Reviewed at Dances With Films Festival of the Unknowns (competing), Santa Monica, July 27, 1999. (English and Tlingit dialogue.) Running time: 77 MIN.
With: Paul Asicksik, Don Savage, Gary Waid, Diane E. Benson, Kuth Ka, Robert Gales, Kert LaBelle, James Williams.
Claimed by filmmakers to be the first in several categories — first dramatic pic shot in Alaska by an Alaskan, first with dialogue in the Tlingit Indian language, first with all native Alaskan thesps, first 16mm work re-recorded in DTS sound — “Kusah Hakwaan” is tyro helmer Sean Morris’ labor of love. Technically ambitious but obviously hampered by its low budget and brutal filming conditions, this is undiluted regional indie cinema that will capture fest slots but will charm only die-hard fans of American Indian storytelling.
Sense of botched spookiness is established from start with puzzling, underlit nighttime action footage. In the daylight, a father (James Williams) takes sons (Robert Gales and Kert LaBelle) to a reading of the ancient Kusah Hakwaan legend by their storytelling uncle (Kuth Ka). Uncle’s tale in Tlingit dissolves to the legend in action, as hunter brothers (Paul Asicksik and Don Savage) search for food and battle the cannibalistic Kusah Hakwaan (Diane E. Benson) with aid of Raven the Trickster (Gary Waid). Mucho f/x and potential thrills are lost in perpetually murky lensing, unhelpfully frantic editing, poor mix and stiff acting.