Ross Lipman/UCLA Film & Television Archive
Tommy Reynolds and Clydean Parker in Kent Mackenzie's "The Exiles" (1961).

THE EXILES — *** — Yvonne Williams, Homer Nish, Tom Reynolds; in black and white; not rated, probable PG-13 (violence, brief drugs, slurs, vulgarity)

Technically, "The Exiles" isn't a documentary. While the film's characters are real people, and even though most of them go by their real names, there are specific sequences in the film that were scripted or set up in advance.

So, what does that make the movie? Is it docu-drama? Or is it, as filmmaker Kent MacKenzie claims at the onset, an "authentic account" of a half-day in its subjects' lives?

No matter which you you choose, "The Exiles" is a vivid portrait of Native American culture. Even more astonishing is the fact the movie is more than 40 years old.

(It was made in 1961, but it remained largely forgotten until Sherman Alexie and Charles Burnett stepped in to get it a theatrical release — courtesy of specialty distributor Milestone Film & Video, on a very limited basis.)

The title characters, if you can call them that, are a few Native Americans who left their homes on the reservation and resettled in Los Angeles's Bunker Hill neighborhood.

Among others, screenwriter/producer/director MacKenzie followed Yvonne Williams, a hard-working mother-to-be. While she's trying to get accustomed to her new, supposedly "normal" life, her child's father, Homer Nish, is having a harder time adjusting.

Homer has been spending much of his time with Tom Reynolds, who's getting into fights and is out carousing all hours of the night.

MacKenzie, who died in 1980, only made a handful of films. But here at least, he was unafraid to tackle hot-button topics (alcoholism and infidelity, for example).

Also, he was generous to the characters/subjects. They're shown in their own element — and are allowed to express their thoughts through voice-overs.

"The Exiles" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some brief violence (a bar fight and other brawling, as well as reckless driving), brief drug references (marijuana), racial slurs and other derogatory language, and some crude references and humor (belching). Running time: 73 minutes.