Beautifully crafted docu “Homeland” focuses on activists in four far-flung Native American reservations and their David-and-Goliath struggles to preserve their lands against the ravages of unchecked exploitation, toxic waste dumping, strip mining, oil drilling and nuclear contamination. Documentarian Roberta Grossman skillfully intersperses vastly varied archival clips with quietly impassioned testimonials by tribal leaders and stunning lensing showcasing both the natural wonders and the manmade degradation of the landscape. Well-traveled on the fest circuit (documentary winner at Santa Barbara), “Homeland” merits a wider audience than provided by scattershot PBS airings.
Lawyer and activist Gail Small, striding among her horses, speaks of closed-door meetings where VP Dick Cheney forged the current energy policy and subsequent rush to claim energy-rich acres held by Native American tribes. Remarkably, Cheyenne at a Montana reservation, sitting on $2 billion of exploitable resources, have consistently voted to preserve the land.
But newly granted leases could ring the rolling, tree-dotted hills of the reservation with 75,000 coal bed methane gas wells which would effectively drain the ground water and degrade the soil, turning the area into a desert.
The Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, illuminated by Northern Lights and traversed by thundering herds of silvery caribou, furnishes an even more spectacular backdrop to looming environmental menaces. Led by young chief Evon Peter, the indigenous Gwich’in tribe is nevertheless able to carry its crusade — to rescue the caribou breeding grounds from oil-drilling — to the media, the Congress and the United Nations.
At a Navajo reservation in the flatlands of New Mexico, old methods of uranium mining (miners given no protective gear and sent home covered in radioactive dust) decimated the population and still impact infant mortality rates. Proposed new mining ventures via a controversial underground leaching technique may (or may not) lethally contaminate the water supply.
Led by an ordinary couple, Mitchell and Rita Capitan, the thus-far successful fight against the mining company has divided the Navajo town.
From the small island on the Penobscot River in Maine that houses all that remains of the Penobscot Nation, chief Barry Dana continues a long campaign to keep the river clear of dioxins and other toxic materials dumped in huge quantities from the paper mill upstream, the progress made by the Clean Water Act now eroded by current EPA policies.
Grossman makes liberal use of old photographs, ethnographic film studies, home movies, newsreels and educational films to place each tribe in a historical and geographic continuum, stressing their centuries-long spiritual and cultural links to the different territories. On-camera commentary by well-known Native American activist Winona LaDuke is threaded throughout the presentation of the four stories, highlighting a common cause.
At a time when 30 years of environmental protection laws are being rapidly dismantled, “Homeland” militantly proposes America’s First Peoples as the vanguard of resistance.
Dyanna Taylor’s extraordinary HD lensing and other tech credits are well above the norm for a docu of this ilk.