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Up-and-coming filmmaker kicks off Native American Heritage Series

Friday, November 18, 2005

Though he spoke at Brown’s Native American Heritage Series Convocation Thursday, American Indian film writer and director Larry Blackhorse Lowe told a half-full Smith-Buonanno 106 that the main focus of his work is cinematography, not ethnicity and identity issues.Blackhorse Lowe’s first feature film, “5th World,” premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and was supposed to screen Wednesday, but was canceled and replaced with previews of his other short movies. The convocation – which also featured speakers Nanobah Becker ’97 and Aprilshandiin Curley ’06 – was dedicated to the memory of indigenous activist and philosopher Vine Deloria, Jr.Blackhorse Lowe was emphatic and provocative, cursing at least a dozen times in the first minute of his speech and sneering at people who left early. The young movie director said he did not come to talk about “identity and all this crap” – “if you don’t know who you are by now … get the (expletive deleted) over it and move on,” he said.He criticized “Native American” cinema constructed for “didactic” purposes – movies that are based on inaccurate visual clichés such as the eagle, American Indian dances and teepees. “(Expletive deleted) smoke signals,” he said. “I don’t care about native cinema, I care about cinema on a whole,” he added.”5th World,” a Navajo love story, was not “set up in the mold of what they thought cinema should be,” he said, recalling the poor response it received from American Indians. Indeed, Blackhorse Lowe’s short movies escape from pre-conceived models – he referred to studio films like “The Fast and the Furious” as embodying the trite Hollywood format – and have an “original and unique voice,” said Becker, who introduced him. However, many of Blackhorse Lowe’s actors are of Navajo descent – often, family members compose the cast, and some of his shorts are entirely in Navajo language, such as “Happy Boy.” Blackhorse Lowe’s short productions are varied – filming in both color and black and white, he incorporates playful musical comedy, romantic skits in the desert and urban realism dealing with problems of household violence. His movies, he said, are full of esoteric allusions appreciated by cinemaphiles.Blackhorse Lowe was trained in painting and photography before delving more seriously into film. A self-taught filmmaker, Blackhorse Lowe learned by “watching as many cartoons and film collections so I could instruct myself,” he said. He discovered and admired Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, but couldn’t find such “artistic” selections in his hometown in New Mexico. Blackhorse Lowe said his movies do relate to and emerge out of his American Indian heritage, but he insisted this was not a main concern of his movies. He said he made “5th World,” which is less violent than previous films, primarily for his mother – it was “an experiment with narrative and plot,” he said.Becker, a Navajo movie director and one of Blackhorse Lowe’s collaborators, started with a few words in Navajo. Her first movie, “Flat,” which was screened during the event, was “Navajo-shot and for a Navajo audience,” she said. Becker recalled having a hard transition in her first year at Brown, where students came from many different socio-economic backgrounds. “There’s a lot of pressure for Native Americans to be educated and go back” to help their communities, but she said students can better help their communities if they first help themselves.

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