Review: ‘If Only I Were an Indian’

The European fascination with Native American ways forms the basis of "If Only I Were an Indian . . ." Filmmaker John Paskievich's unique spin on the phenom is to take three authentic Canadian natives to a retreat in the former Czechoslovakia where Eastern Europeans dress up in Indian garb and live the simple ways of the land.

The European fascination with Native American ways forms the basis of “If Only I Were an Indian . . .” Filmmaker John Paskievich’s unique spin on the phenom is to take three authentic Canadian natives to a retreat in the former Czechoslovakia where Eastern Europeans dress up in Indian garb and live the simple ways of the land.

The feature documentary starts from a strong premise and is rife with startling contrasts between the real and facsimile Indians. But the picture goes over the same ground repeatedly, offering too many like examples to support its thesis. Some simple pruning would improve the flow and allow it to fit neatly into a television hour, where its true commercial strength lies.

The Cree and Ojibwa reps note early on the irony by which most young natives known little of their heritage while these foreigners have created an environment startlingly close to Indian peoples’ bygone cultures. Their biggest complaint is that the Europeans haven’t quite gotten the authentic Indian cadence in the music.

Paskievich traces the interest in native cultures to the works of German fiction writer Karl May (who never set foot in the West) and Canadian naturalist Ernest Thomas Seton. Cree Joseph Young has to admit he’s unfamiliar with the latter but anxious to read him when he gets home.

The Europeans get tiresome in their rationalizations for adopting the lifestyle. But there’s never a sense that they (or the visitors) are being demeaned by the filmmakers. Though a tad overstated, “If Only I Were an Indian . . .” is a fascinating cultural document laced with humor and insight.

If Only I Were an Indian

(CANADIAN -- DOCU)

Production

A Zema Pictures presentation in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada. Produced by Ches Yetman, Joe MacDonald. Directed, written by John Paskievich. Original concept/research, Dr. David Scheffel.

Crew

Camera (color), Joan Hutton: editor, Jeff McKay; sound, Robert Hanchar; associate producer. Ellen Rutter, Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 10, 1995. Running time: 82 MIN.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading