Posts Tagged ‘Gil Birmingham’

Q’orianka Kilcher

“TE ATA” My rating: B 

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Knowing that it was made by Chickasaw Nations Productions and follows the life of a famous Native American storyteller, one might be excused for avoiding “Te Ata” as an earnest endeavor of the sort to make a cynic’s skin crawl.

In truth, this modestly-budgeted, high-impact true story is inspirational in most of the right ways.  A few so-so performances and a couple of clunky moments cannot blunt its emotional power.

The subject is Mary Frances Th0mpson (1895-1995), born in Indian Territory (eventually to become Oklahoma) to a Chickasaw father (Gil Birmingham) and a mother (Brigid Brannagh)  of German descent.

Raised in a thoroughly Anglicized environment — her uncle (Graham Greene) was governor of the territory and, later, the state —  young Mary Frances was only tangentially aware of her tribal culture, thanks mostly to her father’s retelling of traditional fables.

As a young woman Mary Frances (Q’orianka Kilcher) became the first Native American to attend the Oklahoma College for Women, where a drama instructor (Cindy Pickett) encouraged her to forego the usual recitations from Shakespeare in favor of  the girl’s own rich cultural heritage.

This led to a stint on the chautauqua circuit, where she adopted the stage name Te Ata (Bearer of the Dawn) and donned a traditional buckskin costume for performances that embraced native dances, song and storytelling.

After further studies at Carnegie-Mellon, and a brief and unfulfilling career as a Broadway actress, Mary Frances/Te Ata turned once again to tribal storytelling. Eventually she would become a household name and a visitor to Franklin Roosevelt’s White House.


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Jeremy Renner, Gil Birmingham

“WIND RIVER” My rating: B

*113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With his screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” Taylor Sheridan joined the ranks of our best storytellers of the contemporary American West.

He cements that reputation — though not without a couple of minor missteps — by writing and directing “Wind River.”

Set on the sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation in mountainous central Wyoming, this snowbound mystery is triggered by the death of an 18-year-old Arapaho girl. Apparently she ran for several miles barefoot through a blizzard before succumbing to sub-zero temperatures. But what — or who — was she running from?

Her body is discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter for the wildlife service whose job is to eliminate wolves, cougars and other predators dining on domestic livestock. Soon he’ll be tracking down two-legged predators.

On one level “Wind River” is a buddy movie pairing the woods-smart Cory with Florida-reared Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent dispatched to investigate what appears to be a murder on tribal land. He knows every snowfield and ravine within hundreds of square miles; she shows up without so much as a pair of long johns.

But as seems always to be the case with a Sheridan film, just as important as the mystery is the milieu in which it’s set.

In this case it’s a world of natural beauty and aching poverty, dying traditions and doped-up  youth. Here white assumptions collide with Native American realities. Resentments and prejudices can surface at any time.

Renner’s Cory is the perfect guide through these conflicting cultures. Born nearby and as comfortable in a cowboy hat as a fur-lined parka, he’s divorced from an Arapaho woman with whom he has a young son. In short, he’s a man with one foot planted in the white world and the other in Indian country.

Sheridan’s screenplay provides plenty of thumbnail portraits of colorful characters. (more…)

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