Realscreen caught up with Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond last week as he was catching some peace and quiet, canoeing and relaxing on the Waskaganish reserve in northeastern Canada. He was about to fly to Toronto to experience the madness of the Toronto International Film Festival, where his doc Reel Injun is premiering. The film uses a humorous tone to explore the many representations, and misrepresentations, of Native peoples that have come through Hollywood.
The film features hundreds of clips, culled from almost five years of searching through films from the silent era, westerns and 80s horror flicks to the more recent independents starring and made by real natives, like Smoke Signals, Powwow Highway and Dance Me Outside. A lot of the clips were used under fair use since film critics and actors alike comment on them, and the silent films he used are now public domain.
Reel Injun has a who’s who of Native American figures, with interviews from Adam Beach, Robbie Robertson and Graham Green, but also boasts the star power of Jim Jarmusch and Clint Eastwood – who may have been persuaded by a pair of moose hide mittens made specifically for him.
All of the films mentioned in the doc had an impact on how non-natives saw Native Americans, but it also had an effect on how natives saw themselves. ‘When I was growing up in the mid-’70s, we started wearing headbands and we assumed it was part of our culture,’ says Diamond. ‘We didn’t know it was actually to keep [non-native actors'] wigs in place.’
Diamond’s eyes were opened on a number of myths ingrained in him from film, and he also hopes that Reel Injun has the same effect on all audiences.
The film has its TIFF premiere on Tuesday September 15 and will air on Canadian broadcaster CBC in the near future.