“A Hollywood producer interrogated me. ‘Are the film rights avalable?’ he asked. ‘Well, yeah,’ I said. ‘But you know it’s a book of poems?”
On phone calls he got after great reviews of his first book The Business of Fancydancing
“In the 60s…all the hippies were trying to be Indians.”
Sherman Alexie helped put the Indian in the indie film movement back in the late 90s with his script Smoke Signals. Alexie’s script was based on his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. The movie was produced and directed by Chris Eyre and won the Audience Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. The film was advertised as “the first feature film written, directed and produced by Native Americans.”
Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Eyre is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
Alexie left the reservation and became a New York Times bestseller, a produced screenwriter, and winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. These days he lives an urban life (as he says 60% of American Indians do)—in his case in Seattle.
“The class I took [at the University of Washington] that really got me instantly was a poetry writing class. I’d never read anything written by an Indian—I had no idea we actually wrote about our lives. And the teacher, Alex Clow, handed me this anthology of contemporary Native American poetry called Songs from This Earth on Turtle’s Back and I took it home that night and read all 400 pages straight through, and then read it again, and read it again. I read that thing everyday probably for two years. Stunned that you could write about our lives as a reservation Indian. About poverty, beauty, pow wows, and fry bread, and backward driving cars. I had no idea that my small life would appeal to anybody. And it was with that anthology and those other Native American writers that came before me that I realized that my story might be important. “
Conversations At KCTS 9
The American Indian Film Institute will host the 37th annual American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco this November. (Films are of or about North American Indian or Canada First Nation Peoples.)
P.S. Chris Eyre, the director of Smoke Signals, has gone on to direct episodes of Law & Order, Friday Night Lights, and shared a DGA Award for directing the TV movie Edge of America.