Powwow Highway
directed by Jonathan Wacks
(1989, Starz/Anchor Bay, 2004)

Powwow Highway is a tale of Native American life today. The film is told via the contrasting stories of two Cheyenne men from a reservation in Lame Deer, Montana.

Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) is a big, gentle soul who trades his homegrown weed for a "war pony," a beat-up old rustbucket of a car from a pitted-out junkyard, to go out on a traditional vision quest. He's going to achieve his medicine by gaining three tokens on the way.

The first thing he gains is a passenger, his high school best friend, Buddy RedBow (A. Martinez). Buddy's been claiming his Native American heritage in a more traditional way. A member of AIM (the American Indian Movement) he's been at Wounded Knee and has earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam.

Buddy had no plans to leave the rez. There's a critical vote coming up on some land issues and he needs to be there to get his tribal members out to the polls, but his sister Bonnie RedBow (Joannelle Nadine Romero) got arrested in New Mexico on a trumped-up drug charge and he's the only one who can get her out of jail and back to her two very young kids.

The story's very much an "odd couple" pairing between the two men who take radically different approaches to solving problems. RedBow is much more confrontational while the gentle Bono seeks ancient wisdom.

Powwow Highway takes viewers across the gambit of emotions. You cannot look upon the third-world vistas of Native poverty without being moved to tears. But, there are light moments where Philbert is telling ancient stories to his friends. And yes, there are moments in this story that will make you laugh out loud and cheer.

The soundtrack of this film is also excellent. Robbie Robertson provides much of the music, which is well worth listening to.

review by
Becky Kyle

12 July 2008

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