by Heather Rae
2005, 78 min., DVD
Trudell follows the life work of Native American poet/activist John Trudell. Filmmaker Heather Rae has spent more than a decade chronicling his travels, spoken word and politics in a poetic and naturally stylized manner. The film combines archival, concert and interview footage with abstract imagery mirroring the coyote nature of Trudell himself.
Incorporating years of work, 16mm and Super 8 film, video, and archival footage, TRUDELL begins in the late sixties when John Trudell and a community group, Indians of All Tribes, occupied Alcatraz Island for 21 months creating international recognition of the American Indian cause and birthing the contemporary Indian people's movement. The film goes to Alcatraz, returning to what John refers to as his "birth." From Alcatraz we follow John's political journey as the National Spokesman of the American Indian Movement (AIM)--this work making him one of the most highly volatile political "subversives" of the 1970s with one of the longest FBI files in history (over 17,000 pages.)
In 1979, while protesting the US government's policy on American Indians, John burned an American Flag on the the steps of the FBI headquarters in Washington DC. Within a matter of hours his pregnant wife, three children and mother in law were killed in a suspicious arson fire on a Nevada reservation. This ended John's involvement in organizational politics. He spent the next four years driving America in a car given to him by his friend and fellow activist, Jackson Browne. It was during this period that John's voice as a poet began to surface. His gift as an orator carried him through his pain and he found a new way to represent his manifesto and cause.
In 1983 he began to put his words to music with the help of Kiowa guitar legend, the late Jesse Ed Davis, and Jackson Browne. Even his early recordings reflect an articulate sensibility and eloquence about the state of the world, moving him into the realm of social theorist and philosopher. John does not adhere to a dogma or school of thought but has created his own diatribe based in experience, having lived through and taken part in some of the most turbulent American political events of the past century. In an interview with Native actor, Gary Farmer (Dead Man), he referred to Trudell as "the Native people's prophet of these times, our Socrates."
Trudell's musical and film career have led him to work with the likes of Robert Redford (Incident at Oglala), Sam Shepard and Val Kilmer (Thunderheart), Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Amy Ray and more recently Angelina Jolie, who produced his current album, Bone Days. The film combines interviews with his allies from the entertainment community, the "movement" days, and his friends and family with archival footage, concert footage from all over the world and abstract imagery. TRUDELL is intended to be a film that steps outside of traditional forms, even for Native films, and explores a figure of our contemporary history in a way that fairly represents the evocative nature of his work and significance.
He's extremely eloquent - therefore extremely dangerous.