Sundance ’17: “RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World”

When Stevie Salas pores over the rich cultural history of North American, he can’t help but note the influence of American-Indians on pop music. From Buffy St. Marie (pictured), an outspoken ...
January 19, 2017

When Stevie Salas pores over the rich cultural history of North American, he can’t help but note the influence of American-Indians on pop music.

From Buffy St. Marie (pictured), an outspoken indie activist and ’60s icon, to politically charged folkie Peter La Farge and famed guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix, whose family claimed Cherokee heritage, the music and style of aboriginal artists Salas says “have influenced the soundtrack of everyone’s life as we know it.”

And, yet, Salas, who is himself both aboriginal and a professional musician, feels those contributions have been largely overlooked. That feeling ultimately prompted him to take on the challenge of executive producing his first feature documentary.

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World will enjoy its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 22.

It features interviews with an impressive list of famous faces in rock, including punk icon Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Stevie van Zandt and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford — all of whom share stories about the impact of aboriginal musicians had on their lives and their craft.

“How long have we watched documentaries about Elvis Presley, the white side of the story, and watched the R&B and the black side with Robert Johnson and Little Richard? Who has heard the contribution of the “Red Man”? Now we have that story. It’s substantial. It’s not a little thing,” Salas tells realscreen.

Salas, a guitarist, has played with many rock legends throughout his career, and that personal connection was a big part of his ability to help put the documentary together.

“The more information I found out the more I would talk to people. Brad Whitford of Aerosmith said ‘I love Jesse Ed Davis. I didn’t know he was an Indian,’” he says of the curiosity that largely drove the project.

Catherine Bainbridge, who previously directed Reel Injun, a 2009 documentary about the images of aboriginals in Hollywood film, and Alfonso Maiorana came on board as directors.

In a joint telephone interview, Bainbridge and Maiorana say it was easy to get various well-known artists to agree to participate in the doc, but pinning them down for an actual interview proved a logistical challenge because they are often on the road for long periods of time.

Having to work around their schedules often meant booking last-minute plane tickets.

“When a star says ‘I can do it tomorrow.’ You have to hop the plane and go. At the beginning, we didn’t know we had to do that,” says Bainbridge.

In all, the documentary took four years to make, with Salas treading a fine line between telling the history of aboriginals influence on pop culture and turning the film into a statement about race.

“There is enough of that negative energy going on. We wanted to spread positive energy,” he says.

Not that the issue of racism has been removed from the story. Salas labels it the dominant reason why the accomplishments of American-Indians in pop music have largely gone unrecognized. Yet, he hopes audiences will enjoy the film and see it as a celebration of the history of the Americas.

“Come on,” he says. “Jesse Ed Davids — name me another person who can play with all four Beatles, play with the [Rolling] Stones, play with Rod Stewart, play with Eric Clapton — those are the most iconic musicians in the history of pop music and he’s played will all of them, and yet no one has ever heard of him. I have a feeling if you were somebody else, your name would be up there in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Bainbridge, meanwhile, describes the documentary as a balance “towards something that invited people in and caused people to reflect.

“I think its time in America to look back in history with clear eyes at what happened,” she says.

RUMBLE was produced with Montreal’s Rezolution Films. The film is represented for North American distribution by Diana Holtzberg of East Village Entertainment, LLC and by Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit for international distribution.

RUMBLE world premieres at Sundance on Jan. 22. at 9:00 p.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theater.  It will make its television debut on Canada’s Bell’s pay-TV service The Movie Network in 2017, though no broadcast date has been confirmed.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.