As Rachel and I deconstructed the film Reel Injun and liminal space I thought about the films that avoid the tropes of old, as noted in yesterday’s blog post.
A charming film to add to your viewing queue is Big Eden (2000). The story centers on Henry, who is carving out a career as an artist in New York City and is called home when his grandfather falls ill. Home is Big Eden, peopled by a community reminiscent of the folks in Lars and the Real Girl, where everyone helps everyone else. The town’s bashful cook, played by the hunky Eric Schweig, nurses a crush for Henry, and in secret prepares gourmet meals for Henry and his grandfather. It’s a love story where one of the players just happens to be Indian, and the pair just happens to be gay.
Another acclaimed independent film, Sherry Baby (2006) features Maggie Gyllenhaal as Sherry, newly released from prison and anxious to return to her young daughter, now in the care of Sherry’s brother. The film revolves around Sherry’s struggle to stay straight. Another recovering addict, Dean, played by Danny Trejo, befriends Sherry. The film explores their friendship, and although Dean is Indian, it’s not the centerpiece of their relationship.
You may have seen Gary Farmer in Smoke Signals or Dean Man: he plays THE INDIAN. So it’s unusual to see Farmer portray a minor role of businessman, which he does with aplomb in The Republic of Love (2003), a romantic comedy about a late-night radio host and a college professor. Although it’s not a terribly memorable film, it’s nice to see Farmer in a role where being Native is a post script.
One more film that adds to the liminal space pairs two women, one Indian, one non-indigenous, who smuggle immigrants across North American borders. Although being Indian is important to the film it’s not the main story line in Frozen River (2008), which won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance. The independent movie received acclaim for its story of two mothers bound by poverty and the liminal spaces each occupies. While the films noted above feature Indians in minor roles, Frozen River’s character Lila, a Mohawk, is central to the story that avoids the pitfalls of stereotypes.