Filmmaker Minda Martin explores her family’s painful and poverty-stricken past in her powerfully realized memoir film, “Free Land.” Martin’s adventurous manipulation of complex sound work, solarized images, superimpositions and archival selections sets her work apart from other docs on the Native American experience; as terrible as her family history becomes, affected by a legacy of American subjugation of indigenous people, her telling of it is shot through with vital artistry. Pic should continue its excellent fest run, leading to niche vid life.
Martin’s story is framed by father Robert and late, alcoholic mother Shirley, whose failures in business forced them to move constantly around the Southwest. Researching Shirley’s Cherokee family tree, Martin finds this rootless pattern isn’t new: Transcript testimonies from 1851 and 1905 by relatives to government officials (well delivered by voice actors) recount a personal trail of tears, where families are pushed off ancestral land by whites, and compelled to move from place to place to find work. The voiceovers are illustrated by a rich tapestry of mostly silent-film footage and sound-design work that turns history into a kind of dreamscape.