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Film review: 'Trudell' comes off as superficial, too reverential

Published: Friday, March 17 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

TRUDELL — ** — Documentary feature about American Indian artist and activist John Trudell; not rated, probable PG-13 (violence, racial epithets, profanity, brief drugs).

As promised by its title, "Trudell" is a profile of John Trudell, an American Indian activist who's been described by the FBI as "eloquent . . . and dangerous."

However, this documentary feature is more concerned with telling us about Trudell's many exploits than with telling us about the man. As a result, it feels superficial, and the tone is much too reverential.

The film is also extremely one-sided, with several glowing testimonies about its subject from some of his celebrity friends, including Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Redford. But it never challenges any of their statements — or any of his, for that matter.

As shown by the film, Trudell was a founding member of the American Indian Movement, which became famous for its much-publicized, three-year "occupation" of Alcatraz Island during the late 1960s. The group's activities also brought unwanted attention from the Nixon administration, an adversarial relationship that culminated with the infamous 1975 "Incident at Oglala," in which two FBI agents were shot and killed during a stand-off in South Dakota. (As the movie notes, Trudell continues his efforts to free Leonard Peltier, a Sioux leader accused of the shooting.)

The film also looks at Trudell's reinvention as a spoken-word performer and sets some of his poems and writings to music, accompanied by backing band Bad Dog. While some of the ideas expressed in these songs are enlightening, they're nearly unlistenable. And director Heather Rae's glossy, music-video style doesn't help.

That the film is watchable has a lot to do with Trudell, who has a forceful presence. He certainly deserves better, more thoughtful treatment than this.

"Trudell" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some scenes of violence (including newsreel footage of rioting and some riot suppression), scattered use of racial epithets and profanity, and some brief drug content (references to drug use). Running time: 80 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com