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Powwow Highway

Philbert Bono (Farmer) talks to his 1964 Buick as if it were a horse; it's "Protector." A Northern Cheyenne, he and pal Buddy Red Bow (Martinez) drive it from Lame Deer, MT to Sante Fe, NM via the Dakotas; the film is a meditation on how to see land in terms of space rather than of time. Philbert never says his trip to Santa Fe must include enough places to make it a journey. "Powwow Highway" puts two unforgettable characters into a large circle of their friends; we see how their community still shares, and even thrives. Philbert heads Protector east instead of south, to visit friends and sacred Indian places, he doesn't try to justify the trip. It all comes from inside, and from a very old Indian way of looking at things. Buddy is a modern, impatient Type A; as the journey unfolds, he sees the sense in it. The journey's magic intensity is due to chemistry between the two leads. Farmer as Bono is a huge, gentle man with long black hair; he interprets things with blinding directness. Buddy is modern, political, and angrier. Their friendship survives their differences.
Shot entirely on location - trailer parks, poor suburbs, billiards rooms, and convenience stores - the movie shows how life on the road can be both modern and timeless. We sense the men's oneness with the land. But not only is this movie important and mystical, it's a comedy and thriller: The men spring Buddy's sister from prison. They resemble W. P. Kinsella's North American Indians; Buddy is a somewhat fading, angry man who was a firebrand in the American Indian Movement; his concise, bitter words about programs "for" Indians will educate viewers. Philbert supplements his anger with unshakable serenity all his own. The unforgettable Farmer disappears into Philbert so completely we almost think he is that simple, openhearted man; in fact, he's an actor and teacher from Toronto. Most viewers will already have seen "Rainman," and might notice how similar the movies are. Philbert isn't mentally handicapped, but has a similar, absolutely direct simplicity. Both characters state facts, and catalog the obvious. In both movies, the other - younger, ambitious, impatient - man learns from the older. And, in both movies, the men become friends while they drive ancient Buicks down the limitless highways of America.
Director(s): Jonathan Wacks
Writer(s): Janet Heaney & Jean Stawarz, based on the novel by David Seals
Cast: Gary Farmer, A Martinez, Amanda Wyss, Joanelle Romero
Release Date: 1989   
Keyword: Native Americans; claiming identity and culture; Southwest r
Target Age: 15+   Category: human rights
Documentary: no
Language: English with some subtitled native dialogue   Reviewer's Name: Micah
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