DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
NATURALLY NATIVE (directors: Jennifer Wynne Farmer/Valerie Red-Horse; screenwriter: Valerie Red-Horse; cinematographer: Bruce L. Finn; editor: Lorraine Salk; music: Murielle Hamilton; cast: Valerie Red-Horse (Vickie Lewis Bighawk), Yvonne Russo (Joanne Chapa), Irene Bedard (Tanya Lewis), Kimberly Norris Guerrero (Karen Lewis), Pato Hoffmann (Steve Bighawk), Mark Abbott (Mark), Collin Bernsen (Craig), Mary Kay Place (Madame Celeste), Max Gail (Mr. Carlson); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Dawn Jackson/Valerie Red-Horse; Red-horse Productions; 1998)

"An uplifting feelgood drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the first film to be totally financed by an Indian tribe. Connecticut's Mashantucket tribe (they operate the booming Foxwood Casino) financed with $800,000 this Native American drama about three sisters who were raised on the reservation as Sioux but when their real mom died because of alcohol abuse were raised by white foster parents and now as adult sisters plan to enter the business world by selling Naturally Native. That's a homegrown line of cosmetics based on traditional tribal remedies that their long-estranged father taught to the eldest and most stable sister--the married and mother of two Vickie Lewis Bighawk (Valerie Red-Horse. The middle sister is an accountant-in-training named Karen Lewis (Kimberly Norris Guerrero), while the youngest sister is the more shallow boy crazy Tanya Lewis (Irene Bedard)--who refuses to date Indians and finds herself in danger when encountering a bad white dude. The three are California Indians, who have become absorbed into the American culture but decide that they also want to retain their ethnic heritage.

Novice co-directors Jennifer Wynne Farmer and Valerie Red-Horse, fresh out of taking some film courses at UCLA, keep it relevant to Indian affairs as they tell of the usual hardships of starting a business plus the additional burdens of getting tribal grants to start a Native American business, since they have no papers of proof of their Indian heritage because they were raised by white parents. There's also the question of facing discrimination from the business community and being patronized by those funding them. The raising of Native American issues is rare in films, and this passionate look at how modern-day Indians cope in American society while still facing racism is worth a look for those reasons alone.

It's an uplifting feelgood drama, that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998 to mostly positive reviews.

REVIEWED ON 1/7/12       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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