Reviewed at AFI/L.A. Film Festival (Documentary Series), Hollywood, Oct. 28 , 1999. Running time: 72 MIN.
With: Darrell “Chip” Wadena, Eugene “Bugger” McArthur, Lowell Bellanger, Erma Vizenor, Doyle Turner.
The romanticizing of American Indians long ago reached its apex in the movies , and only now, with such docus as Nick Kurzon’s “Super Chief,” is a more honest and unfettered view of the way Indians actually live on the reservation coming through on the screen. Drawn by friend and activist Erma Vizenor to record a political campaign for chairman of the White Earth Indian Reservation in western Minnesota, Kurzon (serving as his own digital video cameraman, sound recordist and bemused narrator) explores the unpredictable permutations and spiky personalities in this forlorn corner of America. Airing on HBO’s Signature channel will make this prime viewing for docu fans and guarantee a long ancillary life.
What Kurzon finds is a corrupt potentate named Darrell “Chip” Wadena, who’s been the White Earth chairman as long as anyone can remember through financial influence and pure fraud, and who is sure of re-election. (Wadena was subsequently convicted of corruption by feds.) While none of Wadena’s opponents inspire much hope, their urge for change is a sign of hope amidst cultural and political conditions that would be considered unacceptable off the reservation.