The seventh annual First Nations Film & Video Festival, showcasing work by contemporary Native American artists, runs Friday through Sunday, November 21 through 23, at the American Indian Center of Chicago, 1630 W. Wilson; North Park University, 3225 W. Foster; and Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson. Tickets for all programs are $5; for more information call 773-275-5871.


On and Off the Res With Charlie Hill

Native American stand-up comic Charlie Hill got his first national TV exposure in America on Richard Pryor’s ill-fated NBC show in 1977 and on the Johnny Carson show the next year, offering sharp material about Injun stereotypes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“Take my land–please!”). This insightful and consistently funny 1999 video by Sandra Osawa draws on those early spots, sketch comedy from Canadian TV in the 80s, and contemporary club appearances by the 48-year-old entertainer, tracing his personal history back to Detroit and the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin and locating his work in the tradition of his heroes, Dick Gregory and Will Rogers. 59 min. (JJ) Also on the program: work by Doug Cuthand, Liz Obomsawin, Darlene Naponse, and James Luna and David J. Merritt. Total running time is 137 minutes. (North Park University, 7:00)


The Great American Footrace

Dreamed up by the Route 66 Highway Association as a way of promoting the nascent interstate highway system, the “Bunion Derby” of 1928 offered $25,000 to the first man to run from Los Angeles to New York City; the winner, a young Cherokee named Andy Payne, became a hero to his home state of Oklahoma and to Native American children across the land. This PBS documentary (2002, 57 min.) tells his story and details the chicanery of C.C. Pyle, a sports promoter who misspent the highway association’s money and failed to deliver promised support for the runners as they tested themselves for 84 days against mountains, deserts, and sandstorms. Lily Shangreaux wrote the fascinating script, and Daniel Bigbee Jr. directed. (JJ) Also on the program: work by Cedric Wildbill, Carol Geddes, Darlene Naponse, and Jeff Spitz. Total running time is 151 minutes. (Truman College, 11:00 am)

Short works

Directed by Jim Sharkey, Penobscott Basket Maker (2002, 52 min.) is a memoir by Barbara Francis about her experiences as a basket maker on Indian Isle, Maine. Barbara Cranmer’s Gwishalaayt: The Spirit Wraps Around You (2001, 47 min.) looks at the tradition of Chilkat weaving. And Mary Kunuk, sister of filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (The Fast Runner), directed Anaana (Mother) (2001, 60 min.), a profile of her mother, Vivi Kunuk. Also showing: Arlene Bowman’s North to South (3 min.). (Truman College, 2:30)


A Seat at the Table: Struggling for American Indian Religious Freedom

In 1999 a delegation of Native American activists and spiritual leaders attended the UN-sponsored Third Parliament of World Religions in South Africa, hoping to publicize American disregard for native spiritual practices and concerns (e.g., peyote use and the conservation of sacred sites). There’s enough thematic fodder for six documentaries here, but director Gary Rhine has made the least of his opportunities, surrendering the floor to panel moderator Huston Smith, a religious scholar whose Bill Moyers-style ecumenicism leaves no room for historical context or thoughtful analysis. I wish someone like Errol Morris would address the same issues. 91 min. (Cliff Doerksen) Also on the program: work by Darren Kipp, Ernest Whiteman, and Dennis Jackson. The total running time is 180 minutes. (American Indian Center, 11:00 am)

A Navajo Rite of Passage

Born on a reservation but raised in a mining town, Navajo filmmaker Lena Carr never took part in kinaalda, a four-day ceremony that marks the transition to womanhood; to reconnect with ancestral traditions she made this 2000 film about her 13-year-old niece’s initiation. Funded by PBS, this is earnest but oddly impersonal for an insider’s view of a family event. Details of the rite (which include baking a corn cake in an oven dug into the desert clay) are interesting, but the explication of their history and meaning is bloodless. In English and subtitled Navajo. 57 min. (Cliff Doerksen) Also on the program: Sandra Osawa’s On and Off the Res With Charlie Hill (see listing for Friday, November 21) and work by Doug Cuthand and Rene Meshake. The total running time is 167 minutes. (American Indian Center, 3:00)