movie. We wanted to be producers on the movie. We knew we had something that was special. John Sayles said it best when he said, "Financing a movie is like hitchhiking: just because the car stops doesn't mean you get in." And it's the same thing with financing a movie. As desperate as you are to make your movie, just because the car stops doesn't mean that you should get in. This is that part that people don't ever really talk about or recognize, the difficulty of getting a small movie financed, a personal movie financed. We had a couple of deal breakers that went on for six months at a time, and then they end up dying because we can't come to terms with the financier. We did that a few times, and finally took it to a financier that was from the Pacific Northwest. And there were producers that were involved, Scott Rosenfelt and Larry Estes. We all met, and it just kept working and working. And the money was real. And David Skinner, who's the executive producer of the movie, ended up financing the whole movie with his family, and Larry Estes and Scott Rosenfelt were the producers, and we all came to terms and got married. And thankfully it was a good marriage and we made a great baby, but....The difficulty of getting any independent film made is still the same--it's just an endeavor of love. The Sundance Institute spurred people into believing that their stories were important and personal vision was important and I was right in the thick of that, being in New York in the '90s and then going to the Sundance Labs and reading Sherman's work. So that's pretty daunting, after three or four years of developing something, to say, "Okay, now the hardest part is here, now I've got to make a great movie."

JH: What happened next?

CE: We did a lot of conference calls and got agreements all signed with our attorneys, and the money started to flow so we could start hiring location people and we actually went on a location scout in the Pacific Northwest. Sherman had said that he wanted to shoot it on his reservation, which he was reluctant to do unless the producers were somebody that he wanted to stand next to on his reservation. And that was another issue, you know, who are the people you're inviting to your home, basically? So we went on location scouts on the Coeur d'Alene reservation, one of Sherman's reservations. We found locations we liked. We found a DP [Director of Photography] we liked, found an editor we liked. David Skinner kept allowing us to make the movie. And finally we had a schedule to shoot the movie in--must have been April of 1997. And I'll never forget after all these years of wanting to get up this great big hill, and doing a month of preproduction on location ... I'd never stayed in a hotel for a month before in my life. After staying a month in a hotel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I'll never forget waking up one morning and looking out my curtains and seeing semi-trucks in the parking lot, and thinking to myself, "Huh, that's strange, wonder whose those are?" And then it dawns upon you that these are our trucks for our show and it's all equipment and it's all camera packages, it's all props, it's all grip equipment. You sit there thinking it's honey wagons, it's trailers, all this stuff, and you say, "what have I got myself into?" You dream, then it comes one day and then you're like, "Wow, now I have to perform." So I think we had a 23-day shooting schedule. And having gone to film school, I understood it all. I understood the process and it was just a matter of having the bravery to own it. So day by day we went out and started chipping away at it. Sherman wrote a screenplay that is a beautiful screenplay and the producers were helpful and I was the only one besides the director of photography that was there for every single shot of the movie. And so we shot the movie in 23 days and it's kind of like fishing - you never know what you're going to catch. Even though you've made a movie, you go back to the edit room and you're like, "Okay, what the hell did we do, or what have we caught here?" And Brian Berdan, who's an amazing editor, started putting it together and then you don't have any sense of well, how much are people going to really enjoy it? Is it just us that are enjoying it? Tom Skerrit came into the edit room and I remember he left in tears. We edited for about six months and Ulali did an amazing job on the score, and it's just those symbiotic things that kind of come together.

JH: When you were going through this process, were you envisioning the different audiences for the film? Very different groups of people respond to it.

CE: I wasn't thinking of an audience. I was literally an artist thinking that I wanted to see Thomas Builds-the-Fire and this whole near-miss which is Victor trying to find his estranged father. I mean one of the things that spoke so deeply is that I was adopted, and I never met my biological mother until I was 25. So I'd missed my own parents in that sense for 25 years, and as an artist, I could empathize and relate to Victor so deeply. That's what it was about for me, it wasn't about thinking of the audience. It was literally about being an artist and investigating through the actors and the emotions, this thing that I was really close to. I mean Sherman was very close to it, because he wrote it, but I was close to it in a different way--I understood and I empathized with the pain of the subject. I met my biological mother about two years before I made this movie, and I understood that genetic pain and memory and that's what I wanted to see in Victor. It was the best of both worlds, because Sherman and I had different ideas. At one point we were asked in the Sundance Labs what is this movie about. Sherman said it's about Victor and his estranged father. I said no, it's about Thomas Builds-the-Fire being a storyteller that helps his friend realize what it is he needs. I don't think that at any one point we could truly articulate the one thing it did for us--it did a lot of different things for both of us. I think we covered all the bases, because if you really look at the story, it's not about Thomas Builds-the- Fire, and it's not totally about Victor; they both work in this harmonious way that is balanced. Sherman and I both had a deep desire personally for this material--and you could tell because we developed it for four years.

JH: I've noticed in several of your films, Smoke Signals but also Skins and Edge of America, characters drive to and from reservations. You have a lot of shots of from a moving car of the landscape outside, and it's so important for Smoke Signals, but it's something that appears in your other films. What are the advantages of that kind of shot for you?

CE: I didn't grow up in an urban area, so my whole repertoire of seeing things is not from an urban standpoint. I grew up in southern Oregon, and I got into filmmaking through photography, through taking pictures of landscapes--a nerd taking landscape pictures. And that's the way that I love to see my environment--patiently, calmingly out a car window as you drive and you watch the landscape change. I love the West and I love looking out the windows and I love taking drives and I love framing the shots that way, and so for me it was just about looking at the area and getting a sense of it. All reservations are different. They all look different. For me, there's a whole context that you have to place a story in filmically. My biggest high is to look at the landscape and try and incorporate that into the volume of the sensibility and feel of the movie.

I'm doing something right now in Massachusetts. It's called The People of the First Light, and it's part of a PBS miniseries. It's on the Wampanoag Indians, and they lived on the coast down here in Massachusetts. So you go down to the coast now and you see industrialized steeples and power plants, and you see houses and boats, and it's been very colonized for 400 years. And so to imagine that landscape without the houses and the boats and the industrialized buildings, that's kind of shooting in landscapes. So we're trying to find that piece of coastline that speaks to a time before there was a lot here. We've been scouting for this beach and we finally found a parcel of beach that's probably only half a mile long. It's reminiscent of a landscape that I can conjure for being this place.

I love the landscapes and taking the photographs of landscapes. I have one shot that I love to do out of a car and when you take a shot of two characters sitting across from each other, one on the left and one on the right, they're facing each other, there's a term that you say, you know, "give me a 50-50," and the DP says, "Okay, I got ya." It means that it's balanced, it's 50% of this character, 50% of that character and in Skinwalkers and I think in Skins and some other projects, I have a 50-50 shot that's a landscape and a character. You put the camera on the hood, you frame up the character, and you say, "Now I want to pan more to the right." And the DP says, "Well, there's nothing out there." That's the point--that you have 50% of the frame on the character driving and you have 50% of the frame on the landscape and the background. Hopefully you won't see too much of the road depending on how you frame it. It's almost like a split screen, imagining the landscape. And that shot speaks to me as a photographer.

JH: In Smoke Signals, did you shoot the scenes on the bridge, the Spokane Bridge, on the actual bridge over the actual Spokane Falls in downtown Spokane or did you shoot it elsewhere?

CE: Yeah, that was actually on the bridge there in Spokane. We went out and scouted it and the runoff was pretty great in the spring and we thought, wow, these falls look beautiful. And we went back a week later and they had turned the falls off at the dam, and the falls were dried up. We checked to make sure they would be on the day we were shooting, they were, or they got them turned on. We went back and got that shot. Luckily we'd realized that at some point they go off and somebody governs that and not to show up on that day.

JH: I was reading in the screenplay that the footage that you originally shot, the footage that leads up to the bridge, was shot upstream.

CE: It was scripted where it started with a large river and went all the way back to a small creek. It was scripted very differently. And it was shot and the editor, Brian Berdan, found a way to constitute the material in a way that we hadn't thought of and it turned out really nice. There was also a scripted scene--I don't know if you have the screenplay--where Victor's father comes out of the water. And that's what inspired the reversal of the order. So the way it was scripted was different from the way it ended up in the movie. And we shot it the way it was scripted and then just in the editing process it became better doing it in a reverse chronology. And it's because we had to lose Gary Farmer coming out of the water at the end of the movie. What happens is after he dies he comes out of the water and he greets young Victor. You follow the ashes all the way upstream to Arnold Joseph coming out of the water to a young Victor. And the scene just didn't work as well as we wanted it to, so we reversed all the material.

JH: Yeah, it's beautiful. Did he physically reverse the footage or reverse the chronology of the editing?

CE: He reversed the chronology of the editing.

JH: Why does Adam Beech wear a wig? Did he not want to cut his hair because of another film role?

CE: Well, there's an unspoken rule with Native American actors that you really can't ask them to cut their hair, because this is something that they live by. Because every year there are period pieces that come out that people want roles in. For the sake of doing a movie, it's a burden to ask a Native American actor to cut their hair.

JH: So both professional reasons and personal reasons.

CE: Yeah, it's a cultural principal. So we didn't ask Adam to cut his hair. We used a wig, and the wig probably wasn't as expensive as it should have been [laughter], it probably needed to be a better quality wig. For years I wouldn't admit that he had a bad wig, because it was too close. But no, it's a bad wig. I can say that ten years later. And so the way that it worked was that we were about 19 days into 23 days of shooting and I'd approved the wig, and when it showed up on set, it was much worse than what I remembered it to be. We had two wigs, because they're so expensive, one to cut and one to wear, just because of budget. And on the 19th day when he showed up, Adam looked at me and said, "How do I look, dude?" I looked at him and I said, "You look great." I said, "Give me just a minute." I turned around, I walked behind a trailer and I thought to myself: I think I've just ruined my movie. Because at the time I knew there was nothing else to shoot except his scenes with the wig, and I knew that we weren't going to take a day at a cost of $75,000 and not shoot, and I knew that in order to get a wig, a new wig, it would take two days. There was no way we were going to do anything but shoot. So in fact, we did keep shooting. And when Harvey Weinstein bought the movie, he said, "The wig's fine." Because we did entertain doing a reshoot, and Harvey Weinstein who owned the movie then said, "The wig's fine, the wig stays, we're not going to reshoot it." So for years I deflected the comment, but now I can be honest about it--yeah, it was a bad wig but a beloved movie.

JH: Where did you shoot the scenes in Phoenix, Arizona--obviously they weren't shot in Phoenix--

CE: They were shot around Soap Lake, Washington, in the arid desert of Washing ton. We found a couple canyons with cliffs and of those couple canyons, we said: okay, this is Arizona. And actually we found one specific area near Soap Lake that actually looks somewhat like Arizona. So we used that one little escarpment or whatever that is, outcropping of cliff and rock and I think it worked really well.

JH: The film was a huge success at Sundance, clearly. I'm sure that then you went on to experience different reactions in different communities, and probably for the last ten years, ongoing continuing reactions and responses from people.

CE: I don't have anything to compare it to, and my biggest fear is that it will be the movie that I'm best known for [laughter]. It was the second highest grossing independent film of the year. Martin Scorsese wrote me an unsolicited letter about how much he liked the movie. It just showed up in my mailbox. It was a big to do at the time. President Clinton screened it at the White House. I was getting calls from stars, movie stars, and doing major development with a lot of people.

Ten years later, I'm happy that people still love it. Every year, I screen it to people and get responses. And I screened it for the Oregon Indian boarding school, Chemawa, last fall--400 Indian school student kids that are 16 or 15, 14, 17. They're sitting there reciting lines back to me on stage. That's the kind of reception where you're like: "Wow!" It's an anthem, I think, for Indian country, a filmic anthem that people seem to really love. Mothers still come up to me and say, "How do you get your son or daughter to stop coming up to me saying 'Hey, Victor'?" I've screened it at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for Indian inmates and seen them think about the forgiveness of their own fathers or mothers or cry or come up to me at the end and say stuff like, "I'm gonna write a screenplay." And they ask me really technical questions like, "Does the act break between two and three come in the 60s pages or 70s?" Leonard Peltier saw the movie at Leavenworth.

We had a ten-year reunion, and Sherman and myself and Evan were there. It was nice after ten years that the Agua Calientes had a big gala, I think there were 1000 people there, and we got to answer questions. I remember screenings in Japan and Germany. In Japan, there was just such a lukewarm reception, and it's because it becomes very anthropological because it's about Indians. In Japan there was more of a quiet politeness over what they were supposed to be understanding. Year after year, I still get a lot of people commenting on it. I get it every month.

JH: Do you see Smoke Signals as having had an impact on Native filmmaking?

CE: I absolutely think it has. I know that there's a whole generation of Native filmmakers right now that didn't exist ten years ago. When I was in graduate film school in 1992 at NYU, the horizon was a handful of documentary Native American filmmakers, maybe a couple of narrative filmmakers that hadn't broken out in any way. The number of film festivals has totally spiked and generationally, a lot of people want to be in entertainment now. There's more actors, Native American people wanting to be actresses and actors and directors and musicians. I think that right now the whole hard part is getting the movie seen, because I know a lot of these independent Native movies are being made, but I'm in the same boat--to get the movie seen is a whole different trick. I've said this before--if Smoke Signals were to come out today, it might not have a theatrical release like it did ten years ago. It's more difficult to place an independent film than it's ever been. So all these people making independent films now don't necessarily have a place to get them released, except straight to video, and acquisition prices for those are not very high, and even to get a straight to video deal is still work. I think Smoke Signals had an effect and it had good timing, and I like to think that people were inspired by it. I think that there's a whole wave of Native filmmakers that will find their way, myself included, to new ways of being seen and heard. Really what it's about is being heard. I happen to be an Indian person, but it's really just about being heard as an individual.

JH: How does that put pressure on your filmmaking and the filmmaking you see in other Native films in terms of representing indigenous issues?

CE: I think the representation of indigenous issues is an endeavor that all of us participate in--all the movies that get made every year by Indian people. I mean, Sherman made a movie, Randy Redroad--I produced a movie for him years ago--my friend Georgina Lightning has a movie called Older than America. We made a movie called Imprint that Michael Lynn directed. For me, I don't feel a need to make culturally relevant films. I feel the need to make films that are personal and that nourish and entertain. They might have cultural elements to them. I mean one of the biggest misnomers is that Smoke Signals is a cultural movie. It's not a cultural movie at all. I mean the most Native, the most indigenous movie ever made for a commercial audience, that was absorbed by a commercial audience, is probably The Fast Runner. I don't feel the need personally to try to carry a cultural flag as I do to carry a human flag that happens to be connected to a culture.

JH: Thank you for talking to me. I appreciate it so much.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SHERMAN ALEXIE: COLUMBIA, MO AND SEATTLE, WA, FEBRUARY 10, 2009

Joanna Hearne Thank you for doing this interview. I've been thinking about [Smoke Signals] for the past year and for years before that.

Sherman Alexie: Sorry about that. [laughter]

JH: You know, I liked it when it first came out but it's continued to grow on me. How does this industry or independent film landscape look different now for Native filmmakers than it did before or right after Smoke Signals?

SA: Smoke Signals remains the only film ever written and directed by Native Americans that received national and international distribution. It's the only film that ever went even remotely mainstream.

JH: What about young people making Four Sheets to the Wind and Fifth World?

SA: They're making the movies, but nobody's seeing them.

JH: So it's a distribution problem.

SA: And still, Sterlin as well. You know he's the big name now among the young guys, filmmakers. I think what has happened is that some of the business has changed. The studios are only making big movies, and the smaller movies they used to make are now being made by the smaller studios and the independents. Taxi Driver wouldn't be made by a studio now, it'd be made by some independent producers, by one of the independent companies. So what has happened is all these white independent films which used to be made by the studios are now being made by the independents that at one point might have made brown-skinned films. So the change in Hollywood has pushed minority filmmakers even farther into the margins.

JH: Do you see a generational influence of Smoke Signals on younger Native filmmakers and Native artists?

SA: I don't see those films, so I don't know. I know culturally speaking, every Indian has seen that movie. Every Indian. Over the last ten years I've met 90 guys named Victor, who cursed at me, because they spend their entire lives getting, "Hey, Victor" from every Indian they know. So it has entered into the Native American pop cultural lexicon. I hear about it and from it all the time. And pretty much every reading I do in Indian country, two or three people come dressed in Fry Bread Power t-shirts. It has enormous cultural value in our world.... More than anything I think what Smoke Signals captured was the way that Indians relate to each other and that sense of magical realism and cultural stuff, you know, the 49s and the songs and the in-jokes. We artistically represented that but that's who we are as Indian people, so hopefully it influenced people in their films to present more of themselves than to have some specific political aim. I think I said in the LA Weekly article that one of the great issues of Native American films is that we're still obsessed with our politics and we work in a very narrow aesthetic range. You could say the same about our literature--that everything in some sense always goes back to the issue of sovereignty. And I wish that an Indian filmmaker would make a movie that would center around the notion of getting laid.

JH: That doesn't seem to be the powerful motivating journey in Smoke Signals.

SA: Exactly. Well, for Victor... well, there's a novel coming, my new novel, about Thomas and Victor ten years later.

JH: That's very exciting. Will you make a movie out of it?

SA: We'll try. It's called Fire with Fire. There's a conceit in it, a sort of metaphysical conceit, that Thomas has seen the movie...but he points out all the lies in the movie.

JH: So when you're writing this book Fire with Fire and reimagining Thomas, how do you go back into this character?

SA: The thing is that Evan's Thomas is gone for me now. That was the only way it was possible for me to write this. He's gone. I mean, that's one of the reasons it took ten years was because he had to be erased. And one of the ways I dealt with it was to make Smoke Signals a part of the novel's world.

JH: So how did you then begin to think about Thomas as a character who's seen himself on screen? He's sort of watching himself.

SA: Well, Thomas says it in the movie, right, "The only thing sadder than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV."

JH: That's my favorite line.

SA: Evan improvised that. That's Evan's line.

JH: When did he improvise it?

SA: On the spot. I wish it was my line, but it's not.

JH: Were they improvising a lot on set?

SA: No, no. There were a couple moments but that was the big one. I tried to do that with Fancydancing but the ability of Indian actors to do that varies widely, because they haven't been trained to do it, they haven't been expected to do it. But where were we?

JH: I was asking about reconstructing the character of Thomas as someone who is immersed not just in popular culture but also in himself.

SA: Well, it was actually fairly simple, because I have become famous. I am a pop culture figure. That identity, that part of me, I can easily step away from and look at--and the reactions to me, how my life is, the ways in which I have to conduct myself and the things I have to be aware of. So perhaps other people who get more famous or who deal with whatever kind of level of fame get all drowned in it and lost in it. But I've always been able to keep separate from it. So it was easy to write about Thomas looking at himself, because I'm always stepping back and looking at myself, too, and finding it vastly amusing.

JH: One of the things that made Smoke Signals successful with so many audiences is this powerful engagement with popular culture.

SA: Well, that's always the thing that's curious to me, when people look at my work they always say I'm wrestling with popular culture. I mean I guess in some sense I am, but I'm engaged with it, we all are. I think there's always sort of this mode of academic discourse. I'm recalling specific reviews or interviews especially by Indian scholars that sort of treat my engagement with popular culture as some sort of betrayal. I'm remembering the phrase, and I can't remember who wrote it, was it Gloria Bird who wrote that I had failed to interrogate pop culture. That whole line of thinking always assumes that we Indians are outside of it. It also assumes that pop culture is somehow less than other parts of our culture. You know Shakespeare was pop culture. The Iliad and the Odyssey were pop culture. You can make arguments about maybe their pop culture was better, but I don't know, I would put The Sopranos up against King Lear.

JH: What did you think of the way Smoke Signals was taken up? I mean it was parodied in Joe Dirt.

SA: Oh it's hilarious! I was so happy!

JH: People parody it all the time...it's been taken up and parodied and imitated and owned in a way.

SA: I'm incredibly happy.

JH: Do you think that a really broad audience pick up those references? Do the people who watch Joe Dirt get that?

SA: Of course not. No. I mean, in fact, I remember when the producers of Joe Dirt hired Adam to be in it, but they actually wanted Evan. They got the actors mixed up.

JH: You were talking about the in-jokes. A lot of your humor is so ironic.

SA: Well, I always refer to those moments in my books or my movies as trap doors. Indians and those really familiar with Indian culture will fall in, everyone else will keep walking. I guess the prime example of that is when Lucy and Velma are driving the Malibu backwards, in Smoke Signals. When they first pop up and people realize they're driving in reverse, the whole theater laughs, but after a bit you can feel the non-Indians stop laughing, you can feel their collective, "Now what the hell?" But the Indians keep laughing.

JH: And is that recognition?

SA: Yeah, the state of our automobiles. I can imagine if I was in an audience for that movie in a really poor white community--let's say, they played it in Appalachia or northern Michigan among white folks or wherever, or I suppose any poor community in the world of any color, I think that would get a bigger laugh from poor folks in the audience. So I think that was cultural but also a class-based issue...There's also more stuff, too, going on in that scene. Their names are Velma and Lucy, making fun of Thelma and Louise. That's actually my car.

JH: That's your car?

SA: Yeah, I was conceived in that automobile.

JH: That changes that scene for me. [laughter] One of the things I wanted to ask you was about shooting the film on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. You write in the screenplay about the first day of shooting being very close to where your father was born. What was your role in organizing the locations? What was the reaction of the people there to the shooting?

SA: Well, I missed a bunch of it, because my son was actually born during the shooting. So my son is the same age as the movie. I was on the Res for the shooting but I was not there at the bridge that day, so everything I know about that shooting is second hand. But the books were so well received on the Res and in Spokane at that point. You know I didn't have the kind of national reputation that I have now, but people gathered to watch. And on the Coeur d'Alene Res, of course, all the relationships, the ambassadors, all the people on the movie from the Res, helping out, the catering and that stuff, was done by my cousins. So the professionals on film set did their job, but the people they were working with on the Reservation were my cousins, so that just made it all much easier.

JH: And did you organize a lot of that?

SA: Yeah, I made all the introductions.

JH: And was there an economic impact on the Reservation and the surrounding community?

SA: Well, yeah. The hotels were in Coeur d'Alene and all, but it was still a tiny film. A million and a half dollars? The Coeur d'Alenes are pretty successful--that's not a whole lot of money to the Coeur d'Alene. I mean it was more a cultural event. In fact, the reason we didn't shoot on the Spokane Res was because that they wouldn't let us, the Council voted not to let us do it ... let's just call it tribal stuff. And it actually became a campaign issue in the next election. People were very angry that Adam Beach and Gary Farmer and Tantoo Cardinal had been wandering around the Coeur d'Alene Res and not the Spokane Res. So to this day, I still hear about it. People are still mad. "We could have had Clark Gable and Scarlett O'Hara here."

JH: How did you participate in the casting, finding Evan Adams?

SA: Evan Adams. You know ... Chris shot a short film based on the screenplay. And a friend of mine played Suzy in that short film. She ... actually knew Evan, and Evan was willing to do it for nothing for a student film and had his schedule open, so he came to do it. They shot it in New York somewhere. And Chris was actually calling me when he was shooting his film and saying how amazing Evan was and then he sent me a VHS copy of some scenes. The student film, it's the same scene when Evan and Adam are walking to the trailer and Evan is doing that Death Wish monologue.

JH: Yeah, yeah.

SA: Evan is doing it, and even at that point, very early on in the process, he had it. So just seeing Evan walking, we knew it. I knew it. So he was cast previously. Adam was cast without audition. Gary. Tantoo. Indians work tiny. We knew all these folks.

JH: So did you and Chris just communicate back and forth to do the casting, how about this person, how about this person, I'm in touch with this person ...?

SA: Yeah, for the main people, and then there were casting sessions in Vancouver, Las Angeles and Seattle. So some of the secondary roles, some of the smaller roles, we did do the casting process.

JH: Did you coach the actors in their roles at all? Or converse with them?

SA: Evan actually was the only one I had anything to do with. You know Chris did all the other stuff, but since Evan knew that Thomas was in large part me, we talked a lot about it. He would call me from set and talk about scenes and talk about what happened. But part of that was simply that Evan and I really connected as people. We're both Salish, and both had similar histories, so we just connected in all sorts of ways, and then he just borrowed my eccentricities.

JH: I love his performance. When you were scripting, how did you think about performance? Particularly at that early point when you were forming the movie as a movie in your mind and actualizing it in the script.

SA: Well, I didn't know shit. It was my first screenplay. So I didn't know anything about that. That was all Chris' job. That was the producer's job, not mine. I was just trying to make a believable character and make the story he was telling and all of that. Well I guess the thing is ... it was rare for them to even get those many lines. In the entertainment industry, it's all about monosyllables, even in contemporary film ... it's never about language. So in writing all that stuff and allowing everybody to talk in poetry and be funny and be smart and have a wide range of emotions and verbal moments--that was the big thing, just the sheer size of their vocabulary.

JH: When you were writing the script as your first screenplay, were you aware of the need to make it financially successful? Were you balancing that with the other work you were doing in terms of language and representations of these characters that were really a first in terms of their language and their poetry?

SA: If you actually film my books as they are written, they would be Rs or NC-17s. So you know it was purposely written to be a PG, PG-13 movie. I knew that had to be the case. One of the issues I do have with the movie ten years later is it's far tamer than my work is. It's far tamer than the book it's based on. So there's a gentler tone at all sorts of moments than I would otherwise have had. But of course, film is a collaboration, too, so Chris has a more mainstream aesthetic than I do.... Generally in the movie, if it's weird, I'm probably more responsible for it.

JH: How did that work when you began to make the script into a movie?

SA: Well, Chris just shot. In writing the screenplay, the producers and Chris had notes by and large, but mostly they wound up just shooting what I wrote. So I had freedom in that--discretion. It never happened again.

JH: How did the work and the feeling of making film change for you over Smoke Signals, The Business of Fancydancing ... and I know you've written about writing for Hollywood-

SA: Well, with Smoke Signals I was utterly spoiled. After the Sundance workshop, Chris and I worked with a couple sets of producers that didn't work out for various reasons. Then Shadowcatcher here in Seattle called, and I'd met with them many years earlier. And they called and asked what I was up to, and I went and met with them, and they asked me what I'd been working on. And I said, this screenplay. And they said, well do you have a copy of it. And of course I had a copy of it in my bag with me, and I gave it to them. And that was on a Friday and they came back Monday wanting to do it, and two weeks later we were in preproduction. It was so quick and everybody was so excited and we just ended up shooting what I wrote, and in the editing room we had to fix a lot of shit, because I wrote poorly, structurally screwed things up, budgetwise scenes didn't pan out the way they should have. There were all sorts of editing decisions that we needed to correct other decisions. But in the end, it ended up being very much a collaborative creation that I was pleased with and the whole process was very respectful and in fact deferential to me as a screenwriter and originator of the whole story. But since then? I mean, Fancydancing was all me, so I had absolute control, but in the process of trying to get anything else made, even working with Shadowcatcher after that, working with Miramax trying to get something made, working on scripts for Hollywood, other studios.... I mean I understand the process, I understand why everybody gets to have an opinion, but in the end the screenwriter, the originator of the materials, is by far the least important person and has the least amount of power and influence over the process, and is the one most easily replaced.

JH: Have you done any work with Hollywood productions since that time?

SA: Only in development, only writing for hire. And you know, it's funny, I always thought of myself as such a failure, because nothing ever got made, but I never really paid attention to my screenwriters' guild pension. I'd get the paperwork and file it and never thought about it, and then I looked at it one day, because we were meeting with our money guy. I'd always talked about the pension but I just never thought it was going to be like it is. And when I retire from screenwriting, or when I hit the mandatory age of 55 when you can start collecting, I'll be making about $2800 a month on my pension. So if it all goes to hell, I can be living on the Res.

JH: Writing screenplays?

SA: I worked on 20, 25 screenplays in the years after Smoke Signals. And I worked with some incredible directors, you know. Big names, big dudes. I worked with every studio. I worked with HBO. I worked with the networks. I had two TV series almost go to pilot. I had a great run, but it was always.... If it was the only business I was in, I could live with the compromises, because that would be my job and we all have to do that. But in the writing world, in the book world, I am fricking Fidel Castro. I am Stalin. There's no Obama thing going on. There's no democracy going on in the book world. I have absolute control over my career. Absolute. Absolute. I just can't live with that contract.

JH: So when did you stop doing the screen work?

SA: The last thing I actually got paid for in Hollywood was four years ago now.

JH: Now you've just been producer for The Exiles.

SA: I'm helping it get out into the world.

JH: Do you see that as sort of a continuation of the work you've done in film?

SA: Well, you know, The Exiles is such an interesting movie. I hope by associating with it I not only bring this great filmmaker, his work to greater visability, but by doing it, I hope I inspire Native filmmakers, young filmmakers who see and realize that this nearly fifty-year-old film is far more interesting and revolutionary than any of the films we've made about ourselves. So get your asses in gear, Indians. I do not need to see another documentary about fishing rights. Nobody needs to see another documentary about fishing rights. Your fishing rights are just like my fishing rights. I know it, they broke the treaties, we're trying to get them back. There's court cases. I know. Now where's that movie about you trying to get laid?

JH: You're talking about releasing the film as an address to young Native filmmakers. Have you seen reactions to Smoke Signals in young people change from when it was first released and over the past years?

SA: I suppose one thing that has happened is there's of course more kids who haven't seen it--when you're talking about teenagers now or who were just toddlers when it came out, or college students. Some of them haven't seen it. Or they've seen it, and it's so new to them, I guess that's what I like too. It's not everybody seeing it for the first time, but you run into people seeing it for the first time and they feel like it's so new, and then you have to explain to them, no, we shot this thing 12 years ago. It was released ten years ago. It's not new. It's sad. It's not new. It should be new. There should be more. This is just it. I guess there's that same combination of loving the excitement of somebody seeing it for the first time, an Indian kid, but also the sadness of having to tell them that this is still it. And then non-Indians, it's been great. Two weeks ago I met a man who kept in his wallet, in one of those baseball card protectors for collectors ... in that little plastic thing was his ticket for seeing Smoke Signals in Spokane at its premiere in 1998, which was amazing.

JH: That's a fan.

SA: A white guy. Yeah, and then in Philadelphia on book tour in 2007, I met a couple whose first date was a blind date and they'd seen Smoke Signals and they'd got married a year later and they've been married ever since.

JH: So people come to you with these stories about their first viewing of this film?

SA: Yeah, which is always great. And then you look on YouTube, people are doing their parodies and their remakes and their mockings of Smoke Signals.

JH: You've started writing really deliberately for a young adult audience ... could you talk a bit about writing in this focused way for a young audience--and are you adapting The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for film as well?

SA: Yeah, it's optioned and I really like the folks. See once again, I really like them but this book which has sold over 300,000 copies, which won ever frickin' award imaginable, incredibly, a huge success ... and you know, it's not even optioned, because nobody would option it to make it. So I have a handshake deal with these cool producers, and we're going to try to write the screenplay and go out with the screenplay. That's happening again. It just kills me, because you go to these meetings with these producers and these executives and the mucky muck Hollywood folks and they would talk about how much they loved the book and how their kids were reading it in school. A few executives actually called us in because their kids had brought the book home from school telling their dad how much they loved it and how it should be made. Or their mom. And then I'd go into the meeting and nothing would happen.

But in terms of writing the books themselves, my books, particularly Lone Ranger and then Smoke Signals, have always done really well with young folks, teenage audiences. So young adult publishers have often talked to me, and I get invited to high schools and I've done librarian things for a long time. So it was always brewing, I'd just never really had the idea. I was always thinking outside myself for a Y.A. novel and then realized one day wait, [my first year at Reardon] was pretty god-damned amazing. And it was.

JH: One of the moments you talk about in the opening of the published screenplay for Smoke Signals is about the first movie that you remember seeing as a kid, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and then you talk about the first day of filming Smoke Signals, filming very close to where your father was born. What was that transition like, from being a spectator to being a producer of film?

SA: It's pretty amazing to be in charge of our own images. I'm sure Chris would tell you the same. I think we were immediately aware that we were doing something revolutionary, that it was a revolutionary moment. Yeah, I knew that. I don't remember if Chris and I ever spoke about it directly in those terms. I know how excited we were. We knew it. We knew it. We were doing something amazing. Of course, we hoped it would change the world forever. In bigger ways and more dramatic ways, it didn't. Ten years ago I think it was still possible. I think with the endless resources, the endless opportunities, the endless options now in media, I don't think there's a film that will ever do it again. But in 1998, it was still possible, there weren't as many options.

JH: So when did you know that you first wanted to make movies? Was this just the first one?

SA: Well, that was an earlier thought of mine before I thought about writing books. Making movies seemed to be more of a possibility than writing books. So yeah. I was always in the school plays on the Res. Because I was the best reader and the least shy, I was always narrator or whatever lead. So in the Christmas play I was the narrator and Santa Claus. Because I had a better memory, too, I could play all sorts of people, because I could remember the lines.

JH: When you were scripting the film, how did you imagine the audiences reacting to it? Did you have an imaginary audience when you were writing it?

SA: Uh, you know, Indians. I guess, where was the first time we screened it in its entirety? God, when was that? Oh yeah, it was here, in Seattle, and my mom and my dad and my siblings came. I guess in some sense I was always writing for them, since everything is about us and so biographical and autobiographical. So when they loved it so much, that was probably it.

JH: And then have there been audience reactions that have really surprised you?

SA: Minnesota. Minneapolis. Screened it at the university there and the sound kept going out, going in and out, but there were enough Indians in the crowd who had seen it enough times, they started filling in dialogue. The Rocky Horror Indian Picture Show.

JH: What were your strongest influences when you were writing Smoke Signals?

SA: Oh wow, it's so funny, it's 12 years ago. Certainly, you just think about any oddball road movies. But I actually went on this trip. That's the primary influence. My best friend from the Res and I went to Phoenix to get his dad's remains and we drove them back. So at the most basic level the primary influence was what actually happened. And after that it ended up being all the road movies imaginable.

JH: Some reviewers, Roger Ebert for example, sees and writes about Smoke Signals as a continuation of Powwow Highway--I wonder what you think about that.

SA: Well, it's because it's about Indians and they go on a road trip. So, yeah. And I like the movie Powwow Highway, but I think in many ways Smoke Signals is actually an antidote to that. Powwow Highway--there's some pretty goofy stuff in there, and they take the goofy stuff seriously. Like when they're wading into the stream there in South Dakota in December, which would have killed them. Or when A. Martinez is stopping that police car and all of the sudden he's dressed in warrior gear, there's that fantasy moment. You know when Philbert survives that awful wreck down the side of the road. I think in all sorts of ways Hollywood intrudes on Powwow Highway and it doesn't do that in Smoke Signals. I think maybe because Powwow Highway was made by non-Indians. And also the sense of humor and all that stuff that does make it in that, they borrowed that from us. Not the other way around. That said, when I first saw Powwow Highway, that was like "wow." It made me very happy.

JH: What about Lester FallsApart, is that a reference to the Chinua Achebe novel [Things Fall Apart]?

SA: You know, I first wrote that guy, Lester FallsApart, in 1987. After I read that fucking book. And you're the first person who's ever asked me that.... But that's the thing, I'm an Indian guy, so people wouldn't assume I'd actually read something.... The only thing they sometimes do is they'll refer to, that's borrowed from Yeats--

JH: The Second Coming.

SA: Yeah, they'll remember that, they won't go back to the novel. Because I'm a poet, they think I'll be quoting poets and not international novels.

JH: It's your website identity, and it's this incredible character in Smoke Signals--people love this character. What's the influence of the novel and why is it so prominent?

SA: Well, really basically that's a Sisyphus novel, and there's no identity in the world more Sisyphian than Native Americans.

JH: Trying to make a movie.

SA: Trying to make a career, trying make a life, and the sand just keeps fucking pouring.

JH: Why the emphasis on cars? Why is the movie so invested in cars and the road trip as a genre, as an icon, as something that's specifically Indian?

SA: Because I live in the West. Most of us live in the West and it takes a long fucking time to get anywhere. It really is that. On a snowy day, it sometimes took me 90 minutes to get to high school. Twice I snowmobiled to high school. At one point in our lives, horses were vitally important to get places. Cars just took their place. That's always the argument. People are trying to change car culture in the United States, the dependence on gas and oil and that stuff, but the point is cars are sacred.

JH: When Smoke Signals was first released, what did you think of the press coverage and the reviews? I've read so much really positive stuff.

SA: I'm just the type of guy who always tends to believe the negative ones. I think Michael Atkinson really hammered it in The Village Voice, so I really liked that one--just that whole racial inferiority complex. Michael Atkinson's hammer of it just gave me a giant erection. I can't remember the positive ones. Although Peter Travers, he put us as one of his top ten movies of the year. I remember that, that was amazing. I thought, wow, really? Are you sure? Although his also has the saddest note. I read the review again and it said something about "the welcome of a startling new original voice in American film" or something like that and the notion of the hope that there's going to be more. Looking at it now, it's sort of like, it sort of feels like the obituary for a promising athlete who died in a car wreck. That's what it feels like. So those are all my positive memories of the reviews [laughter].

JH: I want to be more optimistic.

SA: 99% of them were incredible I'm sure. Let me look on Rotten Tomatoes. What is the percentage of positive?

JH: So what will happen? There are a lot more young people interested in movies and making movies and acting than there were.

SA: What I tell them is to completely give up the idea of theatrical distribution. Don't even pursue it. You're dreaming you're going to be Angelina Jolie, and it doesn't happen. Our Angelina Jolie is Irene Bedard and she can't get a fucking role. Nothing. Our Brad Pitt is Adam Beach. He gets nothing. So give it up, don't even try. You have to go utterly independent. And with the technology available now, you can get an HD camera for a couple hundred bucks. You can get Final Cut Express on your computer for a couple hundred dollars. You can get started with about $1000.

Yeah, you have to avoid it, just don't do it.... Don't even pursue the traditional route. Stay away. Don't be a Hangs Around the Fort. Be a Crazy Horse of filmmaking. Be Red Cloud

JH: What can people do to further pursue and see Native films, in this context of no major distribution--when it's possible to make things on a very low budget but not easy to see them?

SA: Everybody has high speed internet now. Everybody has a DVD player and DVD burners are cheap. As I'm saying all this, there's a subtext here of don't be surprised in about six months to a year when my website is featuring something else entirely. We are learning technology. I have bought my cameras.

JH: I really appreciate your insights. Thank you for making the film.

SA: Thank you for this.

Works Cited

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.

--Indian Killer. Atlantic Monthly Pres, 2006.

--. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: Grove Press 1993.

--Reservation Blues. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.

--Smoke Signals: A Screenplay. New York: Hyperion, 1998.

Fleischer, Matthew. "Gone with the Wind." LA Weekly 11 April 2007, http://www. laweekly.com / 2007-04-12 / film-tv / gone-with-the-wind/.

Hearne, Joanna. "'John Wayne's Teeth': Speech, Sound and Representation in Smoke Signals and Imagining Indians." Western Folklore 64.3&4 (2005): 189-208.

--. "'Indians Watching Indians on TV': Native Spectatorship and the Politics of Recognition in Skins and Smoke Signals." Native Recognition: Indigenous Cinema and the Western. Albany: State U of New York P (forthcoming).

--. Smoke Signals and the Emergence of Native American Cinema. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P (in progress).

Singer, Beverly R. Wiping the War Paint Off the Lens: Native American Film and Video. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2001.

Films

The Business of Fancydancing. Dir. Sherman Alexie. Wellspring, 2002.

Do the Right Thing. Din Spike Lee. Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, 1989.

Edge of America. Dir. Chris Eyre. Showtime, 2003.

The Exiles. Dir. Kent Mckenzie, 1961. Milestone, 2008.

The Fast Runner. Dir. Zacharias Kunuk. Isuma, 2001.

Fifth World. Dir. Blackhorse Lowe, 2005.

Four Sheets to the Wind. Dir Sterlin Harjo. First Look Pictures, 2007.

Imprint. Dir. Michael Linn. Line Productions, 2007.

Joe Dirt. Dir. Dennie Gordon. Columbia Pictures, 2001.

Older than America. Dir. Georgina Lightning. IFC Indpendent Film, 2008.

Powwow Highway. Dir. Jonathan Wacks. Starz, 1989.

Skins. Dir. Chris Eyre. First Look Pictures, 2002.

Skinwalkers. Dir. Chris Eyre. PBS, 2002.

Smoke Signals. Dir. Chris Eyre. Miramax, 1998.

"People of the First Light." We Shall Remain. Dir. Chris Eyre. PBS, 2009.

Notes

(1) See Sherman Alexie's website, www. fallsapart.com for a full list of awards.

(2) I conducted these interviews while writing a book length study of Smoke Signals, titled Smoke Signals and the Emergence of Native American Cinema, for the Indigenous Film series at the University of Nebraska Press. I am grateful to Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie for taking time from their extremely busy schedules to talk with me about the film. I would like to note that Eyre and Alexie retain copyright of their interviews, which are printed here with their permission. I would also like to thank University of Missouri graduate student Willow Mullins for assisting with transcriptions.
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